Thursday, September 22, 2011

The man in his birthday suit (an overdue assignment)


We were given an article by our teacher a few months ago about an artwork with no work title, with no explanation and we were asked to blog on whether we felt the "artwork" is actually ART

So what I did first was to obviously research on the artist, T. Venkanna himself. What came up on Google was not much but I did find out that actually the artist did something similar by replacing himself in a painting such as "The Dream" by Henri Rousseau and renamed it "Dream in Dream", where he painted a nude portrait of himself instead of the woman in the original painting. Also, he based another work, "Two Moon" on another original work by Henri Rousseau "The Sleeping Gypsy", where he deliberately altered the sleeping gypsy to be both dead and alive, as he paints in a skeleton where Rousseau had painted a resting figure in multi-coloured dress. Venkanna’s figure brims with unrequited and unfulfilled lust. Although his body has turned skeletal in death, his penis, so charged with desire, stays alive with lust and remains fleshly, erect and blackened.

Therefore, it is apparent that the artist is interested in portraying the human body in others' original works in different ways, only this time, choosing to exhibit his own in an attempt to "recreate" the artwork "The Two Fridas" by a Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.

The artist "exhibited himself" at the Art Stage Singapore exhibition, stark naked, where he is seated in a booth in front of "The Two Fridas" - only dressed in his "birthday suit". Visitors to the exhibition can choose to join him in the room, hold his hand, and get a photograph taken for a token price of $250. The artist claims that posing naked and taking photographs is part of his art installation about "removing the trappings of identity".

In my opinion, I am actually fine with him exhibiting his naked body in an exhibition and claiming it as a form of art, although I am not very clear with his intentions and concept behind his work.

Having to study SOVA for 4 years, I am probably used to looking at nude paintings and trying to question if they are really ART or just.. PORN? But I have accepted that the human body is part of God's creation, and it is Mother Nature's artwork. I mean, if other artists can paint naked bodies in their paintings, why can't he paint them and exhibit them, even if it is his own? I find that if you accept Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" as art, you can accept T. Venkanna's naked body as art too. If Marcel Duchamp can claim a urinal with his signature as his artwork, why can't T. Venkanna claim his nude body is too?

However, I have to question that fact that he charged $250 for a photo with his naked body and thus doubt his artistic intentions. I dont see how taking a photo with him stark naked and charging it for such an expensive amount of money is part of "removing the trappings of identity". I find myself thinking if he is actually sincere in expressing his ideas through his artwork or just making an excuse to make money. The artist's vague explanation of his artistic intentions did not help in clarifying my doubts and thus, I am not certain if what the artist created was really ART.

Also, I feel hard to connect how his exhibition has any link to Frida Kahlo's painting in the background. "The Two Fridas" shows the inner turmoil and self-doubt Frida Kahlo went through during the divorce she had with her husband, Diego Rivera. However, I do not understand how the exhibition of T. Venkanna's nude body had any artistic link to the intentions of Frida Kahlo. His lack of explanation also led me to thinking that he is exhibiting his body without a concrete concept and intention behind his work and is just trying to "copy" Frida Kahlo's painting or create some sort of controversy through this display of his nude body. I feel that his artwork has failed to communicate his intentions and did not speak for itself and thus though I concede that the human body may be considered as a form of art, however, it is a failed artwork without an artistic intention behind it.

Finally, I have to say that I feel that Singapore's art scene is just not ready for an artwork like T. Venkanna's naked body, or in fact any naked bodies. Singapore's art scene is very conservative and is not as developed as places like France and Germany, where art is a form of self-expression and you can do many different things to express yourself and your emotions and thoughts as an artist. Singapore is just not ready for such freedom of expression through art, whereby you can do anything you want, even if it means to flaunt your naked body in front of many people. Even if the exhibition had taken extra precautions to ensure that visitors did not feel uncomfortable or stumble upon it by accident, I believe that even so, exhibiting an artwork like so somehow is not so appropriate in Singapore as compared to other countries due to our conservative nature and it might not be socially responsible as an artist.

In conclusion, I am not strongly against nor do I approve of his form of self-expression but instead, I try just express my personal thoughts of this artwork to anyone who is interested.

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