Overseas-based Guyanese artist Suchitra Mattai’s artwork examines the general themes of identity and globalization through landscape.
Mattai was born in Guyana and also grew up here, but migrated to the US as a child. She now lives and works in France.
The artist received an MFA in painting and drawing, and an MA in South Asian art, both from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She has exhibited her work in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Denver, Austin, Berlin, Germany, and Wales, United Kingdom. Her paintings have appeared in the publication “New American Paintings”. Additionally, she just completed a residency at RedLine Contemporary Art Centre, Denver.
Suchitra often appropriates found objects to create mixed-media drawings, paintings, sculpture and installations. Her disconnected landscapes are created from history, memory, travel and pop-culture, and invert the familiar in order to complicate assumptions about race and gender.
Currently, the artist is working on a series, “El Dorado”, thinking of her homeland, Guyana, as the idealized ‘El Dorado’. Her new mixed-media work is “all about re-imagining the past”. She is presently working on creating two bodies of work.
“I am currently living in France and have access to European historical documents. I am particularly interested in the period of European colonialism. The ‘Untitled’ piece with the ‘colonized’ woman bound by threads comments on the struggles of colonized peoples. The woman melds into the background pattern. This body of work investigates the position of women during this period,” Suchitra explained in an interview with Sunday Times Magazine.
Her second body of work “references landscape, particularly bodies of water and idealized places”. Suchitra pointed out that she has always been interested in the relationship of the natural world to the built environment. Hence, her artwork “Surface tension” depicts reflections of nature in a pool. Lately, she has become “obsessed with the idea of El Dorado and the search for an idealized place or home”. Having left as a child, Guyana is now her “remote idealized homeland”.
“Art has always been a way of living for me. My father wrote in my baby journal that I only wanted to draw since I could pick up a pencil. I have always made art. Painting and drawing have always been close to my heart. I spent a lot of time by myself, as my sisters are much younger than me. This time led me to internalize experiences in a peculiar way and art has proven to be the best path for me to express my thoughts and attitudes. I also had one artist role model as a child – our family friend and a fellow Guyanese, Suresh Hanuman, was a source of inspiration,” Suchitra recalled.
The artist mentioned that she is the happiest when using her hands to create. Creating not only brings her joy, but also allows her to communicate the ideas she wants to voice.
For 13 years Suchitra has taught art to university students, but chose to resign from teaching “in order to focus on making art”. She plans to continue to pursue exhibiting her work across the globe so that she can continue to be part of “this worldwide art conversation”.
Her advice to young artists is to “follow your dreams in any way that you can, but realize that every life experience contributes to your success as an artist. Develop your technical skills, but really think about what it is that you need to say through your art. It is the marriage of form and content that produces the most amazing artwork. It took me many years to be a ‘professional artist’, but I always created art. Initially, I studied statistics and mathematics in an effort to be practical, and then art history, but in the end I have pursued my passions. Being an artist comes with struggles and sacrifice, but the path is entirely worth it!”