The Best(a) of Bestrizal: Mother Nature (Review)

‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas (H250 cm x W200cm)

Bestrizal Besta was born in 1973, in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. He made Yogyakarta his home and can be found in this city where he lives and works. I was acquainted with Besta’s art in 2018 at Art Stage Singapore where he was represented by Art Porters Gallery. Hanging in this gallery’s booth, at the entrance, is a substantially large monochromatic canvas with a burst of colour that led my eye to a human face — a smiling female child framed by a bouquet of colourful flowers. She is perched on a suggested make-belief swing made of leafy tendrils, her feet crossed elegantly and both hands clutching a spray of orange flowers and she is beaming. She is accompanied by a parrot and surrounded by flora and fauna, thick and lucious. A mouse deer peers at us, a rabbit peers at the mouse deer and we peer into a busy canvas covered corner to corner by monochromatic prints of flowers, plants, leaves, petals… and then the eye spots a leopard. I stood staring at this gigantic canvas, ‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, (H250 cm x W200cm), for several minutes and drank in its wonder. I let it quench my imagination while I studied the patterns on the leaves, on the girl. Peering closer, I caught sight of a feathery down that covered the girl’s legs – follicles of hair so lovingly and intricately added to embellish the subject. This is beyond Realism. I was in Art Heaven because being up this close and seeing such intricate details made with charcoal sent electric shivers down my spine. An apt title for such a mesmerising artwork, I thought. I was not the only who thought this way. The piece was finally sold but art lovers would drop in for a chat about this eye-catching rendition of what Paradise could be. For a dazzling half day at Art Stage, I found my Paradise. 

Bestrizal Besta is known for his large canvases of hyper-realist compositions, intricate in detail and surrealist by presentation. His works are photographic by nature, hence the term hyper-realism used as a descriptor of his oeuvre. In reality, Besta is a Surrealist: his works are often realistic but dream-like, centring on this world and bordering on one that is other-worldly. 

However, I am not one who is fond of labels. To say Besta is a Surrealist would put emphasis on Surrealism and detract from the fact that he is really a Hyper-realist. But to say that he is a Hyper-realist would veer away from the oft challenging definition of Surrealism and the representation of Besta’s unconscious mind.

Surrealists were artistes who sought to find ways through art, literature and film to channel the unconscious in order to unlock its power to find an unfettered expression of thought. André Breton, René Magritte, Joan Miró and Salvatore Dali were Surrealists.  Surrealism took off in visual art due to artists like Magritte and Dali, who were categorically Surrealists. Surrealist motifs differed from artist to artist and exactly what constitutes Surrealism is difficult to define – like a dream, we can’t quite put our finger on what it is. Yet, we know as viewers that the bending clock in Dali’s work is not real, psychologically, we know that it is an image from a dream. Similarly, we know that Miró’s fantastical depiction of space with biomorphic shapes, representing human beings on canvas is also not real, it is surreal. Magritte’s work also tells us that his imageries are from the land of dreams or from the unconscious because there is something quite unusual, rather disturbing in his pieces. However, we know that these artists are definitely not Hyper-realists, though. 

Hyper-realists are artists whose keen eye for detail and realism mark them out from the rest. But be careful for they are not Realists because the eye sees a different style in Realism. Realism is an art movement that sought to depict real life with truth and accuracy; Realist art is detailed but not photographic, they are paintings and they are unmistakably so. There is nothing pretty about Realism, to tell the truth. Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet are Realists. What of Hyper-realism? Hyper-realism was developed since the 1970s and are artworks of images that resemble high-resolution photographs but rendered in mediums often associated with paintings. This is where Bestrizal Besta gets drumrolls.

‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm

Besta, to my eye, is a Hyper-Realist. A quick glance at his canvases will train the eye to notice that his human figures are realistically detailed. They resemble photographic images of somebody we are familiar with. That his works are dream-like, it is true. That they are surreal, that is true too. So, yes, he can be called a Surrealist.

Labels are but categories for better understanding of concepts. In art, better understanding comes from looking. Let’s take a close look at ‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018 (charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm), for example. A girl, somebody from a lost world, gazes out, she is holding a doll in one hand, with the other, she clasps a branch. Nature engulfs her. In fact, nature takes up two-thirds of this canvas, with only a sliver of sky topping a mountain chain. The leaves are intricately sketched as we follow their meandering journeys; the animals playing hide and seek in the thick foliage beckons us to find them. These life-forms are so hyper-realistically depicted that I feel the leaves growing and winding their way through the thicket; I hear the sounds of animals as they move through the jungle; I smell the silage of the damp earth. This piece is similar to Besta’s many other pieces – a human figure engulfed by nature seems to be the theme in all his works. Through detailed patterns of flora and fauna, Besta tells the story of how wonderful life would be if we were all to live harmoniously with(in) Nature. Nature is good, he says. So, it is not about being engulfed by Nature but about co-existing as one with a naturally eternal Female force. This is where the artist as dreamer steps into the canvas. It is Besta’s dream that we all co-exist with Nature. He expresses his dream and observation of Nature, unfettered, through the medium of charcoal. Now, we can see why critics have called him a Surrealist. 

Besta expresses what his psyche really thinks about Nature and this is reflected in the exhibition’s title — Mother Nature — which underscores the power of the Feminine. Nature is the giver of Life — our Mother. But Besta goes one step further and tells us that “We are not born of Mother Nature”, “we are Mother Nature” he asserts. There is something so curative about this knowlege. Resistance is futile was the message that I took away from this exhibition. The best way to live is to be one with Nature. I succumbed to this adage as I immersed myself in these monochromatic canvases, meditating on Life and the human condition. I asked the Goddess to envelope me in her soothing balm which only Nature can provide. 

Mother Nature, Art Porters Gallery from 24th April to 30th June, 2019. 


Interloper by F. Z. Majidi

The Creating of Adam by Michelangelo

Someone’s been living beneath my bed for a while now. I don’t care why she’s there, never felt curious to bend down and look. I know her by the aroma of her perfume, the same perfume my ex-wife, Louisa, used to wear – Chanel no.5. Some nights amid inhaling her heady fragrance I take a hint of her wearing makeup too. The scent reminds me of my insipid life after Louisa left this apartment a year and three months and twenty days ago at nine twenty p.m.; left me grappling with the prolonged hours of viscous nights, her perfume lingering in the empty wardrobes. No, I never look down, what’s good in doing that? The white curtains and empty fridge interest me more than her. I hate women. 

Especially this woman; when her scent wakes me up in the middle of the night, her quiet struggle underneath sways the bed… a jinx elongating my chthonian night hours when I’m in need of unconsciousness most. But sometimes as she starts punching the bed from beneath and it’s 2 or 3 a.m. … I keep staring at the ceiling, drawing deep breaths one after another, wondering, not knowing what to do, what to say. Waking up in a double bed is vexatious enough. Her punches shaking the bed say she’s desperate, furious, forlorn and forsaken; like me. I agonize over the idea of remaining understanding.

Some nights, however, I wish she could punch stronger. Can’t ask her to cause we don’t talk. The idea tempts me more when I lie in Louisa’s side. She’s always beneath my side and doesn’t follow me to the other side; maybe she’s not aware of my existence up here. If I could call it existence in Louisa’s provoking, insatiable absence, sucking at my disquiets and obsessions. Couldn’t she realize how solidly I had rooted in her? 

Louisa could stay in a separate room and never hear anything from me, never see me. I would’ve imprisoned myself in another room if she asked me to, on condition that she would stay close. She could share her room with another man. My eyelids get heavy while brainstorming over these eccentric ideas, until she starts punching the bed from below as if trying to make her way up to me. The Triazolams I’d taken before sleeping make it more tolerable.

“Is it you, Louisa?” I whisper, barely conscious, my head buried in the pillows. 

She doesn’t answer; her silent struggle makes me sway gently. I fall asleep amid her long-running, probably never-ending battle. In the morning her perfume’s still in the air accompanied by the scent of her makeup. Time to dress and go to work. I throw the briefcase in the car and sit in the driver seat, looking into the rearview mirror. The idea flashes across my mind again. Go to her, tell her… but I’ve already told her whatever there was to say. Words never work when you need them to. I’d better keep driving and shut my mouth.

I blink. My body’s hospitalized, dressed in white between white sheets among white walls, seemingly unconscious. I view myself from above, floating mid-air. I want to wake myself up but fail. She’s punching the bed from underneath; still, I can’t see her. I blink. I’m standing in the nave of a grandiose, Catholic church. I blink. I’m the Adam painted on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I blink to turn into Eva. All colors around me start dripping, painting the nave in an abhorrent dark hue. As I open my eyes, I’m back in my bed, smelling like Chanel no. 5, wearing makeup. The stranger underneath my bed is gone. I blink, I’m staring at the white ceiling, still lying in my bed. The scent is gone, I’m alone. Better say left alone. The difference is only one word but enough to break my heart in two. She’s back beneath my bed. Yes, someone’s been living beneath my bed for a while now.

