22 February 2023

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

I may have seen pictures but I’ve not reflected too much about the sculptors of Bruno Catalano. I don’t know about sculptures, sculpting and sculptors. I don’t know about art. I only saw a picture of one of a set of ten life-size bronze sculptures displayed along the Marseille waterfront to commemorate the city’s status as the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

This arrangement is titled ‘Les Voyageurs (The Travelers).’ The figures are of people with parts of their bodies missing.  And that’s what is intriguing about it.

Voyagers are by definition individuals who have left home for one reason or another. They often leave many homes, again for one reason or another. And every time, it seems, they leave a part of them behind. Perhaps that scoop off something from where they’ve been and it becomes part of who they are, for that’s possible too. In fact that’s inevitable. If, for example, it’s about leaving bits and pieces in places you’ve visited or passed through, Catalano’s figures would be far more skeletal or rather, if he ‘catches’ the particular voyager late into the voyage, that’s what he would be left with.

Not all voyages are prompted by a restless heart and some wanderlust, a desire to explore and in exploration discover truths believed to be ‘out there’ or come to terms with self.

We live in a world where more than 100 million people have been displaced. That’s more than 1.2% of the world’s total population. In other words, if we draw from the Catalano metaphor, there are over 100 million people walking on this planet as I write, who have been forced to leave life-pieces behind; preciousness irreplaceable and irrecoverable.

They may travel full-bodied, brave and adequately ‘luggaged’ of course, but they are marked by a tag, a label which in the eyes of many divests them of identity-pieces and pins on them things they are not, together robbing them of whatever wholesomeness that was, at some point, shared with the more fortunate.

And then, we could also consider the possibility, or perhaps probability, that the less-traveled or those who have no reason to flee or are not made to leave are, in their own way for whatever reason, as incomplete as Catalano’s travellers. For deprivation can come in many forms which, let us never forget, diminishes the tragic losses of those whose addresses were robbed along with possessions only they would know about.

We lose when our labor is extracted at the point of a gun or upon threat of eviction. We lose when the labour we pour into something that we will never own and for which we are paid less value than we’ve expended. We lose when we are forced to agree to participate in processes terribly skewed against our interests. We lose when we are bombarded so relentlessly with lies to the point that we believe them. We lose when we are painted into corners and made to forget that we can change our shape to any colour we want, that we can defy gravity, that we were always endowed with the ability to fly, that we can with word, gaze and solidarities beyond the comprehension of those who would subdue us, walk through them or simply float over them.

Time leaves scars
even ancient time
time before identity and perception
time that wounded and scarred
time that amputated
carved vacuums
like Bruno Catalano’s ‘voyageurs’
and so
we scratch
the itch
in body parts
measure relative deprivation
and that’s alright

The viewer can see through Catalano’s figures and therefore recognise the fact of absences. The viewer can also, if so inclined, note the absences of figures that are not thus disfigured. The viewer can, in the figure that gaze rests upon, whether whole or part, recognise self and therefore the terrible, terrible commonality of absence but in varying degrees of deprivation. There is a dictionary of curses to draw rocks from just to throw at figures and disfigurement that displeases but there is also a dictionary of roses from which petals can be extracted and used to wipe a tear without scarring a cheek.

let’s not forget, however
to notice a tear
of similar temperature
and smile
in the new and ancient
abnormalities we inhabit,
let us remember
to water some plants

before the sun goes down.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road