(Guyana, b. 1974)
Suchitra Mattai’s family has its roots in the wave of Indian migrants who arrived in British Guiana over a century ago to work as indentured servants. An immigrant herself, Mattai left Guyana when she was three years old and has since lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; Udaipur, India; and, in the United States, in Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis, and Denver, where she currently resides. She received her MFA in painting and drawing and her MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania; while pursuing her PhD in South Asian art, she opted to become a full-time artist. Mattai is a multimedia artist who works with painting, collage, installation, video, and sculpture. Her materials range from found paintings and clippings from National Geographic to needlepoint and embroidery.
Mattai’s highly conceptual pieces deal with issues of identity and the role of women in the arts while challenging suppressive narratives such as those associated with colonialism. Using landscape as a metaphor for an imagined identity, she creates multilayered conceptual landscapes out of the hegemonic detritus of colonialism—repurposing materials such as textiles to reflect on the imprint of colonialism on her family history, or on the role of women in artistic discourse. In her creative process, Mattai (in her words) “collaborates with the past,” using found objects and appropriating cultural, historic, and domestic elements. Her work also illuminates her concept of home and family, as she explains: “Through family narratives, memories, and photographs, I have always been reminded of my homeland, yet simultaneously felt alienated from it. My family’s migratory path from Guyana to Canada to the United States never led to a place of connection.”
In El Dorado After All, a work of woven mixed-media based on a found photo of a possible location of El Dorado (the legendary kingdom of gold sought by conquistadors), Mattai explores the idea of home and colonization, while referencing the weaving practices of her mother and grandmothers, which she uses as a metaphor for the interlacing of cultures.
Similarly, in her collage Untitled, Mattai fuses together fragments of her past—including images of Hindu goddesses and scraps of knitting magazines from the 1950s and 1960s—in search of a lucid cultural identity and that ever-elusive sense of connection.