About the Author:

F. Z. Majidi is – currently – a Ph.D. student at Sapienza University of Rome, living in Rome, studying Astrophysics and Space Sciences. She writes in her free time and recently has started publishing her short stories. She won 2010 Kharazmi prize for writing the novelette “Eternity” and one of her short stories has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Eva’s Comments:

‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo is an icon of humanity. Kept preserved in the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, this image of Man reaching out to God and God reaching out to Man and yet never touching, was painted circa, 1508 and 1512.

I had the chance to see this fresco in the Vatican, where it is located. The awesomeness of it is striking. The feeling of being immersed in High Renaissance art in the person is undescribable. Looking up at the ceiling is to stand in the presence of God and be struck dumb. I am an agnostic and so were many artists painting during the Renaissance, yet the awe of being in the presence of such powerful majesty and spirituality makes me wonder about the Divine. I have to say that even as I waver between believing and disbelief, God is so much part of my life that there is no avoiding this theological subject. Similarly, God is so much part of the Italian Renaissance that there is no escape from this subject pictorially.

‘The Creation of Adam’ depicts the Biblical story in Genesis when God created Man in His own image (Gen 1:27) In Genesis, we are told that God created Man, represented by Adam, from dust and breathed life into him through his nostrils. Hence, it is common to hear the phrase ‘from dust you were created, to dust you shall return.’

There are many interpretations of this fresco as there are many copied versions of it. What I find symbolic is in how Michealangelo presented God and Adam. God is seen floating in a convex nebula towards Man who is depicted concavely. Movement is suggested by the drapery that seems to form a receptacle containing God, who is dressed like a bearded older man, ordinary and avuncular yet still corporeally powerful. [Michelangelo is a sculptor, after all, and his style of depicting men is always to represent them as mascular creatures of nature.] This way of portraying God is refreshing and makes the Divine more accessible and approachable, compared to other depictions of God, where He is often placed on a pedastal and unreachable. Static is suggested by Adam’s lackadaisical form, waiting for the touch of God that will spark life into him, that will ignite Mankind with life. The concave-convex binary mirrors the Biblical story of the creation of Man: Man was created in God’s image.

To me, there seems to be an urgency in this fresco that I’ve not read or heard others refer to yet. The two forefingers outstretched but not touching indicate this urgency: that God is elusive and difficult to connect to. Perhaps, it is only my interpretation as I do know many people who’ve told me that they’ve found God, and are connected to Him. As viewers of artworks, we often bring our personal experiences and lens into the musuem, art space and gallery with us. Hence, what I read as urgency, others may see as God’s desire to connect with Man and Man’s lack of interest. The latter could be interpreted from the way Adam has been depicted.

The story of God and Adam/Man is a story of love, above all. “For God so loveth the world …” is a phrase that continues to be repeated. Putting theology aside, we can say that ‘The Creation of Adam’, could be a reflection of Man’s search for an unending, unlimited and unconditional love that humankind is not able to offer. The search carries on as long as we do not accept that Man’s love is often limited. I love my husband and I know he loves me but yet, I also know that he has disappointed me many times, like I have disappointed him too. But we persevere in our relationship, always attempting to love each other more daily, despite our limitations. I’ve been told many times, in my search for the Divine, that it is not God’s fault but ours when we cannot connect with Love. God is the ultimate love, as a friend once said to me. I don’t know about this belief but I do know that love is an unending emotional and psychological quest .

Majidi submitted her story with the image of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ and has this to say about her work, “Here in Interloper, I have tried to depict a man continually seeking his love in his mind; so that when she’s not around, he has to replace her with an image of her.”

Majidi also tells me that “[f]or the image, I found […] Michelangelo’s masterpiece, [T]he [C]reation of Adam […]. I believe what defines every individual is their passion and heartfelt interests, what and who they are capable of loving. I found it extremely romantic the way Adam is seeking God in his mind, his brain, and there, he finds Eva.”

I leave you with Majidi’s thoughts, readers, as I too cogitate on it.

The image is courtesy of Getty Image.

Cat on a Window Sill by Sebnem Sanders

Window ©bayram salamov

My name is Bianca. That’s how my human Mummy calls me. I’m a purebred Angora cat, female, they say. I don’t know what that means because I live in a tall block of flats, on the 10th floor to be exact. How do I know? Well, I’ve been up and down the elevator many times, on the way to and from the Vet’s. In a box. 

I’ve never been with another cat. I don’t know my biological Mummy, but I feel there are siblings of mine out there. The outside world, a forbidden place for me.

This is the only home I know. I was tiny when I came here and can’t remember much. Mummy loves me, feeds me, and lets me be naughty. I’m grown up, they say.  Two-years-old, no longer a kitten. Now that I’ve learned venturing beyond the windows might be dangerous,  she leaves them open on hot summer nights. Yes, there was an accident. I tried to leap to the next door balcony and landed head on, two floors down, on the tiles of a neighbour’s terrace. Lucky, they said, just a mild concussion. The Vet kept me in a cage and let me go home a few days later. Windows frighten me, yet fascinate me ever since. I just sit on the sill and watch the world go by.

The great ball in the sky looks red tonight. Mummy calls it the blood moon and stares at it mesmerized. No idea why. She’s just gone to sleep and I want to watch some more to understand. As the lights go off in the buildings across the road, silence envelops the town, but I can hear my kind in the alleys. They call out to me. Something from a distant past tells me to join them. Under the light of the lamp post, the silhouette of a sibling creeps along the wall. His shadow is bigger than his body. 

There is no way I can go out tonight, but perhaps tomorrow I can make an escape. The cleaning lady sometimes leaves the door open to put the garbage bags in the hall. I’ve sneaked out before. Patrolled the floor and saw the stairs, but I was too scared to explore further. 

I remember a dream. In a place called Angora, I roam the gardens with my friends. Still a human’s pet, but free to wander around the village to discover the unknown. The smells, the crawling and flying creatures, the thrill of the hunt.

Tomorrow is the day. I want to see the world below. I can always make my way back …  I think I can. Maybe, maybe not. Yet, adventure beckons. 

About the Author:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, and CarpeArte Journal. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work here

About the Artist:

Bairam Salamov was born in 1965 in Gohmug suburb of Sheki (Azerbaijan). In 1986 he graduated from Azerbaijan State Art School named after Azim Azim-Zade in Baku.

Since 1990 he was lived and worked in Togliatti.

In 2001  he has received Grand Prix from Togliatti  Picture Gallery for work Musician’s Family in the Picture of the Year Contest.

Bairam Salamov has been a member of Russian Creative Union of Artists and International Federation of Artists since 2002.

In 2009 he graduated from Togliatti State University (Department of Applied and Decorative Arts)

In 2010 he was included in encyclopedia “Who is Who” in Russia.

In 2010 he opened his own  Bairam’s Art Gallery. His works and works of young unknown artists are displayed there. This is a unique place in Togliatti where you can see all stages of picture creation, meet famous writers, musicians, and artists from Russia and other countries.

In 2012 he was awarded by Silver Medal of Russian Creative Union of Artists for contribution to national culture.

Eva’s Comments:

If only animals could talk. What would they say? The craft of writing requires that writers be able to put themselves in another’s shoes and sometimes, this could wearing the furry mittens of a cat.

Sanders has been able to capture how Bianca feels as a kitten looking out into the world. There’s a touch of the whimsical in her writing as she pictures what it would be like to fling open the window to escape into the world beyond. And why not? The world is your oyster, as they say.

I love this painting for its use of blues and purples. The impasto brushstrokes tell me that I’m looking at an oil painting on canvas. It’s dusk, almost night time, the picture tells me. How does one know the time of day in a painting? There must be a magical unconscious eye in the mind that helps us associate colours with certain times of the day: I know it’s approaching night time because there are lamps and windows lit. The reddish-orangey dot (“the blood moon”) in the blue background tells me that this could be a new moon, peeking out in the distance. The air is still, as there are no clouds to indicate movement.

The windowsill opens up a cat’s eye view of the city below, where we see Sander’s Bianca looking out, mesmerised by the lights and the wonder of the outside world. We feel her sense of entrapment, her desire to roam free once more.

This story reminds me of a children’s story I once read of a refugee in war-torn Syria who cannot go out to play with his friends because of the devastation of the civil war. In this story, the boy tells us that he is trapped in the building and only knows of its white walls and the lift that takes him up and down the building shaft. This lift has become a playmate of sorts and keeps him company until he has to return home again for the evening. The feeling of claustrophobia crept in as I read this children’s story slowly, allowing it to work its way in my reading cells. I longed to escape like this little refugee boy, a good sign that the author had managed to capture a sense of urgency through her words.

