Wednesday, July 31, 2013

‘autobiografia :recluse of history’

What forms the crux of a new exhibition, entitled ‘autobiografia :recluse of history’ at at Gallery Art & Soul. An accompanying note elaborates:

“As South Asia's communal conflicts take political overtones, viewing Justin Daraniyagala's practice in the contemporary, for instance India and Sri Lanka's discrimination against sections of civilians, returns us to the deep fear of Jean Louis-Forain's, 'Le commencement de la peur' made in response to the start of World War I. In the exhibition, the minotaurs and Don Quixotes of Picasso, Daraniyagala, and Dali, equip us only with a vocabulary, tested and invaluable in that, with which to think out our present time.

Daraniyagala, part of the Sri Lankan avant-garde 43 Group, was encouraged from a young age to pursue the career of an artist. Able to travel to Europe, he exhibited his works alongside painters like Picasso in 1935; and preceded his Indian contemporaries, like MF Hussain and Francis Newtown Souza, in interpreting cubism through his own lens.

A heavily coded and stimulating series (the bearded 'Philosopher), conversing simultaneously, and perhaps unconsciously, with art history - the 'gaze' directed on the nude or the model that so troubled art critics like John Berger in his seminal book 'Ways of Seeing'; and with the subtexts and untold anxieties hidden and coded through the works of Justin Daraniyagala, enriching his keen male perspective, with a female one.

There are then two kinds of recluses from the standard tellings of a cubist art history - the books on display mention few female cubist artists; and recognise no non-European artists. Daraniyagala was in fact reviewed by John Berger, who saw his practice as a real demonstration of painting independent of other styles and outstanding alongside his European contemporaries. Yet, Daraniyagala left Europe to live at his parents' estate in Sri Lanka, and died young, in 1967 from tuberculosis, leaving behind a large body of works.

Shernavaz Colah's writing on Daraniyagala, interprets the red crosses painted over the mouths of his late paintings, as Daraniyagala's coded concession of his illness. His earlier works are romantic studies of women from a place once called Ceylon, gradually turning into grotesque anxious faces, (compared with those of Pacanowska's), as his health deteriorated, and as the island took on the identity of Sri Lanka.

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