WORK by GEORGE CHAKRAVARTHI
George was born in New Delhi, India, and now lives and works across London and Cambridgeshire in the UK. Migration was not so much a re-location as a dislocation, triggering an ongoing process of self-exploration in his works.
George was brought up and schooled as a Catholic. Yet, because of other family influences, he also absorbed Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. This childhood, filled with a complex, multicultural trinity of deities, icons and belief systems, did not particularly affect or disconcert him until his move to England at the age of ten.
This eclectic upbringing intersects with his personal recollections, spiritual imagery, and an exploration of ambiguous identities through his photographic and video works. The reflective analysis of identities deconstruct learned and socially accepted definitions of the gendered body, sexuality and cultural identity.
In recent years, George has begun to slowly steer his work towards ethereal realms, particularly as they relate to the body and to nature. Culture-specific practices of rituals and yoga are explored in his ongoing photographic series, ‘The Ambidextrous Universe’ and ‘The Ancestors’. George has also researched Indian tribal and folk practices to inspire new composite works.
Untitled (from the series, Till Death do us Part) (1995)
This double exposure series of photographs ‘Till Death do us Part’ (1995) depicts George as both male and female. Recalling parental memories, dislocated and apart, the artist questions conventional and culturally endorsed gender roles.
Untitled from photo booth series
Mostly unseen and made with low costs and in low conditions, these early self-portraits appearing ‘as a Blonde’ made in photo booths and collected from an early series in 1986 reveal the beginnings of George’s practice. During the period between 1984-1988, George would create self-portraits in various guises and identities, often in defiance of expectations of a dark-skinned, Indian male.
The Last Supper (1998)
As a homage to George’s eclectic upbringing, the female disciples at the table of the iconic Christian tableau, ‘The Last Supper’ (1998), are dressed in south Indian saris and recall goddess worship in Hinduism, while the tonsured head and the hair on the table allude to the Buddhist renouncer.
In the video installation, ‘Olympia’ (2003), George reclaims the position of the central female nude in Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting while queering and reworking the racial dynamics of this modernist painting.
Cleopatra (from the series, Thirteen) (2012)
Evoking death, drama and identity, George re-imagines thirteen characters in Shakespeare’s plays who met their ends through suicide. ‘Thirteen’ (2012) is a series of powerful self-portraits presented in duratran embedded in lightboxes in which George assumes the roles of some of Shakespeare's doomed characters, including Mark Antony, Othello, Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet. In so doing, George explores the ambiguities of gender and the masking of identity, often central to Shakespeare’s plays.
Untitled (from the series, The Ambidextrous Universe)
Western culture has long associated the left with evil, a belief that has been reinforced by Christianity. Although it is difficult to pinpoint any specific reference to such views in the Bible, the devil is depicted as being left-handed, saints are said to have refused feed from their mother’s left breast, and painters of the Last Judgement depict God pointing to heaven with His right hand and to hell with His left. Eastern religions or spiritual imagery, mostly tend to focus on union, equilibrium, balance and symmetry, indicative of an ambidextrous philosophy. Based on algorithmics, fractals and sacred geometry, this digital photography series (a part of ongoing visual research, ‘The Ambidextrous Universe’, 2015) examines the body in relation to botanical structures, ancestral memories and spiritual balance.
George’s self-portraits often offer intimate access to the psyche through personas and alter egos. Such provocations through live, photographic and video works create dialogues with the viewer about various subject matters and are often used as an means of expressing the complexity and fluidity of ever-evolving identities.