Sunday, 7 October 2007

Identity, Transience and the Eternal Landscape

The XVA does it again. Fantastic opening night with iftar thrown in! I think it is my favourite gallery partly because its only five minutes from my house and I'm lazy and skint but also because its in Bastakia which is one of the only places in Dubai where its still possible to get a sense of history.

This exhibition featured two artists who explore themes of identity in very different ways. Jagath Ravindra is a Sri Lankan artist born in Chilaw and now teaching in Colombo as well as exhibiting worldwide. Most of his work is acrylic on canvas, a medium he said he likes because it allows speed when the execution of a work is urgent. He works on a series of paintings representing general themes and the theme here was Fights against Darkness. His paintings often use the motif of a recognisable human form within an abstracted landscape. His figures are in permanent motion. Some are straining, others are floating or even dancing and the colourscapes they inhabit are fundamental to the emotional impact of the work.

Ravindra said that he primarily uses colour and light to express an idea, and the management of shapes within the image space create the dynamic and suggest the feeling. The idea of ‘darkness’ relates to the external negativity of political and historical reality, and to the internal negativity often present as a consequence of that reality. He believes that the fundamental perception of the artist is of a common human identity that does not perceive or mark division. Therefore there is always some tension with political perceptions in which lines are inevitably drawn.

The idea that darkness can be fought is positive and present in much of the work on display in this exhibition. There are only three works in which darkness is literally represented by colour, giving the overall impression that the strength of brighter colours will always prevail.
This is definitely a very colourful exhibition but as he also said “Sri Lanka is a very colourful country”.

Unfortunately there are not any images from this show available on line yet but I have managed to get one here. For a look at contemporary artists in Sri Lanka in general please click on the link: Art Lanka

The second artist in this show, Tarek Al Ghoussein, is a Palestinian photographer, born in Kuwait and now living in the UAE. He teaches Photography at the School of architecture and design at the American University of Sharjah.

He also works in a series and exhibited here was an installation of six prints that make up the Untitled C series. Printed on Rice paper the series also explores identity but more directly in relation to transience and disintegration.

It is difficult to convey the effect of the installation in a small room where the viewers must walk in a zig-zag through the 6 sequential images hanging across the room with three on each side.

In the first image, a large mound is covered with a blue tarpaulin in a stark, barren and almost colourless landscape. Images 2 and 3 begin a gradual disintegration of the first image. Suddenly in image no. 4 the figure of a man appears, his back to the viewer and his head obscured by the blue tarpaulin. In picture 5 he is gone, and now there are only different sized pieces of blue tarpaulin, clinging to a wire fence and fighting the wind for their survival. In the final image all that remains are tiny fragments of blue in the stark and barren landscape.

Tarek likes working on series because the process is open so it can evolve as the work progresses. He said that this piece was kind of apocalyptic as it ends with nothing but traces of what went before. However, when exiting this installation you can take the same steps backwards so that the effect is then one of constructing something from nothing.

Blue tarpaulin is a constant image in the UAE as it is used to cover buildings where construction is underway and there is a lot of construction under way! However, the installation itself is not specific to any one place raising as it does, several different, though connected, issues in the mind.

What I personally liked was how it heightened the perception of time, in a way similar to certain video works in which one image is shown over an unspecified period. This connection actually made me imagine what the location might sound like which was a nice extra dimension.

Most of the images and some earlier work are here Tarek al Ghoussein: Photographs and for contemporary Palestinian artist images please click Palestine Index.

One of the best resource sites with extensive links to Palestinian, Middle East and International Gallery and Arts Sites is the Birzeit University Virtual Gallery.

(This post also appear on the Absolute Arts site.)

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