Born in New Delhi in 1969, George Chakravarthi moved to the UK at the age of 10. It is therefore a reasonable expectation that the theme of identity is one explored in his work. In Thirteen, currently housed within Impressions Gallery, Bradford, the manipulation of gender and identity is keenly explored. The vehicle by which he examines these ideas is through Shakespearean character. This exhibition was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The fictional individuals selected have in common a topical conclusion: self-slaughter.
The images supplied by Chakravarthi – large, detailed, bold-coloured, and illuminated from the rear – art are all a means of self-portraiture. Chakravarthi stands in for all characters, but in different guises. He says, “changing perceptions of suicide seemed a rich area to explore, especially in the context of our political history and the direct connection to Shakespeare’s representation of death as an act of courage, passion and honour.”
Both female and male characters from Shakespeare are represented. When he adopts the guise of Cleopatra the visitor is greeted with an elegantly detailed, green and gold overlaid photograph of himself as the Egyptian Queen. The image glows, owing to a coupling of illumination with a degree of transparency. The space at Impressions Gallery is cast in darkness, and as such the audience is forced to readjust their vision, making the works stand out even more. Chakravarthi also appears as Lady Macbeth, represented in a posture of female strength. He wears a feminine-sculpted garment on the upper body and he incorporates the material of cobwebs and the chromatic themes of red and gold.
Chakravarthi references John Everett Millais in his representation of Ophelia. Hamlet’s spurned lover, unlike all other characters represented in Thirteen, is displayed horizontally in her drowned state. Meanwhile, green is a prominent colour employed cleverly in the image of Othello. The intention is perhaps to suggest jealousy and his cloak starkly contrasts in red and white. Cassius is also represented holding a partially concealed dagger and Chakravarthi’s gaze is one of cold cunning. The facial expressions selected by Chakravarthi in all 13 images bears relevance to the character he appears as. Visually, Thirteen is extremely powerful and the charisma of the large-scale, glowing images both threatens and oppresses.
In adopting the various roles of Shakespearean characters as a mode of repeated self-portrait, Chakravarthi, imparts empathy with the fictional individuals. He highlights suicide as a common potential conclusion to life for all, and as one that, given its absolute finality, transcends gender, age and ethnicity. In doing so, the question of recent, modern and ancient political history is suggested. Suicide bombings, the suicide of failed tyranny, suicide as self-sacrifice, and suicidal ideation by the oppressed or afflicted are potential considerations to be personally re-assessed given the self-identification by Chakravarthi.
George Chakravarthi: Thirteen, until 21 June, Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD.
1. Othello © George Chakravarthi / Courtesy of Impressions Gallery.
Follow us on Twitter @AestheticaMag for the latest news in contemporary art and culture.