On view right now at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center at the Brooklyn Museum is the mother of all Hindu mothers: Goddess Kali.
She is the one you call on when you need help.
Brooklyn-based artist, painter Chitra Ganesh presents a contemporary vision of Kali, through a site-specific, multi-media mélange of art forms that express her view on feminism, plurality and power, borrowed from and centered around the influences of the mythical, religious and contemporary godesses.
The exhibit, entitled, “Chitra Ganesh: Eyes of Time,” uses an historical storyboard/narrative, a mural painting and other figures from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party to convey an assertion that power coupled with femininity it its ability to create, nurture and destroy is neither bound by prototype nor time: It just is and always was.
Although in historical iconographies, she is often presented as a dark and violent figure of annihilation—always with her tongue sticking out stepping on Shiva’s chest— most who worship her today follow her earliest incarnation, as a benevolent mother goddess who is powerful enough to ward off all evil and all that is intended to harm.
Saurot Mukherjee, 60, is from the eastern part of India, near West Bengal, where Kali is worshipped often and in a very public way. Now a Brooklyn resident, Mukherjee was at the exhibit’s opening and explained, “When a person is in distress, who does a person tend to call out for first? Their mother. [Kali] is like a mom, a protector.
“And so I pray to the goddess Kali when I am in distress. I call out her name, because she wards off evil and darkness,” said Mukherjee.
“Her image is made a bit fearful, because she’s fighting with the devil. She tells her children, ‘I will take care of the devils.’ So images of Kali are made in such a way where the eyes are piercing, the hair is dark, flowing with heavy ringlets.”
Ganesh’s painting of Kali borrows from these same themes, of course, but layered atop the painting are several mixed media elements, add-ons, nuances and personal affects that create for Ganesh a Kali all her own.
Covering her face is a clock without hands, lending her a “timeless” gaze. Like the iconic image, Ganesh’s Kali is also naked. But she openly displays three breasts instead of two– another suggestion of the plurality of humanity. Also, instead of stepping on the chest of Shiva, she appears to stand over a time machine. There are other differences, including allusions to other Hindu goddesses. Still, anyone who knows Kali should recognize her right away in Ganesh’s rendering.
Also on display at the exhibit is one of Ganesh’s first major works, Tales of Amnesia (2002)—a zine inspired by Indian comic books that the Museum acquired out of our 2004 exhibition Open House: Working in Brooklyn.
The exhibit is an energetic, thought-provoking and colorful mix of contemporary and historical references, with plenty of room for both learning and personal interpretation.
Chitra Genesh: Eyes of Time opened on December 12, 2014 and will run through July 12, 2015.
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