Everyone was wearing black, but it wasn’t a funeral. Dripping wet from the freshly fallen snow outside, the black-clad patrons at the Beverly Arts Center’s reception for “Alter Ego” contrasted sharply with the brightly colored fabric paintings that surrounded them. Each piece is part of what artist Chandrika Marla calls her “talk show,” though the drama of everyday life that the paintings highlight is more nuanced than most talk shows.
Depicting bright Indian apparel against abstract backgrounds, the mixed-media paintings at “Alter Ego” create a conversation between the viewer and the implied bodies that inabit each piece. Clothing, not bodies, are the subject of these works, and by fixating on exterior appearances the paintings are able to demonstrate a variety of different social interactions.
Marla’s artistic career began in fashion, when she was a designer of Western-style clothing and Disney clothing products. After being laid off she decided to take some painting classes, and since then has brought her experiences as a mother and wife to bear through art that explores the nature of social roles and the effects of cliques. Her work in “Alter Ego” focuses especially on the interaction between individuals and groups, with each piece isolating its subject through the absence of a specific background. The paintings were all constructed through the physically demanding process of applying fifteen to twenty layers of different colors and using a toothed tool to scrape some layers away. Atop these abstract backgrounds, Marla affixed silhouette cutouts made from traditional floral Indian fabrics, in the style of traditional garb. The shirts are positioned askew across the canvases, as if to suggest a conversation, and the placement of the silhouettes seems to reveal implied social interactions. At times, these silhouettes invitingly face the viewer; at others, the viewer is excluded. In a few pieces, two silhouettes in profile face each other as if gossiping, closing off communication from the others.
Throughout, Marla uses traditional Indian fabrics and designs. In one piece, “Cut Off,” two separate canvasses are placed next to each other, connected by the same green and orange background. In the canvas on the left, an orange- and yellow-striped paisley shirt faces a dark-blue kurta (an Indian shirt), apparently in conversation. On the right canvas, a light-green kurta is isolated from the group. Even without bodies, the message of this piece reveals a narrative of cliques and exclusion: the people are implied, but they do not exist.
By extracting the body from the narrative of these paintings, “Alter Ego” is an exhibition that challenges viewers to question their placement as individuals in social contexts. The content of the paintings exist as our own realities, reflecting how we have interacted socially and collectively; at their best the paintings bring forth the years of our own “alter ego,” and the choices we have all made as individual and parts of a larger collective.
Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. Through March 10. Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-5pm. Hours subject to change. (773)445-3838. beverlyartcenter.orgâ€¨