It is important to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In this way, we open windows to other worlds. Lived experiences can be had vicariously too.


Review: Domestication II by Eva Wong Nava

DH-5 Dolly and Friends – 2009 Coloured pencil & acrylic on panel H173 x W305 cm (2 panels)

“The person you think of as yourself exists only for you and even you don’t know who that is. Everyone else creates a version of ‘you’ in their head. You’re not the same person to anyone. There are thousands of versions of you out there.”

One, No One and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello 

I marvel constantly at how many artists seek to find the self in their work. The self is an important constant for those of us who seek self awareness, who seek to be seen for who we are, and for those of us who seek to question the boundaries of self. Where does the self begin? Where does it end, if it ends? And who is the self? 

Su-en Wong (b. 1973) is a New York-based Singaporean artist who is fascinated with the concept of self, especially in the concept of self as other. I am fascinated by her quest. I am intrigued by her canvasses depicting nude Asian females that replicate themselves. There is power in this repetition; a desire to be seen again and again. My eye was drawn to a particular canvas ‘The Forest I (Playtime)’, painted in 2015 in oil on linen [Oil on linen H138 x W199 cm]. A gigantic tree with pink flowers – frangipanis – take centre stage before we notice a rock garden, familiar to those who understand Chinese landscape art. Then, nude girls fire our imaginations. A pair is sat on the ground, playing a clapping game; a familiar children’s game. I can almost hear them chant the rhyming tune that accompanies this game. Ping Pong, Ping Pong, Ping Ping Pong! Or was Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker’s man? The former a familiar jingle, if you grew up in Singapore, where Su-en was born and raised before she left for the United States at sixteen. The latter, an English rhyming song that children in America and England would recognise. Su-en is able to traverse both East and West in her position as an artist. She does not take her identity nor her heritage for granted. She infuses herself in many of the pieces in Domestication II by playing with the idea of the self as exposed — nude — and recurring. Asian female nudes are rare. The tradition of Chinese paintings does not allow for female nudes. Su-en’s nudes shy away from the pornographic; instead, the repetition is mesmerising, it is rather dizzy-making, forcing the viewer to question the intention of having so many of the same nude female in one canvas. At one point, I wondered if her work could be categorised as queer art: a category of art marked by LGBT themes. In probing further, I came to understand that the female nude is a representation of Su-en herself and Su-en does not identify gay. Yet, there is a touch of the homeo-erotic in the pieces on display: I see the self hugging another self, I see the self crouching next to another self, I see the self in commune with another self. This is encouraging in a time when young girls are self-harming and the pressure to be popular is on the increase as social media takes over our lives. It’s important to advocate self-love. Su-en’s many recurring selves playing, laughing, hugging, being and communing is such a breath of fresh air. These selves remind us of staying in touch with ourselves, with our identities, with our beings. These selves remind us that in everything we do, we need to return to ourselves. 

The Forest I (Playtime) – 2015 Oil on linen H138 x W199 cm

Her figurative drawings are a result of a keen eye, a solid art training and an innate talent. She trained under Liu Kang, a renowned Nanyang artist and one of Singapore’s pioneer modern artist. Under his tutelage, Su-en was able to hold her first solo exhibition at the age of fourteen. This is a huge achievement for any artist and one so young at that.

It is a waste to let talent go! But go she had to. Su-en Wong set sail for the shores of America to pursue her studies in art. She graduated with a B.A., Magna cum Laude, from the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington in 1993 and then went on to complete a MFA, at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997. There was a MA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in between the two, which she completed in 1994. She has since held several important positions as visiting artist at renowned academic institutions and museums. 

Domestication II (January 17 – March 17, 2019), an exhibition held at Art Porters in Spottiswoode Park, Singapore, is the second iteration of a previous group exhibition — Domestication — which Su-en took part in during the Singapore Art Fair in 2014. 

On entering this shophouse gallery, founded by Frenchman Guillaume Levy-Lambert and his artologist partner, Sean Soh, I was immediately introduced to Dolly. Dolly is a sheep. She reminds me very much of a Badger Face Welsh Mountain, the Torddu, to be precise, with her black face markings. These sheep are native to Wales, as its name suggests. I love what Dolly symbolises in Su-en’s ‘DH-5 Dolly and Friends’ (2009), rendered in coloured pencils and acrylics. She is the leader in this two part canvas (H73 x W305 cm), with her faithful set of followers. This piece is infused with Su-en’s quirky sense of humour. She’s having a laugh at sheep as much as she’s having a laugh at sheeple — people who follow blindly. A criticism is best ingested with a spoonful of sugar and this is what Su-en is good at. She is provocative in parodying the weakness in our human condition but does so with a trickle of honey. Note some sheep gazing back at you. These represent sheeple, the people who are aware that you’re looking at them. They know that they’re being watched and they’re watching you too. They may look innocent, sweet as a lamb, but they know and you know. Dolly knows. There is a touch of vulnerability in these sheep on canvas. Here, Su-en is making a commentary on the human condition of desire — the wish to lead and the desire to be led. Who do you want to be, the leader or the follower? But hang on a minute! Who is that pig staring out? 

Su-en achieves a depth on the canvas through a technique known as foreshortening. The angled lines of the table allow for a perspectival view and also adds to the depth she is trying to achieve on canvas. There is geometry in this piece, a type of geometry that only draughtsmen like certain Old Masters — da Vinci, Lippi, Raphael and Buonarroti — were able to achieve. 

DH-4 Dildos in Display Case – 2009 Coloured pencil & acrylic on panel H173 x W152 cm

This exhibition sees Su-en Wong taking on the theme of collection, indicated by a series of canvasses depicting objects on display. The parody is on a certain artist named Hirst who renowned as he is must be parodied for making a mockery of found objects and displays. A collection of canvasses are entitled with the prefix DH (Dh-5 and Dh-6), not as a homage to Damien Hirst but as a critique, I would think. There is that quirky sense of humour again. 

Domestication II is an odd display of Su-en’s work; it is a hodgepodge of a variety of canvasses and media: oil on linen, coloured pencils and acrylic, graphite on paper. Running through this varied 2-dimensional display is a constant negotiation with what constitutes our Asian-ness, our human faults, our sexuality, our vulnerability, and how that can be achieved through a western art-form of pop art. What sealed this exhibition for me is in the gallery’s keen desire to represent a female Asian artist whose yearning it is to interrogate the Asian female self and to find a space where serious interrogation can co-mingle with satire and parody. 

Domestication II is on display at Art Porters Gallery until March 17th, 2019. 

Your Hills Are on Fire by Jordan Trethewey

Your hills are on fire, why don’t you go downtown

 

see what all the fuss is about

you’ve been cutting firewood

living in a particle board tarpaper

bunkhouse hiding behind

an ancient white pine

when nature truly calls

 

worlds did collide where

you should have expected it

firewood     wood fire

and there you stand

in disbelief despite a cigarette

dangling from your lips

a pack of matches

in your callused hand

 

we worried when you wobbled

backwards on the progress ladder

feigning self-assuredness

while stumbling out the door

embracing fresh air simplicity

solitude in unrefined resourcefulness

 

take it as a sign given seekers

in old books there is nothing

to be found

you are your own mountain

to climb conquer or quit on

nature will provide until

we finish poisoning it

so let’s just go downtown

have an expensive drink

 

About the Poet: 

Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, NB, Canada.

He is also a husband, father (to two kids, a black cat, and a Sheltie), beer-league softball player, art aficionado, and remote sensing analyst (by day).

About the Artist: 

Marcel Herms is a self-taught artist. His work is primarily about freedom with a strong link to music. Just like music his art is about autonomy, licentiousness, passion, colour and rhythm.

He paints with any material he can get a hold of — acrylic paint, oil paint, ink, pencils, crayons, spray paints, etc. He sometimes mixes the paint with sand, sawdust or pieces of paper, painting on canvas and paper and other materials like wood.

His work has been printed in many (inter-)national publications (like Inside Artzine, Proper Gander, Bananafish and many more) and he has designed many records and CD-covers. 

 

Eva’s Comments:

I was thrilled to receive this poetry submission together with this image – an abstract, child-like ghoulish painting by a Dutch artist Marcel Herms. The poem has been directly inspired by the image, entitled ‘Your Hills Are on Fire’ and fits in conceptually with the raison d’être of the Journal. 

Trethewey tells me that he met Herms online and was immediately drawn to the artist’s stark and abstract style. Herms’s haunting images of stunted and grotesque characters shambling around his canvasses spoke to Trethewey visually. 

