24 July 2014

Nostalgie04: An exhibition of heart

In August 2012, like in Augusts that came before, one man like many other men walked around Notre Dame.  Like other men before him he came, he saw and he took pictures.  We have no way of knowing if others saw Notre Dame and the life around the cathedral with similar eyes.  We don’t know if the photographers, forever strangers to one another, were moved by or to similar frames, enchanted by similar play of light and shade, or inspired by architecture, part architecture, sculpture, curve, fine lines and patterned elegance in similar ways.  

All we can tell is that in August 2012 an amateur photographer armed with the limited sophistication of what he described as a primitive, can-hold-in-the-palm, camera, took some picture.  All we know is that the photographer decided to share the what-my-eyes-saw that he captured. 

Kumar de Silva has shared his click-captures before.  This is the fourth such exhibition he has held.  Nostalgie04 is a trip around Notre Dame, literally and metaphorically.  He tells us that he wanted to capture the life around the cathedral.  Well, there’s certainly a lot of it, including birds, visitors and others who feed the feathered creatures, photographers photographing one another in preferred frames, notices of concerts and other signs of life naturally more fluid than the majestic edifice. 

This is Paris.  This is Notre Dame, Paris.  And yet, to Kumar, it is but a microcosm of ‘the world out there’.  True enough.  He could theoretically obtain a similar capture-set of any stand-out piece of architecture in Colombo or Anuradhapura or anywhere else for that matter.  The exhibition animates the architecture, inscribes movement upon the stone and adds to the human story narrated therein. 

It is all what Kumar saw or rather a set of 30 images which in his view give a representative slice of the subject.    What is particularly interesting is that by focusing on element rather than seeking a sweeping ‘overall’, the photographer animates the parts his gaze chose to dwell longer on and this ‘detailing’ enriches our several times removed visual dialogue with the Notre Dame.  That choice or rather the more memorable of what his eyes saw can be read as an exercise in animation.  It whets the appetite for more, more of Notre Dame naturally but more importantly more of the details. 

Kumar insists he is an amateur and moreover that he will remain as such.  The fact remains that the cold matt laminated exhibits, none of which were subjected to computer manipulation, makes one stop and ask question after question.  Perhaps that’s just this writer, whose knowledge of the visual and therefore the ability to assess visual-quality is as or more ‘ameteurish’ as Kumar claims his adventures with the camera have been. 

Kumar, deliberately ‘unhampered’ by the lack of sophisticated equipment, was moved to offer Sri Lankan audiences a flavor of that which caught his eye.  Talk to him about the exhibits and the photographer would give the who, what, where etc embedded in the image.  But if he exuded the agenda-free excitement of any young person delighted by achievement and opportunity to share an experience using an art form, Kumar was as emotional about the add-on associated with this particular version of ‘Nostalgie’.   
The artist has enough social capital acquired over many years to cover most of the expenses and obtain much publicity in the media, not just for Nostalgie04 but for what Kumar had turned it into.
“All proceeds from the sale of these limited edition photographs will be donated to one of my friends of Sri Lanka’s media fraternity - photographer Rukshan Abeywansha who has begun a long process of recovering in hospital after life-saving surgery to a ruptured spine following a motor accident. His total medical bill up to date has gone beyond Rs. three million, out of which his insurance would only pay a small fraction. All his friends have rallied together in an effort to help his family bring him back to normalcy.”
That was an inevitable tag to the notices he passed around.
Kumar of course was ‘hands-on’ during the exhibition and excited though he obviously would have been by offering it for public scrutiny, he was no less a happy schoolboy when he spoke of Rukshan.  It was almost has though he had forgotten why he had put together an exhibition in the first instance. 

Rukshan is our colleague and a dear friend to everyone in the larger Rivira family.  When Kumar heard what had happened, he was already in the thick of organizing the exhibition. He knew Rukshan because on one occasion Rukshan had accompanied someone who was interviewing Kumar for ‘The Nation’.  Rukshan, Kumar explained, was not well that day.  He had fever.  He need not have come, Kumar said for he had enough photographs with him to decorate the article anyway.  Kumar had not forgotten Rukshan’s commitment.  And so he, Kumar, decided to offer all proceeds from the exhibition to help Rukshan’s family pay various bills and repay various loans. 

‘Guess what, I sold such and such a number of photographs,’ he would text.  ‘I sold so many and so many people offered to make separate contributions for Rukshan,’ he said.  Experts on the subject of photography would offer the best assessment about Kumar’s eye.  We can talk of his heart.  Simply, Kumar de Silva has no clue about its dimensions.  He obviously does not recognize the fact that his heart has eyes; he saw, he recognized need and he saw to it that he would channel all his energies to ‘give what the heart feels’. 
What has all this got to do with the Notre Dame? Everything.  It is what allowed photographer to equalize gargoyle with apostle, inscribe egalitarian sentiment on human and bird, unite with fellow photographer, see in part the whole and make it as much a local experience as a view of the foreign.  That’s heart.   

Portrait of Kumar

Unnamed apostles and unnamable gargoyles
the elegant counterpointing
of grotesque and angelic
the twitter of the immovable
the stillness of the fluid
the swirl of moment among the seemingly timeless
the blush of the historicized
and brashness of the nondescript
passed over by chronicler
but who in anonymity and chance
offer everyday frills
so brick and marble can breathe
can speak, laugh and weep
the narratives of sculptor and faith
the Mephistophelean traps
of revelation and deceit
the clarities of the oblique
and the confusion of the smooth
the slanting by sun
the casting of doubt
the irreverence of assured orbits
and the interruption by human error
that other cathedralizing
in the gaze of a sansaric tourist
and as such
whose credentials
amateur or professional or bit of both
are unchecked
for reasons uncheckable.