Departmental Philosophy
Artist In Residence
Current Student Work


Chitra Gopalakrishnan
Designer Chitra Gopalakrishnan


When examining this work, it's important to realize that this is a single example drawn from our critique on Thursday October 10, 2008.

On a typical critique day, the department will discuss four students work. In this process each students' critique will deal with both a written and group discussion component.



Other Featured Designers




Featured designer Chitra Gopalakrishnan ('08)

Submitted for critique, thursday October 9, 2008.

Chitra Gopalakrishnan 01

Chitra Gopalakrishnan
Designer Statement

“Power the Cure; Cure the Power” refers to (in my mind) the link between what alternately heals and what completely annihilates. Power understood as a force that waivers on the edge of trust, or menacing as a threat. Cure viewed either as a healthy intervention or as interference with a natural process. This interest in working with ideas of an existence on the border of good faith and intimidation comes from being in complete disaccord with notions of responding to extreme violence by extreme violence.

Absolute love verges on the edge of absolute hate, which is a good reason as any, to be wary of extremists. In the book ‘The Shape of the Beast” Arundhati Roy talks about how one country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter. This statement proved to be severely disturbing for me because it was trying to equate the things I fear (terrorism) and admire (patriotism) the most.

In an unconnected incident while ambling about the Internet, I came across Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion that stated:
“Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”

It seemed to answer my question about why only some sections of society felt the need to be so violent: they had come in contact with something that created the urge. A BBC documentary “The Power of Nightmares” gives one version of this incendiary argument that linked the American Neo-Conservatives with rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Although I don’t buy the idea of one side or the other being completely at fault, I’m convinced that while extremist action is never justified, it needs to be acknowledged all the same; whether by people we support or people we oppose. This boils down to the transparent line separating a terrorist from a nationalist: both are about a force, deemed good or bad depending on your stance.

With this piece, I try to work with interpretations of a fear of the other and on developing a cosmetic exploration of it. Fear and chaos are just that at the root: a layered, intricate and complex combination of situations and misunderstandings that work to send someone over the edge of logic. My menacing soldier poses no threat; he is a harmless layer of patterns, and his firearm is distorted and fragmented into softer shapes. Yet his form looms over us; he can be as present or insignificant as you make of it.

Formally, I have been researching traditional Indian folk art which has a tendency to adorn and beautify; the desire to decorate is embedded in it. Some of the patterns inside of the shape of the person are inspired by traditional forms of alpana drawings made in rice flour outside homes (that are meant to guard against evil forces). I’ve also been interested in combining different densities of elements in the page: flat drawing, water color cut-outs, photographs of flesh-like objects made of plastic molding compound and more illustrative approaches with type. I have been looking at some propaganda posters, especially the work of Roman Cieslewicz, where a seemingly bizarre combination of elements function to reinforce powerful statements. I have tried to enrich my work with layers, that to me, are signifiers of an argument that loops around itself to create uncomfortable equations.


From left to right:

  1. (Reluctantly Suspended) Photomontage in the “Changes of Climate” Series, 1977 Roman Cieslewicz.
  2. Amnesty International, 1977, Roman Cieslewicz.
  3. (The Old Dodderer in Dim Tights) Photomontage in the “Changes of Climate” Series, 1976, Roman Cieslewicz.
  4. Alpana patterns from India.



Other significant work by Chitra Gopalakrishnan


Chitra 02
Sugar Allegory # 4
16"x20", Mixed Meida


Chitra 02
Sugar Allegory # 4
16"x20", Mixed Meida



Chitra Gopalakrishnan
Designer Statement
November 13, 2008


Sugar Allegories

Most of continental India worships an incarnation of Vishnu called Ram, to the point of fanaticism. We’ve even have a multitude of riots in his name to boast of, all under the incredibly tattered umbrella of religion. In the epic the Ramayana, it is written of how Ram is the embodiment of virtue, the perfect husband and king. During the course of the narration in the epic he wages war upon a ten-headed demon king of Sri Lanka called Ravana. Ravana is the embodiment of the evil, perverse and sinful in nature. Ram is of course the winner and the day of his victory is celebrated very ardently each year (Divali).

The above is the simple version of the story.

A nuanced and finer examination of the text reveals the merits in Ravana’s character and the holes in Ram’s philosophy. The hero is not completely heroic and the villain is not the devil’s incarnate. This is observed even in the fact that although most of mainland India is full of temples dedicated to Ram, a small discreet faction also worships Ravana, although in obsolete little towns.

The fulcrum of Hindu philosophy is the trinity that creates, preserves and destroys. A more secular argument would be that these three urges exist within each one of us, albeit in varying levels of obscurity. The degree to which one dominates over the other two is what drives our passions, has us commit to certain ideals and rebel against others. Ram and Ravana, though polar opposites, need each other to offset qualities of the other.

These tense yet fragile instants of role-reversals and opposing forces are where my work resides in. The violent is the peaceful, the flowery pastel is the diseased wound, the chaotic hysteria has a subtext of meticulous planning and the random gesture has a carefully calculated intent.

“Myths get thought in man unbeknownst to him” — Claude Levi-Strauss

Since the premise of design is to channel thought in a prescribed direction, mythology seems, to me, an interesting tool that indexes and organizes preceptions of reality. The argument linking structuralism and mythology is based on the fact that myths serve the need of a people to better understand, reconcile and rework the socio-political scene they live within.(1)

I have considered each of these images as formal explorations of this theory. They work together, but they also exist independently. I am receiving my own work in a strange way for the first time: some of the imagery is too sickly-sweet for me to dwell upon and each time I walk past this I am irritated by how cloying they are. At the same time I am strangely (perversely?) attracted to them and have spent hours looking at it. This mirrors my reaction to issues dealing with religion and politics: I am at once repelled and fascinated in odd ways. Although I might have become a subject to my own experiment, I have a clearer grasp of the topic after having done this piece.

(1)...the details of the myth matter less than the underlying structure. It strives to be the invariant, the common denominator among superficial differences. This invariant is how the mind perceives and copes with reality. As the audience becomes familiar with the narrative the structure subtly resolves in the unconscious the conflicts perceived by the conscious.
Page 195, last chapter of the book Indian Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik


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Zak Ostrowski , critiqued by Monica Breen