Portrait of the Artist

Suchitra Mattai

Portraits of Colonialism

By Noelani Kirschner | August 20, 2018
Ties that Bind, 2017, acrylic, spray paint, doilies, and bindis, 9 x 6 feet

Multimedia artist Suchitra Mattai has lived all over the globe but now resides in Denver. For the past couple of years, her work has been centered on the issues of immigration and the history of colonialism. Here, she discusses her ‘Revisionist’ series, the types of materials that she uses in her compositions, and why the landscape remains an imagined place.


“I was born in Guyana, South America, and am of Indian, South-Asian descent. The Indians who were brought to Guyana were indentured servants to British colonial rule. I grew up in Canada and here in the States. I always wanted to be an artist, but given that my family were immigrants and didn’t think of art as a viable career choice, I ended up doing other things first. Eventually, I went back to grad school for painting and drawing, and those are at the core of my practice. So even when I make mixed-media work, a lot of it still tends to be two-dimensional.

I’ve been building on my ‘Revisionist’ series since 2016. Basically, given the critical time that we’re in, I’ve been thinking about borders and immigration and issues surrounding race. I wanted to make work that was having a conversation with the past, but also creating new conversations in the present. I started thinking about my own biographical situation and relation to some of those things, and thinking about my family’s relationship to colonialism. In doing so, a lot of different themes emerged. I looked at a variety of materials from the past and started incorporating them into my work—things like colonial prints or images of colonized people. I also incorporated craft objects that would have been made by people in the domestic sphere to give voice to their work. I take vintage macramé or needlepoint, and rework them into my compositions. I feel like I’m conversing with those women of the past—I should say women and men, because women made most of them, but I’m sure men did, too.

I made Ties That Bind last year. The top portion consists of doilies that I adhered to the surface. It harkens back to the concepts of domestic craft by using all these found, crocheted doilies, which become incorporated into the overall story. I also used bindis in the bush object on the right—bindis are only worn by women. I tried to create as many cultural and gendered references as possible.



Landscape has always been at the heart of my work. Even when I make these larger installations that involve other types of objects, it’s in the service of a landscape. I’ve lived in so many places and whenever I think of these places, I automatically think of landscapes. I lived in some of these places when I was young, so I have memories of the trees and the plants. The landscape serves as the crux of my memory and relationship to my home—it’s a psychological place that’s born of all the physical places I’ve been.”

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