Sunday, January 15, 2023

Probing the Definitional Biases: Latheesh Lakshman’s New Works


(Latheesh Lakshman, artist)

Great visual communicators are masters of minimalism. For them silence is eloquence. Music makes use of silence but for visual arts silence is constituted by lines and colors. Like the movie makers create palpable inky darkness with a streak of light penetrating from nowhere into the space, visual artists use lines and colors minimally to convey ideas. The graphic quality of this minimalism is suitable to the artists who have worked in advertisement where painterly lavishness and madness are reined in by parsimony and method. Latheesh Lakshman, a Kochi based artist has all these qualities, including his solid experience in advertising.

Art cannot perpetuate itself in time without compelling stories built around it. Seeing is experiential but also it is physical and carnal, together they make a yarn; a story woven around experience and an experience felt around the physicality of seeing and viewing. Narrativizing the experience is not just restricted to the narrative paintings or deep spiritual abstract art. Minimal and graphical art also tend and tempt to tell stories. Latheesh Lakshman is aware of this and one of his latest works is about the possible narratives around a work of art.

(Name me and Make my Story by Latheesh Lakshman)

Visual art, when it is two dimensional and without joysticks, mouses or touchscreens to play with, remains static and allows only ocular forays into its space which necessitates story telling an integral part of its understanding. Latheesh Lakshman says that the very act of looking at his work of art would make it interactive because the moment one looks at the work titled ‘Name Me Make My Story’ a story starts taking shape in the mind. A visual puzzle, the visual image asks for a definition, an appellation and according to the artist, the definition and the following story around it are not a beginning but an end in itself.

Naming is a need for categorization and claiming control over the named. Most of the names in the world are given than self-generated. A name is always attached to a bias. It stands vis-à-vis a historical continuity and carries the burdens that it has accrued along. Opposed to fluidity, the idea of naming marks territories and character traits. Though there is an authorial demand on the viewer regarding the naming of the image, it evokes the subjective understanding of the traits that one tends to perceive in the manifested image before him.

(Aara, Evidunnaa, Engottaa by Latheesh Lakshman)

In fact, Latheesh Lakshman’s image is composite and fluid, cancelling the specificities and emphasizing its kaleidoscopic complexities. But the viewers, goaded by the command/demand enter the narrativizing space and come up with definitive stereotypes, limiting the possibilities of their expansion and containing them within the subjective predictabilities. Perhaps, it is a critique of human narratives that aims at expanding the existential scope but falls into the making of palatable narratives. Also, the critique is directed at the idea of advertising that despite its fluid and unconventional narratives how it contains the narrative within the boundaries of the conventional.

In Latheesh Lakshman’s work there is also a relational field of subjectivities where one acts as the author of the story and the other the subject of it. The faces that come forth in each looking make the viewer an author who is authorized by the self to generate a narrative around the other and hold him within the limits of containment zone. The authorial position of the viewer always gives him this fancy feeling of giving the other full freedom in his narrative but intrinsic censorial acts stop all the possible freedoms the other could take. That’s why the artist says that the narrativizing is not about a beginning but about ending it.

(Aara? Who are You?)

Another interesting set of works by Latheesh Lakshman also probes the relational field of subjectivities in the given territorial limits. There are these curious questions, who are you, where are you coming from and where are you going, always originate in a person or a social group or territorial beings when they come across the others who are deemed to be newcomers or intruders. Strangeness of the other is not defined by his or her strange features but there is something that cuts beyond the familiar human features that give birth to those questions. Seen as ways of befriending and mitigating the fear for the other these questions at once place the other in an ambivalent space, making him not only define himself but also defend his right to be there. Hence, the attempts to befriend create a sense of rivalry that makes even the future relationship with them tendentious.

(Evidunnaa? Where are you from?)

These questions in Latheesh Lakshman’s works take the shape of the other, a cartoonish vision of the other in the eyes of the questioner and also it becomes a mirror reflection of the other in question, together making a sense of absurdity. The inability of these questions to exceed their physicality appears to be comical when we compare similar questions philosophically raised within the field of visual arts. The lines that make the figures in them become the calligraphic representations of the questions in the artist’s mother tongue Malayalam, aaraa (who are you), evidunnaa (where are you from) and engottaa (where are you going).

This comic effect becomes intense when seen against the mural sized painting by Paul Gauguin titled ‘Where do we come from? Who we are? Where are we going?’ Gauguin did this painting in 1897 when he was going through severe depression and personal losses. He was even contemplating suicide. In such a situation one could probe into the very meaning of human existence. One could wonder at this phenomenon called life. The questions raised by Gauguin are not territorial and xenophobic but ridden with the mysteries of life.

(Engottaa? Where are you Going?)

Latheesh Lakshman tells us how we have become lesser beings in our lesser pursuits and how we have become just territorial animals living in constant fear of the other. His lines run against the flat and flashy colors like a line of ink wandering along a field of poppies and tulips. These are the questions held by the artist against each one of the onlookers for telling one or two hard facts about them.











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