“He seemed to be expressing, visually, what I try to express with words, the dark and repressed side of everyday existence,” Trethewey explains. 

There’s also a desire in both Trethewey and Herms to not pander to the commercial aspects of literary and visual arts. They write and paint what they like and what they are inspired by, is my impression. So their works are eclectic, eccentric and unique.

Trethewey pens what comes to mind emotionally and automatically. Yes, writing can be crafted as we all know, but, the most authentic form of writing comes automatically. Trethewey allowed this image to first embed in his unconscious before using the technique of free-association, allowing his brain and fingers to latch on to a theme or a story he can tell which makes sense with the image and does it justice. He doesn’t worry about the re-writes and always goes with his guts. How images inspire us takes many forms. How images speak to us is also personal. A viewer’s response to an image’s voice, narrative, ellipses and backstory vary from one person to another. 

Herms’s paintings are categorised as Art Brut, a French term meaning ‘raw art’. This way of painting was invented by the French artist, Jean Dubuffet. He used the term Art Brut to describe any artwork resembling graffiti or naïve/child-like art created beyond the strictures of traditional academic fine art. For Dubuffet, fine art which he called ‘art culturel’ was dominated by academic art. Artforms that stray away from academic art often go uncategorised and unseen. These could be works by prisoners, psychiatric patients, refugees and children who often paint untrammelled and instinctively from the soul raw and emotional depictions of their inner worlds. As an artist, Dubuffet started to incorporate these qualities into his own works. 

In 1948, Dubuffet founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut to promote the study of such art. He created an outstandingly large body of work which is now housed in a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne – La Collection de l’Art Brut. The collection is worth a visit if you’re ever in Lausanne. Dubuffet’s works, disturbing and haunting, are also simultaneously calming and innocent. Cast your eye back to Herms’s untitled piece and let the innocence of its backstory speak to you. Look beyond the stunted grotesque depictions of the figures and their faces. Don’t all children’s paintings start this way? 

Art Brut is also sometimes categorised as Outsider Art. Outsider artists are usually untrained and are unconventional when working. They use whatever techniques, materials and genres that inspire them. Outsider Art can be folklorish, abstract, surreal and most often express the emotions and the inner world of the artist. They can range from 2-dimensional pieces such as paintings to 3-dimensional works like sculptures. A very well-known Outsider Artist is African-American William Edmondson (1874-1951). Edmondson became the first African-American artist to have a solo at MoMA and his pieces have been placed on auction at Christie’s. Today, they are worth in the tens of thousands. 

We write what we know is often something that writers would say. Writing comes from the depths of our souls, is what I often say. We write for many reasons and more often than not, we write to express what our inner-worlds have experienced or are experiencing. Writing is a form of catharsis and allowing images to inspire us is a doorway to finding release. 

 

 

Shadows by Sebnem E. Sanders

The elongated shadows of the houses on the opposite side of the road fell on the cobblestones, as the sun sank in the horizon. The street was empty, but she could hear children’s laughter mixed with the rhythmic sound of a rope slapping against the concrete and the gentle thud of feet on the pavement. A soothing melody. Little light beings, full of joy, skipping solo and in pairs. She imagined them, swapping places with the girls turning the double dutch, as they practised, improving their skills.

As the sun set and the shadows melted into the street, she moved from the window of her sewing room. Passing by the girls’ dresses displayed on the mannequins, the seamstress headed to the kitchen. Time for dinner. She opened the front door and whispered, “Daisy, come home.”

Twilight had enveloped the village. She hated this time of the day. Neither dark nor light. Gloom invaded her thoughts as she opened the garden gate and viewed the street. She could see Daisy’s shadow against the far wall. Her braided pigtails swinging up and down, she soared into the air like a fairy. A silhouette etched in her mind, Daisy frozen in mid-air, singing a song.

She blinked and returned inside. Sitting at the kitchen table, she stared at a small plate and a colourful tumbler set out for her child. The seamstress sighed, and though she had no appetite, forked her dinner while concentrating on the deliveries for the next day. After clearing the table and the dishes, she returned to the sewing room to scrutinize her work.

Pretty dresses for girls, between the ages of 5 and 12. Children no longer jumped rope in the streets, played hopscotch or hide-and-seek, but some families still valued handmade frocks, despite the changing fashion trends in the ready-to-wear industry. Her work was expensive but special, and people were willing to pay. Some insisted on ordering tailor-made outfits for teenagers, but she declined. She could not imagine Daisy as a young adult. Even the dresses for the ages between 10-12 were a challenge, though she took a pragmatic approach as she needed the money. Her only income since her husband had left her.

Twenty years earlier, on this very day, Daisy had not returned home after playing with her friends, around the corner.

In panic, she had looked for her everywhere, knocking on the doors of Daisy’s friends, and searched the entire area with the help of neighbours. Finally, at the police station, tears streaming down her face, she had reported her missing, and begged the authorities to find Daisy. No one had seen or heard anything. She had simply vanished.

She’d spent that night, sitting on the cold steps of her front porch, waiting, hoping, and praying for the phone to ring.

Days rolled into months, and the search continuing for years,  the file was eventually classified as a cold case. Grief, guilt, hope, despair, and accusations from her husband for being an irresponsible mother, obsessed with sewing, led her to depression. She became a shadow of herself until he finally left and divorced her.

One night Daisy visited her in her dream and asked for a pink dress with a fluffy skirt. “Just a ballerina’s,” she said.

That was how she’d returned to life, making dresses for Daisy, those she’d love to wear.

Daisy would have been twenty-five-years-old today.

 

About the Author:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently, she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, and The Rye Whiskey Review. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she displays some of her work.

Connect with Sebnem through the links below:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://www.facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://www.instagram.com/sebnemsanders/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sebnem-sanders-b3593263/

Eva’s Comments:

In researching the image that Sanders submitted with her flash piece, I came across the fascinating story of the Hiroshima Shadows. There are images that can be found, if one cares to google, of photos taken in Hiroshima where shadows of incinerated people in the city are imprinted onto streets, walls and buildings. These are haunting images indicating the last minutes of life in this city devastated by an atomic bomb that killed up to 166,000 people, according to one news source I read.

The shadows are formed by the heat of the explosion which imprinted the outlines cast by human beings, objects, animals and plants onto the surfaces where they were last standing or found when the bomb hit the city at 8:15 AM on 6 August 1945. Effectively, these shadows are burnt onto the surfaces, their owners melting with the heat emitted by the bomb. The Japanese have a term for these darkened shapes, ‘Hito Kage No Ishii’, which means ‘Human Shadow Etched in Stone’.

Every parent fears the loss of their child. As a parent, Sanders story haunted me for days. I live with an obsessive fear of losing my children, as many parents do. What would I do if this really happened to me? Would I sew dresses like the protagonist in Sanders story to keep a memory alive? I type these words with trepidation as I wonder about this, not wanting to jinx anything. I whisper a prayer to the god of the world to protect my babies. Please keep them safe and please protect them from the evils of this world. I live with this fear because I know what it is like to lose a child. The pain is beyond description; I can’t even begin to list the throng of emotions that hit me when my baby died of complications. Her memory is still very much alive in me and she would have been nearly twenty-five-years-old soon. The shadow that her death has cast remains etched in my psyche like those Hiroshima shadows on the stones in the city.

As the world grows increasingly complex, ambiguous, uncertain and volatile, my fear increases daily. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know that I also cannot let the evils of this world overtake the joy that my other two daughters bring me daily. So I go on, against all the complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility that this world presents and keep my fingers and toes crossed and hope. Hope is the last thing we all have against the odds.

Image Credit: Slone, Mark, ‘Innocent Shadow’ [undated]. Click here to see how Mark created this image.

 

Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch by William Doreski

The forest creeps a little closer

to overhear my phone calls

and learn if I think the sky

will fall in pieces or as one

gigantic plastic membrane.

The trees have reason to worry.

 

Their plumes of foliage droop

in a toxic atmosphere no one

should breathe unless depicted

by Hieronymus Bosch. You agree

that we should fly to Holland

to enjoy the Bosch exhibit,

 

but your passport has expired

and you won’t be photographed

for a new one because you look 

too old and tired to travel.

The forest nods as we converse.

Crows spackle the windy glare.

 

Chickadees percolate at feeders.

I want to hang up on you

and recover the youth wasted

on being young. The city

you haunt looms taller than hills

in Kansas or Wisconsin.

 

Its lights bleed the night sky pallid.

Its bridges knit together worlds

that don’t really love each other.

