Through her non-conformist, multi-faceted practice encompassing painting, collage, installation, and performance, Mithu Sen interrogates the social constructs that define social behaviour and taboos. The prefix 'un', which precedes the titles of many of Sen's works, embodies a flexible process of building and removing boundaries to elicit conversation about the issues of sexuality, representation, and marginalisation.Read More
Mithu Sen holds a BA and MFA in Painting from the Kala Bhavana Institute of Fine Arts at Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan (1991 and 1997). After a stint at the Glasgow School of Art in 2001, she began to gain critical attention with provocative works that confound traditional gender roles and social expectations for women in India.
Examples of Mithu Sen's early work include the self-portraits presented at Half Full Part 1, her solo exhibition at Bose Pacia Gallery, New York, in 2007. Combining photographic images and painting, the artist portrayed herself in different bodies, often in the process of morphing into hybrid and androgynous creatures.
In Black Candy (iforgotmypenisathome)—a solo exhibition at Mumbai's Chemould Prescott Road in 2010—Mithu Sen similarly demonstrated her ability to introduce subjects that were considered taboo in Indian society. The small- and large-scale paintings in the show, such as You Owe Me! (2009), contain unapologetically bold depictions of male sexuality, nudity, and even pregnancy. Sen was awarded the inaugural Škoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art for Black Candy.
Throughout her practice, Mithu Sen has engaged with the concept of 'unbelonging', which describes an object that may belong to no one or anyone. The 'Hair Unbelongings' project, ongoing since 2000, imagines human hair that has fallen out as an unbelonging. Sen's seminal MOU (Museum of Unbelonging) (2011–2018) brings unbelongings inside a circular vitrine. The miscellaneous and discarded objects nevertheless represent a cultural memory, questioning the forces that determine official histories.
Like her early self-portraits, Mithu Sen's performances place her body in various guises and situations to explore topics that range from current affairs to critiques of power structures. In her solo exhibition UnMYthU at Chemould Prescott Road in 2018, for example, Sen staged a conversation with the AI personal assistant Alexa about the refugee crisis, which revealed the emotional limitations of AI.
(Un)Mansplaining, staged at the 58th Venice Biennale, addressed the Western art world's tendency to regard non-Western philosophies and artists such as herself as exotic by mixing recordings of lectures by male art critics with Sen's gibberish. Mithu Sen's performances and installations have also been presented at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2018), the inaugural Kathmandu Triennale (2017), the Biennale de Dakar (2016), and Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014), among others.
I have only one language; it is not mine, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2019); UnMYthU, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai (2018); Border Unseen, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan (2014); Cannibal Lullaby, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels (2013); I am a Poet, Tate Modern, London (2013); Devoid, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris (2012); Black Candy (iforgotmypenisathome), Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai (2010).
To a passer-by, Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna (2019); Deeper Within its Silence, Devi Art Foundation, India (2019); India Re-worlded: Seventy years of Investigating a Nation, Gallery Odyssey, Mumbai (2017); One Line Dot, The Japan Foundation, New Delhi (2017); Quiet Voices, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne (2016); Drawing the Bottom Line, S.M.A.K., the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art Ghent (2015).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021
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