Drawn to Chitra Ganesh

Celebrating the renowned artist with a comic about her life and work

June 27, 2024
A woman with long black hair, hand tattoos, rests her left hand under her chin, as a colorful ribbon scrolls around her.

Cover from the comic, "Chitra Ganesh: Brooklyn, Bollywood, and the Rainbow Path." Illustration by Ati Gor

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1975 to Indian immigrant parents, Chitra Ganesh is a visual artist who draws from Indian mythology, literature, and popular culture to reveal feminist and queer narratives from the past and to imagine new visions of the future. In addition to her paintings, drawings, video and installation works, she has created comics and Queer Power: A Time Traveling Coloring Book, honoring those who fought, or continue to fight for gay rights and gender equality.

The artist’s story is told in the comic "Chitra Ganesh: Brooklyn, Bollywood, and the Rainbow Path," rendered beautifully in all the colors of the rainbow thanks to the incredible talents of Ati Gor, a student-illustrator at the Ringling College of Art and Design. The comic mesmerizes right from the start. The cover features a portrait of Chitra looking intensely at the viewer with symbols that she often incorporates into her own work—including a lotus with an eye at its center—enveloped by a ribbon of color, the rainbow path that weaves throughout the comic and accompanies Chitra on her journey. 

“I love this project and found it a deeply rewarding experience to work with an illustrator on representing my artistic journey in comic form," said Chita. "Our conversations gave me an opportunity to reflect upon key moments along this path that were instrumental to me becoming an artist, and which continue to influence my practice today. I realized how much my own identity as a lifelong New Yorker, travels to India, alongside coming of age within the warmth, courage and exuberance of the immigrant and queer communities that grew me up, as well as the hurdles these identities presented at times—have had a profound impact on shaping my artistic trajectory."

Illustration and description of Chitra's childhood.

The comic opens with scenes of India and Brooklyn, linking the Taj Mahal with the Brooklyn Bridge as we learn about Chitra’s childhood. She loved reading books and comics and became immersed in Indian myths, history, and folktales. Her father loved the over-the-top Bollywood films that featured emotionally rich stories, singing and dancing. Ati skillfully illustrates this journey of Chitra’s self-discovery with vivid, colorful illustrations and a wonderful use of spatial storytelling on each page.  

The best part of the project was definitely getting to know the artist themself! I ended up finding a lot of myself in Chitra and it was fascinating to see how we grew up in the same kind of community but in different times.

Ati Gor
Illustrations and written detail of Chitra’s artistic influences that led to her coloring book; including street art, Indian comics, and LGBTQ+ pride.

The twinning of words and images really comes together for me as we see Chitra as an adult, on the path of becoming an artist, in New York in the 1980s. The energetic drawing captures that heady time with boomboxes, an homage to street artist Keith Haring, and the joy of marching with your chosen brothers and sisters in New York’s Pride parade. The page bursts with hope, possibility, and most importantly, love. The rainbow path that began the story is back, a path created by Chitra and Ati, but now spread out before our eyes, as if inviting the reader to join in.  

As a storyteller and comic maker myself, the story’s form has a special resonance for me, and I really appreciate Ati’s ability to weave together and condense some very complex moments into a visually dense, beautiful and cohesive story.

This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.

We invite you to read the comic and share it with your friends and young people in your life.

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