Hearing your voice originate

two hundred miles southwest

of me generates sensations

 

trees would mistake for beavers

gnawing at their trunks. I wave

to the crows, the windy treetops,

the bobcat who daily prowls

for mice that gather seed-scraps

beneath the feeders. You note

 

how distracted I seem. The trees

agree that the sky will fall soon,

but I can’t speak loudly enough

to assure them that such collapse

will only slightly mar the cosmos

and leave most of the stars intact. 

 

About the Poet: 

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.

Eva’s Comments

About the Painter:

Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus van Aken (or Jeroen Anthonissen van Aken) to a family of painters going back six generations. He was born so long ago that there are gaps in his biography, for example, we still don’t know what year he was born although it is generally thought to be 1450. His pseudonym, Bosch (pronounced Boss is Dutch), is derived from ’s-Hertogenbosch, a city in Brabant, Holland, in which his ancestors settled, as recorded. 

How did we come to ascertain his age? 

In Art History, provenance is an important element as are data on the artists. In dating works of art, curators and art historians have to consult primary documents for accuracy. 

We have found that The Garden of Earthly Delight was owned by the House of Nassau before it came into the ownership of Phillip II of Spain. This was from researching documents of ownership, deeds and wills. 

We also know that in Bosch’s Netherlands, the legal age for independent signatures on documents, such as housing deeds, is twenty-four years. Art Historians worked backwards to identify the year of his birth (1450) through a deed, dated 5 April 1474, of a sale of a property that belonged to Katharina van Aken, Hieronymus’s sister. Hieronymus was a witness, as was his brothers Goessen and Jan, along with their father, during this sale. On the deed, Hieronymus’s signature was found next to his father’s, indicating that he was not yet twenty-four.

Through conjecture and some laborious corroboration of data surrounding Bosch’s life, it is thought that he was married to Aleid van de Meervenne between 31 July 1477 and 14 June 1481. It would look like his wife, Aleid, was very much older than him, although the difference in ages would be an exaggeration. [In other documents, her name appears as Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen.] We know that they moved to the town of Oirschot, soon after, where she inherited a house and land from her family.

Bosch was a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, an ultra-conservative religious group, which his parents and grandparents had belonged to as well. Members would meet in the chapel of St John’s church in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Again, we know this from records which stated that Bosch was admitted as an ordinary member in 1486/87; his name “Jheronimus, son of Anthonis van Aken” is found along with the other 350 members from the Low Countries and Germany. This membership indicates that Bosch came from a society that is well networked and that he belonged to a significantly important family. It was also noted, only a year after joining as an ordinary member, that he became a sworn member, with his name “Jeroen the painter” appearing in the margin of a document listing the nine sworn brothers who attended an important banquet—Swan Banquet—during Christmas time. All this tells us that Bosch was by that time, identified as a painter and that he was regarded highly enough to be sworn in as a member of this prestigious club. 

Disaster would strike in 1516. An epidemic struck ’s-Hertogenbosch in summer that year. Victims died of symptoms likened to cholera and Bosch would be one of the many struck dead. The exact date of his birth is not recorded but documents showing a requiem mass being held for “Jeronimus van Aken painter” on 9 August 1516 in the Brotherhood’s chapel at St John’s church was found. The requiem mass was held with dignity by Dean Willem Hamaker, assisted by several deacons with music provided by an organist and choir. As there were gravediggers present, this suggested that the requiem was a funeral mass, indicating that Bosch must have passed a few days earlier. There is no known marked grave for “Jeronimus van Aken painter, sworn brother”, but it would not be uncommon for him to be buried in the church courtyard. 

About the Artwork:

This remains my favourite piece by Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights, owned by Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939, is a piece of surrealist art, painted at a time that Surrealism had yet to be invented. In this way, Bosch can be said to be a forerunner and he is often paralleled with Salvador Dali. Do note that this oil painting on wood is not classified as a Surrealist piece but as Christian art due mainly to two other panels flanking this piece. 

This triptych was painted when Bosch was between 40 – 60 years old and has been critiqued for its subject matter which still defies comprehension. Could the fleshy display be an admonishment of society’s loose mores? Could this piece be an expression of sexual jouissance or the desire for it? Was this a warning of what could happen when one gives in to the sins of the flesh? Was Bosch attempting to warn viewers of the impending end-of-days that await us? Like his birthday, there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the interpretation of The Garden of Earthly Delights which is the triptych’s modern title.

The Garden of Earthly Delights forms the central piece and the title of this triptych. It is flanked by a panel on each side and meant to be read or viewed from left to right, with the left panel showing the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve as central protagonists, and the right panel depicting carnage and darkness. When the triptych is closed, a scene of God creating the Earth is seen; this is depicted in grisaille (greyish colour-tones). The right panel depicts a scene from Hell, where the end-of-days has occurred, as indicated by the fires and the strange human capsule containing what looks like a tavern; this is the panel’s central focus as this surreal and strange man-tree is the first thing our eye is drawn to. What this represents is open to interpretation. Triptychs have been very popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, arising from early Christian art and was the popular standard form for altar paintings. It is not known if The Garden of Earthly Delights was meant for the altar of a church, given the composition. But many triptychs formed an important visual narrative for meditation and prayer, with the central panel being the biggest, all linked by a similar theme—usually Christian—in European art. Some triptychs are small enough to be portable and these would accompany the devout as travelling altars. Some art historians have said that The Garden of Earthly Delight was probably commissioned by a lay patron. 

Concentrating on the composition in the central panel (220 × 195 cm, 87 × 77 in) of Bosch’s piece, the beholder’s senses are assuaged with weird and wonderful creatures, nude human figures, some with strange objects attached to their nether regions. We are aware that Bosch has created a world in this oil painting, what would seem to be a futuristic sci-fi world. Walter Gibson, an art historian, has called it “a world of dreams [and] and nightmares in which forms flicker and change before our eyes.” The eye spies a giant mollusc that has swallowed a couple in coitus, it would seem; the mollusc is carried by someone bent double due to its weight. Then, there are the pink and blue hybrid monuments that represent buildings, maybe mountains with a life of their own that seem so out of place in 15th and 16th-century European landscapes. What intrigue me are the gigantic birds that are recognisably modern and real juxtaposed against fantastic animals fashioned purely from the imagination. It is for this reason that Bosch has been called “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”. My eye catches a couple in glass or perspex (which is highly unlikely, given its period, but the sphere does look somewhat made of plastic) globe which is attached to a stem, the globe representing the flower, if that’s the idea. The theme of entrapment becomes obvious as I spy more nude figures enclosed in transparent and organic vessels and/or cylinders. There’s a mouse in a transparent cylinder staring at someone who is inside a red fruit. There is also a lady with a pair of cherries above her head, cherries signifying sin, as some sources have said. It is not difficult to see the signs and symbols of debauchery, sin and temptation strewn all over this oil painting. 

It is a busy painting, to say the least. And there are just so many interpretations that one can make of it. The Garden of Earthly Delights needs several visitings before any sense can be made of its bizarre nature. Christian themes and symbolisms bookend this panel, they are also rife in the central piece, even though the composition may seem to detract from them. To do justice to this triptych, each panel has to be studied intensely and carefully as each is a separate narrative. Psychoanalytic readings of this triptych are popular but some art historians have rejected this 20th century perspective since the concept of the libido and subconscious were viewed differently in the Middle Ages. What this indicates is how art is viewed and perceived: art is read through a personal, social and cultural lens. More significantly, context is also everything when we perceive art. I find a psychoanalytic reading of the painting to be most interesting, myself, as my mind wanders through the dream-like landscape of the central piece, wondering if this a visual expression of Bosch’s unravelling unconscious. 

Hieronymus Bosch passed away in 1516 as records show. His personality remains veiled in mystery as are his life and training as an artist. We do not know the exact number of his surviving works and there have also been debates around certain attribution: we don’t really know if some of the works said to be his are his or copies. However, according to a Wikipedia entry, 25 pieces remain that are genuinely attributed to Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delight is one. This triptych was purchased by Phillip II of Spain (1 May 1527 – 13 September 1598) in an auction in 1591, and the reason for it being in the ownership of the Museo del Prado. 

Doreski’s poem is as surreal as the painting, in my view, although the poem depicts an experience far more realistic than the triptych. Like Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, ‘Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch’ needs several readings for a relatable meaning to emerge. I’m on my fifth and the poem with its run-on lines is fast embedding itself in my mind. I sense loss and recovery.

Bosch, Hieronymus, The Garden of Earthly Delight (between 1490 and 1510), oil on oak panels, Museo del Prado. 

FREE FALL IN BLUE: AN ICARUS TRYPTYCH (
After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man) – by Kim Peter Kovac

Chagall and Brueghel stroll
lower Manhattan’s narrow streets
speaking of shades of blue in skies and wings
when the urban hustle is halted cold
by a plane flying into a tower, igniting
the day branded forever as “nine-eleven”. 

