As It Happens: Tracking Down Chitra Ganesh

Sharon Butler

When Raphael Rubinstein asks me to write an article about Chitra Ganesh for the Art Lies section of Gulf Coast, which he is guest-editing, I reflexively oblige before I’ve even investigated her work. Raphael and I are aesthetically kindred spirits. We are both interested in, and have written about, a certain kind of irresolute abstract painting. Sometimes it is called abject. He calls it Provisional; I call it Casualist. But when I look at Ganesh’s website and learn that her feisty, energetic practice is rooted in Indian myth, Hindu religion, and feminism, I wonder whether I can find something to say about Ganesh that hasn’t been said already in some art glossy. She writes comic books, plans big site-specific installations, works with assistants, wins awards from influential organizations like Creative Capital, and exhibits her work internationally. An American of South Asian descent, Ganesh was raised in Queens and is the product of an elite education that includes a diploma from St. Ann’s, a BA from Brown University with a double major in Comparative Literature and Semiotics, and an MFA from Columbia University. 

Logistics prove challenging. Chitra and I have crowded and irregular schedules that don’t mesh terribly well. After exchanging several throat-clearing emails over the course of a few days, we finally speak on the phone—she from a Providence-bound train on her way to RISD where she is the Kirloskar Visiting Scholar, I on a Philadelphia-bound train where I’m an adjunct at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. She tells me her schedule is tight because she is in the process of completing a huge wall painting at the Brooklyn Museum. We agree to meet later in the week, and she sends me a link to the press page of her website so I can read articles about her to prepare for our meeting. I do not complete my homework assignment, but do glance sufficiently at the array of PDF files—Vogue India, Time Out New York, Flash Art, Elle, Modern Painters, ArtForum, New York Times, The New Republic, ArtIndia, Art Asia Pacific, and so many more—to feel unequal to the task of writing about this powerhouse culture producer. Here the Casualist point of view comes in handy: I decide to wing it. 

Early the next morning, I get another email from Chitra. Our scheduled meeting for a couple of hours hence won’t work due to museum-related contingencies. She asks whether Monday morning would be possible. On Mondays I teach an MFA seminar at UConn and visit my teenage daughter, so we need to arrange another time. I offer to come to the museum so we can talk while she’s working. She counter-proposes that we meet at a place near the museum. I agree. The day of our scheduled visit arrives and the phone rings. Chitra is sick. Loath to catch what she has and get behind on my own projects, I suggest we reschedule.  We settle on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. This gives me only a few days to write the article, but I figure what the hell. 

On the Wednesday, I send Chitra a text indicating my preference for meeting somewhere near the 2/3 subway line because I live on the Upper West Side. She suggests two places. I don’t really care, I say, as long as it’s near the train. The weather has turned nasty, with hard rain and flooding. She puts forward two possibilities—a café and a restaurant. I pick the one with the bar.

To read the rest of Sharon Butler's Intro, and to see Ganesh's images in full-quality print, purchase 27.2 here.