Denver artist Suchitra Mattai’s work has gone worldwide, though it flows from the highly personal wellspring of family history, intertwined with a more global narrative. Her own story is beyond interesting: She was born in Guyana to a family of immigrants from India, carrying with her allegiances to both points of heritage — two places bound together by the story of colonialism. This clash of rich cultures and oppressive politics is essential to her ouevre, often images of children in tropical backgrounds, rendered in everything from vintage saris twisted into massive wall hangings to embroidered embellishments and video, as seen in her current exhibition at K Contemporary in Denver.
Regardless of subject matter, Mattai, a former RedLine resident artist who first dove into the Colorado Creatives questionnaire in 2016, seems to grow as an artist with each successive body of work. How does she continue this personal dialectic with her roots? Get a clue as she returns to answer new questions.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Suchitra Mattai: So much has changed. My practice continues to grow and expand, as has the scale of my work. I’ve had some opportunities that I never dreamt possible. The support that I’ve received here has allowed me to launch my practice to platforms both nationally and internationally. Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into all of our plans, but I continue to make, as artists do.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
I would like to see real change in the way we treat the homeless and the mentally ill. I would also like to see Black Lives Matter requests realized, and I would like to see more diversity at higher levels of our institutions and in what is exhibited throughout the city.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
We can support one another, and we can encourage politicians and developers to find creative ways to keep us in the city. For example, organizations like RedLine are helping artist alumni by procuring affordable studio spaces in desirable — and sometimes donated — locations.
How did you happen to start making art in the first place?
Art has always been my language of greatest fluency. It is the only language with which I can share my dreams and fears, critique cultural norms and offer alternatives for a world gone awry.
What’s your dream project?
My overarching dream project involves waking up every day and making sincere and experimental artwork. My dream project at this very second involves a suspended wooden boat and 100 vintage saris.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Keep making work, even when you think you are at a standstill. Learning through making is so important in our field. Support other artists and don’t compete. Art-making is not a competition — it operates as an individual evolution. Trust in your work, and ignore anything that counteracts its growth and authenticity.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Filmmakers and producers Aaron and Amanda Kopp are two of my favorite Colorado creatives. They dream big and offer inspiration and hope to people all over the world. Doug Kacena believes in the power of art and finds ingenious ways to make our creative community flourish even during our current pandemic. And of course, my husband, Adam Graves, who created and runs Denver Project for Humanistic Inquiry (D-Phi). His newest endeavor, the provocative new podcast The Human Context, “explores timeless questions in the present tense.”
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
I have a solo exhibition up at K Contemporary right now called Innocence and Everything After, and group exhibitions in the next few months such as Cultural Encounters: Art of Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1945-Present, with the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C., and Look Again: A Survey of Contemporary Painting, with Hollis Taggart Gallery.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Trey Duvall is one of my favorite local artists. His work is experimental and experiential. I think Regan Rosburg is constantly expanding her practice and pushing boundaries. You can find them both at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, where they are current residents.
Suchitra Mattai’s solo exhibition Innocence and Everything After is on view at K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street, through August 15. Sign up in advance online for twenty-minute timed-entry slots available Tuesdays to Saturdays between 1 and 5 p.m.
Keep up with Suchitra Mattai and her work online.
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