They watch the flames and smoke,
second plane breaching south tower,
debris falling from a thousand feet,
then audibly gasp when they realize
what they thought of as debris
includes humans, alive in free fall.

The count would never be exact—
8? 18? 132? 200?—jumped
from above the tower’s flaming gash,
escaping (right word?) being crushed
in the collapse; perhaps lucky (right word?)
to have been so close to the sun.

The next morning, over coffee in midtown
the disarticulate artists analyze a photo
in the paper, an image of a man
facing straight down, leg cocked, arms flared
slightly, posture almost in repose,
in the midst of his ten-second flight

with white tunic still in place, graceful,
embracing his fate, a vertical dive
framed against the vertical stripes
of the towers; curiously more artistic
than journalistic: a man frozen and still,
yet actually moving at one-fifty per.

After Chagall and Brueghel process
their reactions, they begin to study
this iconic image, an Icarus
so like theirs.  They ask for refills
and sketch on napkins refinements
for newly limning the boy with wings.   

They study the falling-man photo
and scour memories of each other’s
paintings, knowing that a camera
is no more truthful than a brush;
in the right hands each sculpts
a specific and edited moment.

Bare leg splashing in a pastoral ocean,
blue wings flailing over a village,
a human arrow with high-tops still on:
an Icarus triptych falling through blue,
each image indelibly searing
the eyes of those who remain. 

 

About the Poet: 

Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking.  He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and online in journals from Australia, India, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA.

Eva’s Comments:

Kim Peter Kovac’s poem, inspired by three images — Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Manspeaks of a day that the world has come to know and remember as 9/11. 

In this issue of CarpeArte Journal, we would like to take the time to remember the fallen victims of this tragic event. 

Kovac submitted his work, ‘After Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus, and Drew’s The Falling Man’, along with three images that form the title of his poem. In picking Chagall, the editors at CarpeArte felt it to be the best segue into the poem, although the poem has been inspired by three images, all to do with a falling man. Kovac’s piece is a great example of how our psyches are affected and influenced by the pictures we see around us. It testifies to the power of the image. 

Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985) was a Russian Jewish painter, born in Vitebsk, in today’s Belarus. When he was born, Belarus was part of the Russian Empire. Named as Moishe Shagal, he later changed his name to Marc Chagall upon arriving in Paris in 1910. There, he met other Russian emigre painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine. It could be down to these like-minded friends that Chagall made up his mind to stay in Paris because when he first arrived, he did not like the fast-paced metropolitan life of the city. He felt displaced in Paris for many reasons but he would return there again and finally find roots in France. As an expatriate, I understand what being displaced can do to one’s psyche and how it can lead to one’s search for rootedness.

In the years between 1914 and 1922, Chagall returned to Vitebsk and was forced to remain there to wait out the First World War. Chagall did find a place in Paris and he did become a major influencer in the art world—the Surrealism Movement—although he never considered himself a surrealist. ‘The Fall of Icarus’ is considered a Surrealist work due to its dream-like ambiane and imagery. In psychoanalysis, the act or fear of falling is associated with anxiety and with dis-ease. Chagall’s life would testify to these states of unease. As a writer, I understand how creation can come from the depths of our traumatised psyches and unconscious processing in order to free the mind from pain.

Vitebsk, where he was born and raised, is predominantly a Jewish shtetl or ghetto where Russian Jews were confined. Marked by his beliefs and life in the shtetl, Chagall’s first paintings in Paris were of his experiences living in Vitebsk. They were also influenced by the Old Masters whose works he’d have seen at the museums as well as by his contemporaries’ who were Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Robert Delauney. Viewers will notice that some of Chagall’s works are recognisably Cubist and Impressionistic in styles. But he didn’t take well to these Movements in art. He preferred the freer form of art creation that could be called Expressionism and Symbolism, what Guillaume Apollinaire called “supernatural” and then later, “surreal”. 

It can be said that Chagall was always a painter willing to learn from others of his time and those who came before him. In Russia, his works, although still remaining Cubist and Impressionistic in forms, were influenced too by Michail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova whose works are categorised under the Rayonism Movement.  Later, he would also be influenced by the Suprematists, like Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky whom he met when he was Director of the Vitebsk Academy of Art.

Always refusing to be categorised and remaining an advocate of the free experimentation and creation of art, Chagall’s oeuvre is expansive. I admire him for his tenacity and his audacity which carried him through his life’s journeys from Russia, to Western and Eastern Europe to the United States of America and finally back to Western Europe, again, where he left this world. From being apolitical and just painting for the sake of creating art, he took to art as an expression and commentary of his political ideas, forced by the anti-Semitic attitudes of the current religio-political climate he lived in: he depicted the pain and sadness felt by his people, he condemned the Bolshevik revolution and he brought light to the connections between Judaism and Christianity in a seminal work, ‘White Crucifixion’, which questioned and condemned the absurdity of selective persecution and the inanity of war.  

In more ways than one, Chagall led a traumatic life. In America, he would lose his wife and muse of 29 years, Bella Rosenfeld-Chagall, to a viral infection, in 1944. Saddened by this huge loss, he would stop painting for a whole year while he grappled with the void in his life. (Their marriage, initially opposed by Bella’s parents due to Chagall’s lack of financial means, was studded with uncertainty and hardship, as well as, joy amidst sacrifices. It was at the birth of Ida Chagall, the couple’s daughter, that Marc Chagall found reconciliation with his in-laws.) It was not until he met Virginia Haggard McNeill that his creative juices flowed again. Returning to Paris in 1946, Chagall continued to work on a piece, ‘The Falling Angel’ which he had started in 1923, finally completing it in 1947. This piece of work can be read as one that was conceived in the psyche of the artist since his emigration from the Soviet Union, which remained latent in his unconscious, until it was time for the images to be resurfaced in a more mature phase of his life. At this point, Chagall was already 60 and he yearned for a quieter life. It seemed that finishing ‘The Fallen Angel’ brought a sense of catharsis signified by his yearning for tranquillity. He moved to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, in 1950, where he continued to paint. 

At this point, his relationship with Virginia McNeill took a turn for the worst and she left him in 1952. Chagall must’ve felt such a sense of abandonment at this point but he didn’t take long to find another companion in Valentina Brodsky, whom he lovingly christened Vava. 

Vava had a forceful and sinister presence in Chagall’s life. A former Jew, she converted to Christianity and was adamant that Chagall did the same. He was amused at her attempts at converting him but remained stoically Jewish, and since he was never really a devout Jew in the first place, any attempts to Christianise him was taken with a pinch of salt; he also defied the portrayal of living creatures visually, something never done by the Jewish Orthodox, by always inserting a cow and/or other animals in his works from the moment he started painting, since his earlier works depicted the daily lives of the people in Vitebsk. It must be said that his Jewish identity cannot be missed visually since he often inserted Judaic imagery and symbolisms mixed with Christian ones in his later works. It can be said that by this point, Chagall had stopped being actively political,  yet he would still insert Judaic symbolisms and live creatures in the most unlikely of places where he was commissioned to work—the ceiling of the Paris Opera (1963) is one example and the images of animals in a stained glass window for the synagogue of the Hadassh-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem (1960-62) is another. 

The image of angels suspended upside down in mid-air has come to represent many of Chagall’s works, just have cows and donkeys. In ‘The Falling Angel’ (La Chute de l’angle), viewers will see the central figure of an angel falling head first, with one eye gazing out at us. Superimposed onto the feathers of his wing is a mother-child duo—the mother holds the child in a tight embrace. Other figures are found—a man holding a scroll, symbolising a rabbi and the Torah, a crucified Christ, are examples. There is a lone candle, a fiddle and a cow. There are again rooftops and houses which are consistent features in many of his works. 

In ‘The Fall of Icarus’, we see again this angel free falling head first. This time, the red hues are used to depict the people on the land, many of whom have arms opened wide, as if to receive this falling angel. Those familiar with this Greek myth will know that Icarus flew too near the sun melting his wax wings plummeting to his death; the story is also the story of a genius, Daedalus, who lived in regret for having caused the death of his son, Icarus. There is a dream-like quality to this oil on canvas, so it is understandably accurate to say that this is a surrealist piece. This was painted 10 years before Chagall died. During this time, he was living in Vence, France. He has continued to paint even at this mature age but at this point, his works have given way to mythology and fantasy. The use of Icarus as the main character or protagonist in this piece is multi-layered. The myth of Icarus symbolises hubris, shame, lust, regret and ingenuity gone wrong. Estranged from his daughter, Ida, Chagall could be expressing his regret, shame, lust and hubris in this iconic work. 

