MINDWATCH: The Observer, The Observed
by Ahmad Azrai

THE state of the world’s environment has been a major concern for people for some time; sadly, the only thing that seems to be growing is the problem itself, and not the sense of awareness nor the will to do anything about it. Weather-related disasters dominated a fair amount of bad press in the first decade of the current millennium, along with air-bourne diseases carried through the most common food source for a large portion of the world’s diet, as well as the rise of medical complications that progress at a frightening pace.

All point to an inescapable conclusion – that if we continue with the way we live modern life, actually living on this planet will become unbearable. More and more species – once abundantly common – are in danger of extinction, and nothing concrete is being done to wean us away from destructive consumerism and towards sustainable ecology, despite the hollow protestations and gestures of world leaders.

Artist Jeganathan Ramachandram feels that something is now missing – a sense of propriety, innocence and steadfast principles washed away as if ravaged by the very typhoons that run rampant across the oceans only to inflict itself upon the shores of the earth and lay waste to all that lie there. The old wisdoms and lessons have been forgotten, their hard-earned knowledge and advice dismissed as irrelevant by societies becoming increasingly more jaded as they abandon both spirituality and scientific reason for more immediate pleasures.

The artist firmly believes that children born now are more brilliant and smarter than ever; thus, it is even more important to leave them symbols that will gain more relevance, not less, as they try to make sense of the world during their time of maturation.

These works form the story that Jeganathan wishes to tell – a new narrative that implores the viewer to take heed and feel the pain which we are inflicting upon Mother Earth, and do something to alleviate that pain. They comprise of: Human Watching (the Female series), Barbeque, World War IV, 1Egg, Monkey On My Back, The Premier That Was and The Secret That Is Sacred.

The Human Watching series was based upon the artist’s observations of people and personalities as shown through their faces. Across a span of about 14 years, Jeganathan noted that they day upon which a person was born greatly influences their outlook, and the series incorporates this with a gifted use of what he calls symbolic realism. The Female series, being arguably more subtle than the Male series, is on display again, supported with an interesting observation by Japanese architect, urban planner and inventor Shunya Susuki.

Whilst creating Human Watching, the artist came to the conclusion that the nature of people is very much tied to the environment as well; specifically, the relationship between man and nature. Jeganathan has become increasingly concerned with the chaos and conflict that arises at the meeting point between the two; he shows this via the depiction of human figures whose internal organs show signs of rot – a clear-cut message which says that the more we hurt our surroundings, the more we hurt ourselves.

The stark and pitiful images (skewered creatures in Barbeque, the use of helpless animals who cannot fight back in World War IV) are meant to shock the viewer into feeling outrage and awareness which will result taking action to right the wrongs inflicted upon Mother Nature.

1Egg has its origins with a story in modern Malaysia, and refers to the frailty of religious sensitivities in the country. Its very existence hangs by slender threads – and if care is not taken, it will shatter, irrepairable and irreplaceable, leaving a sense of rot as well as huge mess that can never be never be truly cleansed.

Finally, the final paintings are biographical in nature: each depicts a different set of memories and experiences. The stories they tell say as much about the artist as they do about the people he paints about, and Jeganathan – who firmly believes that art should not merely be decorative but descriptive of social consciousness as well – wants the world to share his vision of how the world is, and how we can make it right again before it really is too late.

Ahmad Azrai