Explorations of the Flesh, Psyche and Spirit at the Yavuz Gallery
During the Art Fair Philippines 2018, Singapose-based Yavuz Gallery showcased works by young artists from various countries in the Southeast region. The selected artists were: Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew (Thailand), Winner Jumalon (Philippines), Yeo Kaa (Philippines), Soe Yu New (Myanmar), Johanna Helmuth (Philippines), Dharma Bum, Yani Unsana (Philippines). Looking at the displayed works, one can’t help but seek a theme. Here, it seems that the exhibit proposed different perspectives, depictions, and rendering of the flesh, psyche and spirit by presenting a selection of works that use different possible execution of forms and materials ranging from traditional oil paintings to works that use unusual objects such as tulle and faux bling.
Thai artist Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew’s four works, all encased in glass, were on display: Absent-Minded No.1 (2017) and Absent-Minded No. 2 (2017) are two separate portraits of a child; Moment of Hope No.1 is a portrait of a woman (2017); and Memory and Transformation (2015) portrays a woman sitting on a desk. Nimmalaikaew uses two separate layers of dark tulles or dark sheer fabrics where the images are painted on to produce three dimensional, almost holographic and ghostly art works. As you investigate the image in each of his works by shifting angles and position either by walking across or back and forth, the stoic image gradually, subtly, and hauntingly comes to life. The suffering brought about by the death of a loved one can be beleaguering, making us question one’s rationality. It can put you in a dark corner of interminable melancholy, in a disconsolate and perpetual nostalgia. You seek to remember the past and long to grasp memories. Sometimes, you can evoke images of the past, images from memory by closing your eyes It is in this darkness of remembering can one see memory and in opening your eyes can you feel absence.
Winner Jumalon’s four large works in oil on canvass are juxtaposition of images of undressed males and females, some positioned to expose the genitals, even suggesting some figures are in the act of coitus. Strewn among the human figures are fragments of petals, twigs, a skeleton of an arm, a dismembered leg, etc. In one of his large paintings, is a skull of a ram with horns intact. The ram skull, which is also seen in his other smaller work Encuentro (2016), insinuates meaning maybe in Freudian or biblical terms. By means of defacing his works, by drawing over the images with jagged lines, scratching out the paint, by blotching and smudging, Jumalon creates an unsettling articulation on the human flesh and its performance as sexual beings. This gesture could also be a re-action as a means to obscure, conceal, repress, or maybe show confusion. However, these maybe are statements, and not attempts to conceal or obscure because he does not even spare us the occasion to approximate the imaginable. Instead he gives us raw and unconcealed view of otherwise hidden acts. There is no romanticizing of the sexual act in Jumalon’s pieces; and not also pornographic renditions of the human flesh. Instead what we can read are only sharp, scathing and sardonic statements on the libidinal as a component of human life.
Yeo Kaa uses anime, or that cartoon figure popular among youth and children. The larger-than-life, wide-eyed, candy pink anime girl plastic figure and a painting with the same subject are in a state of undress. The hands are in a gesture to signify confusion or uncertainty, while you look at her with the same puzzling pity at the irony in the works Kaa has conveyed. The sexualization of children in cartoon, especially in Japanese anime or manga is most prevalent nowadays. Graphic novels, cartoon on television and online are easily accessible even to children, where many would read and see characters, especially young female characters, drawn provocatively: the skirt fips, panty shots, etc.. Here, Kaa strips the character naked and appears to be asking what the viewers might have think now that they see her in a vulnerable state of nakedness. But it seems many of the viewers have not taken notice of her nakedness. Instead they pose and smile beside her to take selfies…and most surely they will post online the selfies they took with this naked and confused, cotton pink anime girl.
Aside from the ghostly images, depiction of repression, confusion, and bewilderment in the sample works stated above, the mixed media work entitled Blue Boy (2017) by Dharma Bum, in contrast offers a sense of positivity and light. At the center of Bum’s work is a figure in the vrikshasana (tree pose, hands in namaste) yoga position. The whole figure is fully studded, brimming and shimmering with sequins, beads and faux bling, that seems to be in the path to enlightenment, an appearance of experiencing spiritual knowledge. But on the other hand, because of the faux bling, sequins and beads, as these materials that are meant to enhance or intensify quality to the work seems to have been overly done. This could connote a statement on the practice of an East Asian tradition gone morally depraved, corrupted by entrepreneurs. Dharma Bum seems to question the authenticity of one’s experience of the yoga exercise in the context of vast commodification of a spiritual experience.
The array of issues pertaining to the flesh and psyche in the works at the Yavuz Gallery demonstrates the complexity humans face with their reality. The questioning of the aesthetics of the flesh, where underneath the constrictions and constructions of the human body, bodily responses and reason, comes to a point when artists see the need to confound ineffable issues such as sex, sexualization, death and spirituality. The exhibit has shown how artists articulate the intricacies of human emotions, reason and psychology, the taboo on sexuality, sexualization of children, commodification and abuse of the body and spirituality — these issues that society seldom place in public discourse due to fear, rejection, ignorance, or shame.