Marc Chagall passed away in 1985 in St Paul, Vence. Having never converted to Christianity and remaining a fervent adherent of Judaism until his death, Vava had him buried in a Catholic cemetery, his grave marked by a gravestone in the shape of the cross. Ida Chagall, who attended her father’s funeral, insisted on the Kaddish, the mourning prayer, being read at the end of the ceremony. In a surreal and uncanny way, Chagall’s death was marked by the insertion of Judaic and Christian symbolisms, much like his works of art were. 

Chagall, Marc (1975), The Fall of Icarus, Oil on Canvas, 213 x 198 cm (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.)

Trap by F. Z. Majidi

I was awaiting a bus for forty minutes under the rain. Compared to last year this spring was a hot one, but that day it was raining like hell. I should’ve had a ridiculous appearance in a short cotton dress soaked through. Raindrops were moisturizing parts of my skin that I had forgotten all about.

There was a sweet scent on my mind, shifting from pastry to roses, from roses to chocolate. Feeling drowsy, I could smell a touch of burning wood among other odors as well.  

2:30 p.m. The street was empty. There was only a young lady ten meters away from me, chain-smoking under the torrential rain with an indomitable will. She was sitting on the forest-green metal railings. A dying cigarette on her crimson lips, crossed legs, a silver lipstick lighter in her right hand, flicking away a half-smoked cigarette in the broad highway beneath the railings every two minutes. Both ends of the five-lane highway underneath overlapped with the horizon, where she had turned her head to stare at. Sun was clouded in the region she was investigating with her brown gaze. Her knitted brown blouse, black boots, and black leather skirt were indicating she knew about the weather.

As she smoked all her cigarettes – insofar as could be smoked – she shook the cigarette packet to assure it was depleted and then threw the packet into the highway. Before I could object, she grabbed her cream-colored leather bag and hurled it toward the high-speed chain of cars below the railings. My irritation turned into curiosity: if I were in her place, I would definitely look down to see the result. She was gazing at an unknown point in the thick and dark clouds instead, as if waiting for something to happen. Her long fingers with polished black nails found the cream jacket hanging from the railings, grasped it and flung the crumpled piece of linen toward the horizon. Was I supposed to say something? What was she thinking? That urban highways were some sort of giant pipes for washing away our wastes?

She removed her silver necklace and black boots, throwing them as well onto the highway; her face was expressionless as if she was doing all this in her bedroom on a normal evening. A surreal wet painting. I could see the white skin of her head under the sparse threads of her dark brown hair. She raised her head to watch the black clouds and stayed like that for a short while. A little push, and she flung herself onto the highway. The last piece of waste. I stayed in my place for a while, confused, not knowing what to do. As I came to my senses, I decided to call the police but there were no sensible sentences in my mind. I was left there alone, with an irresistible gravitational source emanating from the highway below my feet.

I swallowed and moved toward the green railings. It took me a lifetime to screw up my courage and lower my head. My eyes started hunting for her, but she was nowhere; as if she hadn’t fallen at all. While inspecting the broad highway, the old orange-colored bus arrived, accelerating in my direction.

The first thing I felt was the weight of its left tire, climbing my left leg from behind. I turned my gaze and the orange color wavered before my eyes, contaminated with my blood fountaining, blinding me. My hands grabbed the green railings as the huge metal monster tried to pull me under. In a blink, all its weight was on my waist. I closed my eyes, heard my bones smashing and felt my flesh ripping apart while screaming at the top of my lungs. Angry tires reached the railings, hitting it hard. I was on the verge of unconsciousness, pressed amid the two belligerent metal parties, watching the highway. My eyes were seeking her, but tears and blood had limited my view. The warm blood-drops were falling from my nostrils and chin into the highway. The bus was still pushing the railings.

I blinked, clearing the tears. She was nowhere to be found. The bus drove its wheels on the deformed railings and lifted what had remained of my body. I was no longer a physical entity, flying off the railings and falling into the highway. My eyes still searching.

 

About the Author:

Z. Majidi is – currently – a Ph.D. student at Sapienza University of Rome, living in Rome, studying Astrophysics and Space Sciences. She writes in her free time and recently has started publishing her short stories. She won 2010 Kharazmi prize for writing the novelette “Eternity” and one of her short stories has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

 

Eva’s Comments:

Majidi is a tri-lingual writer who writes in Persian as well as English. ‘Trap’ stayed in my unconscious for many months while my dreamspace attempted to find an image that would accompany this compact piece endowed with supernatural intensity and the power of a superbly written flash piece.

As the summer months sailed by and with imminent autumnal days in the horizon, I started to remember how blue I would feel as winter approaches. Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period came immediately to mind.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, baptised a Catholic, with a long list of names in honour of various saints and relatives, and passed away an atheist in 1973. The Blue Period is a term used to categorize his works produced between 1901 and 1904 in Paris. These works are defined by their predominantly monochromatic hues and sombre tones. Picasso had a difficult time selling these works initially although his series from the Blue Period has become synonymous with his name. I suspect viewers at that time were perturbed by these canvases–of dark greens, greys and blues– so devoid of the usual exuberant and cheerful block colours that he was associated with. Viewers today are still left with a lingering sense of melancholy upon seeing one of his Blue Period paintings.

Actually, the Blue Period represented Picasso’s own melancholy at losing his friend, Carlos Casagemas, to suicide. Spurned by unrequited love, Casagemas shot himself in the temple after an unsuccessful shot at the object of his love, Germaine. Casagemas featured in many of Picasso’s Blue Period paintings posthumously. It seems that by painting his Catalan friend, Picasso was able to find catharsis and a sense of psychological release from the guilt of having abandoned his best friend at a time of need. It was Casagemas’s suicide that sent Picasso into a bout of depression that would last many years. However, certain art historians have disputed the cause of Picasso’s depression to Casagemas’s death due to the questionable chronology of the suicide and the initiation of the Blue phase, including some paintings of Casagemas rendered in colourful tones which defies the categorization Blue. Upon Casagemas’s demise, Picasso also started an affair with the very woman who’d caused his friend’s death. One wonders at the unethical behaviour of this Spanish artist but one could also say that it was his (unusual) way of coping with such a trauma. My rationalization is that the human psyche finds ways to cope–untoward, unethical or unusual as some of these ways may be.

Reflected in the paintings during this (Blue) phase were also the debased portraits of prostitutes, beggars and drunks whom Picasso met during his travels through Spain. It seemed that Picasso was very taken by the downtrodden and marginalized communities in his home country. The canvases from this period is a mirror to his own sense of self-worth, in my view. It feels to me that he identified openly with the old, the frail, the down-and-out, and the blind as he painted them repeatedly during his Blue Period. It would seem that these canvases resonate with his own sense of anxiety, fear and profound feelings of helplessness: he was in this period, a struggling artist.

‘Celestina’ was painted in 1903. The subject, Celestina, is blind in one eye, blindness being a theme and motif found in many of Picasso’s Blue Period works. I felt that Celestina is the best segue into Majidi’s story because of the themes that are explored in ‘Trap’. Celestina meets our gaze directly, demanding that we pay her attention. We are forced to look at her tensed face–the dimpled half-moons by her pursed flat-lined lips indicate this tension and we get the sense that she is distressed. (In fact, the longer I look at Celestina, the more I see how her lips seem to be quivering as she stares imploringly at me.) Her deformed eye looks out at us and this handicap is worsened by the grey-blue backdrop and her funereal ensemble. This portrait of a distressed woman evokes a sense of morose in the viewer. She is frozen, trapped, in her phantom-like pose which lingers in our mind’s eye disturbingly. No wonder Picasso’s Blue Period paintings lost him his reputation as a formidable artist. It was not for technique that he was criticised but for the subject matter and the tones he had used.

If painting is a form of expression, an outlet of our (pained) psyches, then Picasso’s Blue Period was reflective of an unconscious outpouring of grief and desperation. The Blue Period was followed by his Rose Period which was named for his canvases of blush pinks and earthy tones although blue hues remain but less sombre. It is said that Picasso was still depressed during his Rose Period albeit the more cheerful and softer tonalities. Picasso’s depression would last for more years to come as he painted away his blues, eventually lifting as his later paintings indicated. 

I wonder if one is really fully cured of depression.
Picasso, Pablo, ‘Celestina’ (1903).

The People in the Jungle by Eva Wong Nava

Han Suyin stands in the middle of the cavernous gallery displaying only one painting. The man in a white short-sleeved singlet stands in the middle of the painting. He holds a red book in his left hand, his right arm is extended, forearm raised in an L-shape, with his hand and fingers facing him in an awkward twist. This is a hand that commands attention. His khaki trousers are creased but his young face shines with determination as he recites a poem from the red book. He looks into the distance and not at his audience. The distance is where he sees himself in the future, the future of Malaya. 

