Osmosis: In The Face of the Sea
April 15, 2023 - May 13, 2023
Kavi Gupta presents Osmosis: in the face of the sea, an expanded and extended edition of Suchitra Mattai’s groundbreaking solo exhibition Osmosis.
Thinking about the saltwater ocean migrations that have shaped her family’s heritage, Mattai has both a scientific and a poetic interest in osmosis, a process that involves the migration of water molecules from one region to another. In a manner of speaking, osmosis is about equilibrium, or the transferral of something to achieve a new balance. Salt is an osmotic trigger; throughout the exhibition, Mattai employs salt as both a sculptural medium and a chemical instigator of aesthetic transformation.
Mattai’s expressions of transference and balance relate to the layering of new stories and cultural traditions atop those that already exist. Conceived as an exhibition that would evolve in order to allow a living examination of its theme, this second manifestation of Osmosis introduces multiple new works, including three new large-scale wall tapestries woven from vintage saris.
intrepid garden, the largest of the three new tapestries, is an abstracted landscape reminiscent of an untamed wilderness. Alcoves cleaved in the matting hold white sculptures aloft in the negative space, like enchanted portals into a hidden world ruled by mysterious icons. Evoking colonial-era, European pastoral figures, some of the sculptures are found objects; others were cast by Mattai; and several are made out of salt.
Suchitra Mattai, intrepid garden, 2023. Vintage saris, fabric, vintage objects made of salt, cast objects made of salt, porcelain objects, vintage shelves, 120 x 168 in.
“The niches are spaces of fantasy and new folklore, like portals into a past and into a future,” says Mattai. “The garden is a space for rebirth.”
quicksand, a fiery red tapestry suspended between two found wooden bed posts, depicts a liquescent universe where everything is falling into the middle. The central figure is being inundated; devoured; pulled into the hole and amalgamated. This imagery speaks to Mattai’s disorienting experience of living between two cultures, as a Guyana-born woman descended from Indo-Caribbean indentured servants and now living and working as an artist in the United States.
“It’s this disembodied feeling, like the ground between your feet isn’t always stable,” Mattai says.
girl beast suspended in time is perhaps the most intimate of the new works, in scale and subject matter alike. Laser beams shoot from behind the veil of a shadowy figure in the center of the work. Crouched as if in hiding, or maybe about to pounce, this seemingly mystical creature first appeared in Mattai’s girl beast (2022) as an embroidered interloper bounding through a vintage European needlepoint. A stand-in for the “other,” the excluded, or the people who do not fit in, the girl beast’s laser sight is her special power—the acute perspective of someone observing from the margins.
Suchitra Mattai, Osmosis, 2022. Salt, fabric, cords, wood, dimensions variable.
As in the original manifestation of the exhibition, the central work in Osmosis: in the face of the sea is a large-scale sculpture of a temple ruin made from salt. The form appears to be emerging from the floor. Its glistening, encrusted form recalls a story of seafarers off the coast of Mahabalipuram who witnessed the appearance of such ruins when the waters temporarily receded from shore prior to a tsunami. When the sea rushed back in, the ruins disappeared. They exist now only in the seafarers’ memories and the stories they tell. Recalling the architecture of a Hindu temple, the temple ruin is positioned in the part of the gallery where the garbha griha, or most sacred space, would be.
“Osmosis relates in a way to the flexibility of storytelling,” Mattai says. “As the exhibition evolves, it uses the story of the fishermen as a starting point, but there’s no ending point. It’s about agency, pushing and pulling, ebbing and flowing, and the curiosity of probing what’s revealed, and unearthing what’s concealed.”
Recent exhibitions featuring Mattai include Forecast Form, MCA Chicago, IL, USA; In the Adjacent Possible, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI, USA; Reorient, Wing Luke Museum, Seattle, WA, USA; Suchitra Mattai: Breathing Room, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID, USA; State of the Art 2020, Crystal Bridges Museum/the Momentary, Bentonville, AR, USA; Sharjah Biennial 14, Sharjah, UAE; and Realms of Refuge, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL, USA. Mattai has additionally shown at the Green Foundation, Miami, FL, USA; Colorado Fine Arts Center, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Center for Visual Arts, Metropolitan State University of Denver, CO, USA; and San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX, USA. Her work is in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, AR, USA; Jorge Pérez; Olivia Walton; Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, USA; Kiran Nader Museum of Art, Delhi, India; Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL, USA; TIA Collection, Santa Fe, NM, USA; and Taylor Art Collection, Denver, CO, USA; among many others. She has been reviewed in publications such as Hyperallergic, The Boston Globe, Widewalls, and Wallpaper Magazine. Mattai received an MFA in painting and drawing and an MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania, PA.