Cage of Deliverance @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Mortification of the flesh is a religious practice that is difficult to forget once seen. In Rajinder Singh’s case, it is the bearing of kavadi by devotees who worship the Hindu God of war, and the cheek & skin piercings commonly associated with this ritual. The artist expands his horizon to include many other cultural icons which represent deliverance, or the human need for atonement from shame. At the deep end of the gallery, a sequence of straight lines cut into five fingers is projected, disarming the visitor who had just walked past gilded poles and an assortment of Chinese plates & bowls laid out on the ground. Rajinder says that these objects are part of a performance to re-enact a wake, which is documented on a screen nearby. 

Three Studies on Everlasting (2016)

Wall hangings fall into three categories – square mandala-like paintings with figurative poses embedded, triptychs that both construct and deconstruct cultural designs, and large depictions of icons amalgamated from various cultures the artist is familiar with. The latter works are impressive and dominate a large corridor space. Rajinder appropriates the spatial memory of encountering such icons, instead of just depicting the subject’s form, the larger-than-life works imposing an authority akin to a magnificent marble statue seen within a Roman Catholic church. Disparate parts are fun to make out, but inconsequential to the overall interpretation – peacock feathers headdress, Chinese warrior vest and blade, stumpy yet elegant legs from Indian statues, angel wings, Balinese dance costume, Greek arms and silver halos…

Restitution (2016)

With titles like ‘Penance’ and ‘Reparation’, the theme of ‘Forgiveness’ is reinforced via repeated depictions of the vel, a divine javelin that is represented by the skewer in ritual practice. Most spear tips are embellished with gold leaf by the artist; multiple layers on the canvas demands a closer look. According to the artist, sand was laid over gesso to create a fine textured surface. Images of body parts are subsequently silkscreened, then oil paint and glittery metal sheets are applied, and powder is used in some cases. The end effect is slightly superficial but undeniably gorgeous, as vague memories of cultural rituals are re-constructed into a single figurative representation. That the bindi – a red dot on the centre of one’s forehead, worn by Hindu women – functions only as decorative element in these paintings, is the whole point. 

Purification (2016)

Balancing out these imposing works are the triptychs, typically composed of close-ups, plan views, and amalgamated structures constructed from pictures of religious sites. The architectural perspective of space provides a complementing dimension to the central theme of deliverance, as such motifs appropriate the spiritual experience attached to these forms by its initial creators. In ‘Three Studies on Immortality’, scratchy cloud patterns seen in Chinese temples are flanked by a Greek/Indian double image, and three towers that recall ringing medieval bells. Encounter with these icons belong to memories of different time and space, yet these visual cues refer to a singular element, that of a historical reverence for human salvation. When a church, temple, and mosque, is conflated to a single ghostly design, the spiritual aura does not diminish, even enhanced on further gazing.

Accept (2016)

Relative to other exhibits, the square mandala-like paintings denote the most simplistic aesthetic form of divinity, in its geometry and re-presentation of puja poses. Vel skewers become guide lines dividing each picture into quadrants, curiously negating a radial effect which potentially better fit this show. With its attention to detail, personal interpretations of accumulated experience, literally varied perspectives, and all through tinted lenses, Rajinder’s works propose an approach similar to its subject matter. To deliver oneself from one’s acknowledged frailties, a firm dedication to form and (aesthetic) purity is required for transforming one’s self. Cultivate attachment to attain detachment. However ostensible it may be, the end result is magnificent, as we know it. 

Three Studies on Immortality (2016)