Suddenly, a gust causes the debris at Han Suyin’s feet to spin like a whirligig: insect carcasses, dead leaves, brown and shrivelled, twigs of all lengths circle around her, rising over her head and disappearing into the massive jungle above. Monkeys shriek, crickets chirp and snakes swish amongst the tall lalang grass, the cacophony deafens her. Mosquitoes prick her sweaty calves as she swats away the rest threatening to suck blood from her arms. The foliage is so thick that Han Suyin can’t see the wall of black clouds forming above. But she can smell the imminent rain, its humid vapours mingle with the stench of mud, mulch and madness. The wind dies down and the air becomes oppressively still—a sign that the skies will soon crack open. She’s inside a white cube yet she feels the tension. There’s danger everywhere but the comrades have told her the jungle is the safest place right now since the jipun kia, the Japanese, have left bringing the British red-haired devils back. Her distant future seems as bleak as the tarpaulin tents she’s forced to sleep under. The white cube disappears. 

Suet Ling is fanning a fire where a blackened pot hangs above. She is squatting, legs splayed by her swollen tummy, her bottom almost touching the muddy ground. Mei Ching squats next to her, plucking feathers from a recently slaughtered jungle fowl whose death was caused by decapitation. Its severed head lies nearby, tossed aside as Mei Ching held the flapping bird down so that its headless body will not escape. She doesn’t wait for it to stop flapping before she plucks away at the bird. It’s a rare treat to be having fresh meat for dinner. Rice is rationed, brought in pocketfuls or hidden in the rubber tappers’ shoes which is then passed on to the People in the Jungle. Communist Terrorists as they’re known. It’s sweet potato leaves for fibre again.

Suet Ling lets out a groan, hands holding her stomach, she attempts to stand up. Her legs wobble and a gush of liquid pooled around her feet. 

“I think baby come,” she says to Mei Ching who throws the naked chicken into the pot.

“Quick, quick, we get doctor,” replies Mei Ching as she runs off to untie Han Suyin.

The men are all on guard duty and will not be back until night breaks; two have been sent to punish a traitor who will be beheaded in a ceremonial execution. Han Suyin, Suet Ling and Mei Ching are the only people left in the camp. The latter two are watching over Han Suyin, the doctor whom their comrades had kidnapped from the clinic in town along with medical supplies.

Han Suyin tremors while she looks into the frame catching the eye of the girl in white sitting by the speaker’s feet. Can that girl really be Suet Ling who died while giving birth to her breeched son? The comrades had blamed the baby’s death on the doctor, on her, and she was punished severely. What about the girl holding a piece of paper? Is she Mei Ching? She must be. Han Suyin thinks she recognises those fervent, determined eyes looking up at the speaker who she thinks is Comrade Lee Loke Wan. He would have executed her if not for Mei Ching’s interference. 

“What for kill doctor? She can help us.”

“Don’t interfere, woman!” a rifle cocks. “She lucky I not hacking her with a parang. I waste one bullet to kill her because she is a woman. Don’t say I not kind! My woman and son are both dead. I want revenge.”

“Suet Ling unlucky, lah. Who can say why baby feet come out first? Not the doctor’s fault, Ah Loke. This kind of thing is heaven send one. Suet Ling never pray to Guanyin, that’s why. Killing doctor will make Guanyin Mother more angry, then our camp cursed. Cannot like this, Ah Loke.”

Han Suyin listens, hands tied behind her back, blindfold over her eyes. She is kneeling as another male comrade holds her still. Mei Ching’s voice is soft, reasoning, determined to win Comrade Lee over to her side. Han Suyin realises that her life is in this woman’s hands. 

In this cavernous space, she wonders what has happened to these people in the jungle. She shivers as she remembers those dark days. 

When the Malay police officers found her, Han Suyin weighed only 32 kilograms. After Suet Ling’s baby died, her meals were reduced down to one a day. Her menses had stopped and she could no longer tell the time from day to day. The people in the jungle had lost faith in her as a doctor. But it was Mei Ching, the nurse, who managed to keep her alive. Mei Ching had only worked a few months at the clinic where Han Suyin was abducted. It was Mei Ching’s idea to have a doctor in the camp. But without the right medical supplies, Han Suyin couldn’t do much. Suet Ling bled to death as her son remained wedged between her legs. 

The camp was dismantled as the commanding police inspector, Leon Comber, rounded up the men and women of the jungle and loaded them into a truck. They will be dealt with by the Crown courts later; some will hang for murder. Special Constable Comber held Han Suyin, his wife, tight. It had taken the British administration six months to find her. She allowed her skeletal frame to lean into Comber’s tight, secure chest, relieved that her ordeal is now over. 

About the Author:

Eva Wong Nava writes Flash Fiction to find catharsis. She is published in various places, including Jellyfish Review, Peacock Journal and Ariel Chart. She founded CarpeArte Journal as a blog to publish her own work and to give a platform for others to do the same. Since then, the Journal has grown to include writers and poets from around the world. 

Eva is also a children’s book author. Her book, Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was written to help readers be more compassionate to people on the autism spectrum. 

Eva’s Comments:

As the managing editor of this growing journal, I’ve not had much time to write recently. Submissions are flowing in, thanks to many talented writers in the Flash Fiction community. There have been poems ebbing in too, thanks to the many prolific poets out there. 

This story had to be placed on the back burner for a few months as I sat on various writing projects and researched Malayan history for a book I’m writing. I have been toying with the idea of introducing a character who is a real person but giving said character a fictional space within the form of flash. 

Han Suyin was the pen name of Elizabeth Comber, a China-born Eurasian writer who wrote the 1952 book, A Many-Splendored Thing which was made into a movie entitled Love is a Many-Splendored Thing in 1955; many old enough will remember the song with the same title. Her second novel, published in 1956, also with a poetic title, And The Rain My Drink, was set in British Malaya during the Malayan Emergency. This novel and her political convictions cost her her divorce from her second husband, Leon Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch. 

About the Artist:

Chua Mia Tee remains one of my favourite Nanyang artists who paints in a style known as Social Realism. Although Chua is not included in the list of Nanyang artists who gave their name to an eclectic art style known as the Nanyang style, Chua’s works are still important documents of Singapore’s history and commentaries on the social fabric of the country, its people and its politics. I don’t think Chua meant to be overtly political as this was not his focus; he was more interested in documenting how the people lived and bonded during a turbulent period in Singapore’s history. Identity was an important concept to him and to most Chinese emigres of his time: are we Chinese or Malayans? Chua explores this notion in another painting, ‘National Language Class’ which he painted in 1959, the year Singapore gained self-governance from the British. 

His subjects were mostly the people he knew intimately, like his wife and close friends. He believed that art’s function was to educate by sharing ideals and visions that will lead to changes for the betterment of society.

Epic Poem of Malaya’ (1955) depicts a scene where a group of young Chinese students from Malaya are seated around a young man reading from a book. These youths were keen to develop a sense of Malayan identity during this period of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s history, a period during which guerrilla wars were being fought in the Malayan jungles against the British administration. The guerrilla wars were organised by mostly Chinese speaking and educated emigres who saw Communism as the best form of governance and ousting the British as a goal towards gaining independence. A Malayan identity was important for the unification of a predominantly Chinese people, who were neither natives nor Malayan-born, and who had no wish to return to China although they identified Chinese.

What I love about this painting are the minute details, like the fly sitting on the bare shoulder of the man on the right, for example. Check out the facial expressions of his characters/subjects; I love the gobsmacked expression of the boy at the back. Can you see a man whose drink is almost spilling because he’s so engrossed in the recital? Note the peanut shells scattered on the ground. 

Its title reads like an ode because the painting is indeed an ode to Malaya. ‘Epic Poem of Malaya’ evokes a sense of nostalgia in its viewers. For many who remember this not so distant Malayan past, this painting brings back a lost sense of idealism. British Malaya no longer exists. Made up of British protectorates of the Malay States and the Straits Settlement under the British, this geographical entity has morphed into Malaysia and Singapore, with Singapore independent from Malaysia since 1965. Have Malaysians and Singaporeans lost their ideals? 

Chua Mia Tee was born in 1931 in China and emigrated to Singapore (British Malaya) in 1937 with his family who was fleeing the Sino-Japanese war, not realising that the Japanese forces would infiltrate Southeast Asia in a few years’ time. Being one of the many people from the pioneering generation of Singapore, Chua Mia Tee experienced the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, the return of the British after the war, the Communist war against the Empire, and the nation’s fight for independence during the 1950s, culminating in Singapore’s independence in 1965. He documented this turbulent historical period in oil paintings that can be found at the National Gallery Singapore today. 

Chua, Mia Tee (1955), Epic Poem of Malaya, Oil on canvas, 112 x 153 cm, Collection of National Gallery.