Suchitra Mattai’s “We are dreamers, we are nomads” installation in Socrates Sculpture Park, New York. Photo by Scott Lynch courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

Suchitra Mattai weaves vintage saris into dazzling soft sculptures.

Suchitra Mattai G’01 Gr’01 GFA’03 learned to crochet, embroider, and sew at her grandmother’s side. In Guyana, where she grew up, many women sewed their own clothing. Her family was no exception. Suchitra got her start making clothes for dolls. When she was eight years old and anticipating the birth of a longed-for little sister, her ambitions grew. She crocheted an intricately patterned baby blanket. Textiles remained a touchstone as the Mattai family moved from one place to another, eventually settling in New Jersey, where colorful saris became a mainstay of ceremonial and special occasions. 

Photo by Scott Lynch courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

The traditional South Asian garment has since become integral to Mattai’s artistic oeuvre, which is on dramatic display this summer on the shore of the East River in Queens, New York. “We are nomads, we are dreamers,” an installation at Socrates Sculpture Park that runs through August 25, features thousands of saris woven into six massive pod-like forms, with Roosevelt Island and upper Manhattan as a backdrop. These 10-foot-tall cushy and kaleidoscopic monoliths are capped with sloping stainless-steel surfaces whose mirror polish reflects shifting skyscapes and treetops. More richly upholstered forms hang from high branches, like extravagant fruit.

From a distance, the giant ground-based sculptures read as elegant transitions between vibrant color fields. “But then, as you approach, you see the very small patterns on each strip of woven sari,” Mattai explains, “and you realize that they’re worn fabric. … Also, you see from afar a very glistening top. But then, as you approach, you see the cloud formations, you see the birds, you see everything that’s going on in the park.”

Photo by Anna Maria Zunino Noellert courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

The park’s location resonates with Mattai. “The East River feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, and I’ve lived in a number of places along the Atlantic Ocean— from Guyana, to Nova Scotia, to New Jersey and New York,” says the artist, who is currently based in Los Angeles. “So I was thinking a lot about migration, and how Queens is a site for many migrations, and many immigrants,” she continues. “I wanted to use the saris because when I weave them in the way that I do, in a way it’s uniting women of the South Asian diaspora, over time and topography. So one story is my migration story, but it’s also intended to connect with others who have migration stories—which is all of us, really.”—TP

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