I want to introduce you to Chicago-based artist Chandrika Marla. Her artwork is gorgeous on so many counts- most of them are in intense colors that take me back to my childhood, a time when those colors were all around me. She has a whole series that use block-printed fabrics, but those aren’t the only reasons. Almost the entire body of her work talks about women, their relationships with themselves and the people around them. The work does not only have a biographical element to it, it’s also universal because the artist explores themes of joy, loss, confidence and strength.
My World is Upside Down, 2009
Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas
“I’ll start chronologically/backwards, which helps to see how the work has evolved. INVERSION was an unplanned series. I had a blank canvas in front of me, and I began to sketch directly onto the canvas with my brush. I drew a head, then a shoulder and another curve, and before I knew it I had a composition that had these anthropomorphic shapes. This ended up being a group in which I talk about people, togetherness, our behaviors and choices. If you flip one of these paintings upside down, you get a very similar image on the new side. As if there are people everywhere, no matter where you turn.
PARTS is an ongoing group, evolving ever since I started painting. This is where my obsession with the female torso began. The main theme is an absence of body parts, parallel to ruminations on what I had lost in my own journey. Did I miss the culture I grew up with? The friends I left behind? The inspiration here was to find answers to these questions that ran around in my head, and my protagonist took the shape of a dress form – which every fashion design student is familiar with. A silent and non- judgemental friend. In many ways, like a therapist!
Gone but not Forgotten, 2011
Acrylic and fabric on canvas
I was inspired to start the TALK series on a flight to India. I was looking at photographs of my work, and thought that since my torsos rarely had limbs perhaps I could do away with the entire body. And the designer in me answered, “Why not simply have bodices in conversations with each other?” On the same trip, I found myself at my old haunts in New Delhi, marveling at all kinds of block-printed fabrics. This ended up being a large group, with my bodice-protagonists in all kinds of situations. Mainly, I wanted to show the connection between clothing and our body and suggest that we put on a front each day, as we decide what to wear and who to be.
Drift Away, 2012. Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas
XANAX was an expression of my physical and mental state. When I started this series, I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, and was prescribed Xanax for a week. I felt as if I was floating in another world and not really myself. For many months, I couldn’t deal with vibrant color. That’s when I started painting these ghost-like disembodied figures. I think at this time I was questioning why this was happening to me and how I could be my old self again. The paintings have a quality of there-but-not-there, just like my mind.
When I Last saw You, 2015
Acrylic and pigment on canvas
The group I have been working on over the past year is FRAGMENTED. Parts of the body are compared to landscapes. Our memory fills in the missing pieces, and we subconsciously imagine the missing areas. I was inspired by the women I know and am familiar with. Over the years, I got the sense that everyone is seeking something, however elusive. We are torn in many directions in that search for fulfillment.”
You can visit Chandrika at her website to learn more about her work and her creative process. I want to finish the post with this, my favorite of her artworks, A Woman Of Substance..
A Woman Of Substance, 2011. Acrylic and fabric on canvas.
All images are courtesy of Chandrika Marla. Chandrika’s portrait is by Tanvvi Agarrwal.
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