“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection” – George Orwell.
The human being is a social animal, seeking others of its kind to cultivate relationships. In pursuing a romantic relationship, there’s the quest to find the partner that we think would complete us. Each one of us is flawed, lacking in this and that. Thus, one seeks that missing half of the puzzle, although perfection and entire homogeneity are highly improbable.
Some of us crave to be alone, seeking utter silence in an enclosed safe space – this self-inflicted exile most of the time conceals a vulnerability, a reaction to the torments of failed relationships, romantic or otherwise. However, the emotional vacuum in their doing away with intra-human liaisons is sometimes mitigated by transposing the suppressed love onto a cat or a dog. The human need to love someone or something and to be accepted, notwithstanding all, is visceral. The pet reciprocates its owner’s love and does not throw a tantrum or is consumed by envy, anger or any of the other so-called deadly sins.
Artist Silvana Camilleri, known as taċ-Ċmajra, in a new exhibition titled Humanity, explores different situations via a male and female model. She created scenarios by instructing them to pose, thereby expressing emotions, via their facial grimaces and smiles, as well as their bodies’ behaviour; this through the prompts of the artist.
The artist then intervened on the printed photographs; the compositions edited to suit her concept. She uses different media such as acrylics, pen, watercolours and bronze leaf to highlight the pathos and drama of the situation portrayed. She included text in some pieces, as in Anger and Burden, endowing the pieces with a pop dimension which is however evident throughout. According to the artist, Anger is about externalising and voicing pain, hurt and vexation, coughing out text in a verbal declaration: “I’m angry… I’m hurt….I feel.” The enhanced colour and the white striations chromatically express the helplessness of the situation.
Text has been included in paintings by Rene Magritte, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly and Barbara Kruger, among others. Kruger once remarked: “Making art is about objectifying your experience of the world, transforming the flow of moments into something visual, or textual, or musical, whatever. Art creates a kind of commentary.”
Kruger, like Camilleri, uses monochromatic photographs and aphorisms to create declarative collages or juxtapositions that question contemporary issues. In Burden, the Maltese artist uses a Krugeresque style to visually illustrate the maze of conundrums that are a dead weight on a young woman’s psyche.
Guilt flows with male remorse, the narrative in the tattoo sleeve bleeds as red predominates. This could be the aftermath in the messing up of a relationship or taking a bad decision. Red streams like blood, symbolising passion, anger and love. Tattoos are declarations of many emotions; one inks life-changing episodes onto one’s skin, as memorials that might compel the person to dwell on his or her failures and learn lessons. In this painting, the rivulets seem to be contributing to the tattooed composition, perhaps illustrating the original situation that precipitated the overwhelming guilty feelings. The background on the right is a hellish red; guilt can make one experience a hell of one’s own design.
Love is the best form of emotion, transmitting hope and comfort
Domestic Violence and Quarrels could be read as companion pieces to Guilt. Although one cannot summarily affirm that men are always the culprits, especially in the cases when blows are exchanged, it is a scourge that arises from mutual incomprehension, envy and other shortcomings.
In Domestic Violence, colourful tears stream down the girl’s face, her eyes hidden behind her hands as they attempt to rub away the stinging pang or even conceal guilt of some sort. Sometimes, a heavy sense of this haunts the victim who feels that his/her verbal retorts or physical reaction contributed to the brutality of the situation. The artist says that she portrayed the young lady with eyes closed and tearful as she lost hope of getting out of her predicament.
Quarrels finds the lovers entangled in a fight, with no winners, only losers. The plural of the title indicates that strife between this couple is continuous. The two protagonists face each other, perhaps passion and love still linger, notwithstanding the confrontation. Green and red, symbolising envy and passion, dominate the background while a tiny streak of yellow could be indicative of a sliver of hope, despite all.
Don’t Mess With Me is defiance in the face of violence and adversity. Camilleri says that this is a portrayal of a woman who had turned villain through the experience of abuse, societal exclusion and helplessness. She hits out at society in criminal revenge.
The message in Love and Comfort is a redeeming one, in a world dominated by violence, discrimination and ridicule. Finding one’s soulmate might take forever but the benefits make living so much bearable as the problems are lovingly solved through sharing. No man is an island, the axiom goes. Physical intimacy and demonstrating love for one’s partner can help one brave the waves and for everything to appear in a brighter light.
Camilleri embellishes the background with bronze leaf, a symbol of prosperity and balance of the soul. Gold leaf was used by medieval artists in their sacred art, gold symbolising divinity. Gustav Klimt, for whom all art was erotic, used gold leaf widely for over a decade during his ‘Golden Phase’, evoking Byzantine mosaics in his portrayals of women and their sexuality. Camilleri remarks: “Love is the best form of emotion, transmitting hope and comfort.” Gold and bronze reflect and radiate its warmth.
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung observed: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is a reaction, both are transformed.” One can add that the reaction can, at times, be explosive, exothermic, causing conflagration and scar tissue. At other times, it is endothermic and heart-warming, achieving balance. This collection of 14 paintings by Camilleri is about this.
These artworks can be viewed at KunĊett Art Cafe of 51, Strait Street, Valletta, from today to March 31. Opening hours are Tuesdays to Sundays from noon till midnight.
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