Chandrika Marla: Textile Dance of Relationships

The Urge to Merge, acrylic and fabric on canvas, 2011 
Migrating to a new land and finding herself at a crucial crossroads in her life led to Chicago-based artist of Indian origin, Chandrika Marla to transition into the art world six years ago. A graduate of the distinguished Indian fashion school, National Institute of Fashion and Technology (NIFT), she was a former fashion designer for a Delhi export company. “I moved to States in 1998 when I got married and subsequently, began designing clothes for Disney,” Chandrika says. While she enjoyed the experience, she mentions that having to leave Disney actually proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Having sporadically painted before, she utilized the time to hone her own painting technique under the tutelage of a local French artist. Eventually, she decided to embrace art, leaving fashion behind. “Fashion and art was getting muddled up in my fashion, one is always designing for the consumer and validation is based upon if a collection sold well,” she says, remarking that becoming an artist allowed her to experience a great surge of liberation and creativity.

Excluded, acrylic and oil pastel, 2009
Having been immersed in fashion for so long, Chandrika's hand would instinctively move to the familiar rhythms of sketching the female body. “I don't have a pronounced sense of realism, I am more interested in delineating humanistic figures,” she says, mentioning that the figures populating her paintings nowadays are increasingly becoming more and more anthropomorphic over time, vague and blurred in contrast to her earlier works depicting sharply defined figures.

Chandrika's art produces several questions about being an immigrant/artist, especially in context to personal preoccupations of creating and writing about one's homeland while living away from it. For an immigrant artist, how much does their motherland  influence their work (in Chandrika's case, India)? Is she intent on presenting herself as an essentially Indian artist through the basis of her work or do her roots play only a subliminal role in shaping it? Overall, is it imperative that one's immigrant identity always define one's artistic work?
Summer Fragment, acrylic, oil-pastel, and pigment on canvas, 2013
Both as a relic of her previous fashion designer avatar as well as a signature trademark, Chandrika incorporates fabric as an additional layer in her pieces to create a palimpsest of preexisting acrylics, oils, and pastels. In Sudha, for example, she cuts up a table-cloth and places it on the painting as how one would sew the pieces together, explaining, “It was like jigsawing a puzzle together.”

As India possesses incredible textile wealth, Chandrika has vast choices to feature in her work. (One example is Rajasthani block-print.) She explores fabric as means to interrogate the role of clothes in the facades that one presents to the world. In Urge to Merge (pictured first), three fabric bodices dance in a dialogue of sorts against a backdrop of warm, meditative red. Chandrika's works essentially concern themselves with the politics of relationships between women and the fabric, with paint converging to convey the layers nested inside these relationships.
Sudha, acrylic, oil pastel and block-printed fabric on canvas, 2010
“Whether its the politics of exclusion or inclusion or depicting cliquehood or facilitating the network of sisterhood, I am primarily interested in exploring a theme which has universal resonance,” she says. This makes one wonder whether the artist has moved away from her homeland, both in literal and artistic terms? 

Echoing many immigrants' dilemma, Chandrika wrestles with both the notion of going home and defining what "home" represents to her. “Chicago definitely has become my home now...India no longer is, it's challenging to deal with in several aspects,” she honestly says.

Similarly, in regard to her art, India does not prominently figure on her mind or manifest itself in her paintings. “If placed in an anonymous context, would my work come out as Indian? The iridescent sense of color and fabrics may be rooted in India...however, I feel that the work itself should primarily be the focus, rather than its context,” she concludes. 

Read and view more of Chandrika's work here.