Mita Mahato is a Seattle-based cut paper, collage, and comix artist, whose work explores the transformative capacities of found and handmade papers. Using collage and paper-making techniques, she builds multivalent images and stories that center on issues related to loss—including loss of life, identity, habitat, and species. Her cut paper poetry comics are collected in In Between (Pleiades Press 2017).
Mahato is one of the participating artists for the ON/OFF Grid art exhibition (April 6 - June 3) at the Gene Siskel Film Center in conjunction with the FAAIM 23rd Annual Asian American Showcase, 2018. We asked her a few questions about her work and artistic practice!
Does your identity or personal story inform your work? Who/what inspires you?
My identity as a daughter of immigrants from India (Bihar and Bengal states) informs my perspective on my art, teaching, and pretty much everything. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee in the late 70s and early 80s, I never felt exactly on the "inside" of anything. I was surrounded by people—friends—visually unlike me. You try to buy the trendy clothes or style your hair after the popular kids, but you never exactly fit in. I take that outside/inside dilemma into most of my art. I try to create space in my work to communicate silent or silenced voices by using collage and cut paper techniques that suggest hidden or layered narratives and perspectives.
What do you think about AI?
It fascinates me! Because much of my recent work interrogates the anthropogenic causes of environmental degradation and species extinction, I'm interested in the potential of AI to help us deconstruct the human-oriented narratives and perspectives that shape the ways in which we act in the world. I love that you can feed a data-set into a machine learning program and that it can output, say, images of faces that are just left of what we'd recognize as a human face. It's creepy!—but not wrong. AI in a way reminds me of the collage work that inspires me and it challenges me to reconsider my place in the world by imagining how "others" might see me (or totally disregard me!). I like the idea that there are forms of animal or other intelligence and emotion beyond human understanding and control.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on an experimental comic book loosely based upon my experiences during an artist residency in the Norwegian Arctic. The trip challenged my approach to using art to raise awareness about climate change issues. The work will consider how to represent the Arctic in a way that doesn't contribute to its further mystification. I'm also hoping it will advocate for the environment in a way that inspires people to bring wonder to their everyday actions and surroundings. For the background pages in one section of the book, I've been making handmade papers in which I've embedded plastics that I've collected from my produce purchases (potatoes in plastics bags, tangerines in those stretchy nets, etc.). Since starting the project, I've drastically reduced my plastic consumption. Change begins at home, right?