Monday, September 26, 2011

$250 for a photo with a naked man?

a stark naked man has attracted attention from hundreds of people at the Art Stage Singapore exhibition, held at Marina Bay Sands. The man is seated in a booth in front of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's "The Two Fridas", devoid of any article of clothing. Visitors to the exhibition can choose to join him in the room, hold his hand (mimicing the painting behind), and get a photograph taken for a price of $250.

the man, T. Venkanna, is an artist from Hyderabad, India and is posing naked as part of his art installation about "removing the trappings of identity".

I feel that art comes in many forms, be it a renaissance romanticist painting by theodore gericault, or a ready-made my marcel duchamp. and although i concede that what T. Venkanna is doing is indeed art (performance art), i decline to agree that it was well done.

through the process of coursework, my (vague-ish) principles of art have become relatively more concrete. but i realised that a key aspect of art that i feel is important and necessary is that throughout the process of doing the art, there must be some visible effort or growth on the part of the artist - like the evident patience and skill needed to paint "A Sunday on the island of La Grande Jatte", or the hours' effort needed to throw a simple vase. i personally feel that, more than the symbolism of the work, the process and sense of achievement after a period of hard work is what makes art. However in the case of T. Venkanna, I feel that he has put in little or no effort into this work as all he needs to do is sit there and take pictures. There is no necessary artistic skills involved, or creative idea behind it. Moreover, i find this installation rather "cheat" (for lack of a better word), as not only does he need to put in little effort on his part, the painting that he is basing his entire installation on isn't even painted by him. thus in my opinion, i find this installation a very poorly executed example of performance art.

also, "The Two Fridas" was painted by Frida Kahlo at a time of her divorce with her ex-husband, Diego Rivera. The painting thus serves to depict Kahlo's emotions, inner turmoil and the great pain she was suffering at the time. There is no direct (or indirect) link between the painting and T. Venkenna's concept of "removing the trappings of identity". It seems as though the only similarities between what he is doing and the painting is the pose of the two fridas and the pose of T. Venkenna and the visitor. In anycase, even if T. Venkenna did intend to portray "removing the trappings of identity" as perhaps, removing the trappings of sorrow and pain as in "The Two Fridas", I still feel that he should not have mimicked another artist's work, as this causes him to lose his originality as an artist, which contradicts his prominent and outstanding actions.

another reason that i do not like this work is the way the message was portrayed. removing clothes and accessories does not necessarily equate to "removing the trappings of identity", or is a vague and superficial representation of it. I also think that T. Venkenna has failed to properly convey his message to his viewers, as most people view his nudity not as an image conveying the message of "removing the trappings of identity", but more as something that attracts attention because of the outrageous nature of the installation. Also, the fact that 70% of the visitors who have taken a photo with him are women, and that most of them did not dare to look him in the eye, were shy and did not speak to him may suggest that they are simply there because of a certain morbid curiousity, instead of a desire to appreciate art. Also, the extra measures taken to screen the exhibit from the public area to avoid visitors from stumbling upon it by accident is, albeit a thoughtful precaution, but it also suggests that the main aspect of the installation that people pay attention to is the nudity of the man, instead of the message he is trying to convey. As such, I think that T. Venkenna has mostly failed to convey his message through his actions.

footnote: while my comments on this installation have been sardonic and cynical, i do applaud the artist's courage to display himself to the public, and that all of these comments are my own personal views which may differ from others. ^^

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