23 July 2016

The Crowning Glory @ Sutra Gallery

“Ordinary mortals are inadvertently caught in the maya of owning and disowning that momentary glory. However, each evening when a performer climbs the stage and subsumes himself in that sacred aura to assume the power of a fleeting glory, he is in fact living in a world of make-belief with two selves – the normal and the elevated. On stage he has to perform and lapse from the mundane to the elevated. A similar situation happens with the painter when he is ‘possessed’ by the act of creation. However, the painter is able to transform an absence into a tangible presence. This is precisely what Sivarajah Natarajan knows; and he knows it too well. His virtual absence on the stage as lighting designer of Sutra fills an egoistic obsession which he announces in clear terms as his ‘presence’ in his painting and sculptures.”
- Crowning Moments, Dr Dinanath Pathy, exhibition catalogue for “The Crowning Glory”, 2016

Yudhisthira - Refuses to enter Heaven without his steadfast companion - The Dog (2016)

Functioning as a marker indicative of an on-stage character, headdresses and masks seem like inconvenient props in traditional dance. Directly in contact with the performer’s head and face, donning it becomes an act of assuming identities. The moment one gets into character, these typically elaborate headgear capture spectators’ attention, while the performer ideally forgets that one is in costume. As a regular observer of stage dance, Sivarajah Natarajan deftly expresses his observations in various art mediums, as presented in this exhibition of works from the past five years. Older works feature Greek myths like Jason & the Golden Fleece; some focus on dancing movements, such as the lively hands covering a majestic fanged mask in ‘Pak Jimat dan Barong’.

Semangat Menora (2011)

Colourful studies in primary colours lead to the more decorative paintings exhibited, which utilise patterned backgrounds and vivid outlines. Sivarajah’s painting approach is mature and assured. Luminous underpainting and matching hues help bring the subject matter to life, especially in straightforward depictions like ‘Yudhisthira’ and ‘MahaKala’. Wayang kulit characters are drawn directly on the canvas in cobalt blue in ‘Antara Wayang dan Bayang’, the same method also used to illustrate the ornamental wood carvings in ‘Semangat Menora’. The latter work looks different in the catalogue, and as the artist mentioned in a radio interview, he is contented to re-work as long as the painting is still in his studio. In this case, the additional elements result in a positively better painting.

Rasa Unmasked - The (Double) Face of Glory (2012)

In ‘Rasa Unmasked’, a white mask is attached to the back of one dancer’s head, where both countenances look equally alive. A number of imposing bronze sculptures retain this aura of one assumed (and alive) character, turning the relatively large headdresses into objects of reverence. Charcoal drawings of these sculptures present more vitality, where the bushy moustache of ‘Koothu Character’, and the large monolid eyes of ‘Gerhana – the Eclipse’, lend these characters a human characteristic despite being obvious mythological subjects. In illustrating the glorious quality of headdresses worn, Sivarajah touches upon the enduring aspects of traditional dance, where ideal stereotypes inspire an eager audience. In this contemporary age when one no longer knows which mask one is wearing, such demarcations are helpful reminders.

Installation view [from l to r] The Clown of God (III) (2014); The Clown of God (I) (2014); The Clown of God (II) (2014); The Clown of God (I) (2016)

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