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Photo courtesy Contemporary Calgary

Astral Dance: Women in the cosmos

By Mason McDougall, October 25 2022

Astral Dance by Chitra Ganesh is a cosmic experience that Contemporary Calgary presented to the public on Oct. 13 and will run until Jan. 29, 2023.

It’s best to go to this exhibit when you have no idea what you are getting yourself into, at least that’s how I’d recommend viewing it. Having been to a handful of art gallery exhibitions I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but I was gravely wrong. Nothing could prepare me for the colours, mysticism and unapologetic sexuality I was affronted with. 

Ganesh focuses on the themes of women’s sexuality, mythology and the mystical cosmos —  and she has no problems with putting them all into a single image. Despite working with different themes, she is able to make them all blend seamlessly together in her work. 

After a few minutes of submersing yourself in her artwork you don’t even bat an eye at seeing a woman with three breasts spouting fire from where her head has been decapitated, like in her painting “She the Question, Head on Fire.” This extreme gore and upfront sexuality becomes expected in her work and one becomes desensitized to seeing strong sexual women depicted. I think this is what she was trying to accomplish, and I have to say it worked. 

Female anatomy is heavily depicted in her work, whether it be a pair of breasts, natural body hair or showcasing long textured nails that stand off of the canvas. Ganesh seems to give fingernails just as much sexual power as she does the other parts of a woman’s body. In one comic panel the nails are given significance by women ripping the sky open with their fingernails. 

The poet Sappho is mentioned in one of her comic panels displayed against a blank white wall. Ganesh seems to have a spiritual connection with Sappho. She plays into Ganesh’s work because Sappho was not only regarded as one of the best lyricists of all time, but she is also celebrated for professing love for women and attraction to women’s bodies in her poems. Sappho wrote passionately about women and women’s sexuality, just like how Ganesh draws women’s bodies passionately, opening them up and depicting the infinite cosmos hidden in a woman, like in her comic panel “Atlas.” 

I overheard one man remark while pondering the comic panel “Atlas,” that “from a woman burst stardust and from this stardust birthed life.” Whether Ganesh is depicting the birth of children or the birth of the universe itself, it is ambiguous and left up to the viewer to decide for themselves. 

The biggest art piece was a mural made by Ganesh situated near the back of the exhibit. This felt less like a painting and more like a set piece. The figures were larger than life and the wall wrapped around you, fully immersing you into her bright pink colours and cosmic world. One of the curators of the exhibit said that the mural was done special for the exhibit and may still be on that wall far after her exhibit has moved on. 

One can’t help but try to fit in with the crowd in these places. I picked up and imitated what I will call the “taking in art” pose — a pose in which you clasp both your hands together in front of you and lean forward slightly, letting out “oohs” and “ahhs” to let the others know you are deeply pondering the piece.
After leaving the exhibit I felt in desperate need of a drink, having felt overwhelmed by the art. One of the most important things about art and what makes it so unique is the many different interpretations, so I recommend grabbing a drink, pulling up a chair, talking about the wild art with everyone and learning as much as you can — all while making friends.

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