|T.Venkanna seated with a man infront of Frida Kahlo's The Two Fridas at Art Stage Singapore|
At Art Stage Singapore, a man dressed only in his "birthday suit" sat in front of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's The Two Fridas. As part of the work, visitors could pay $250 to be seated next to him, hold his hand, and get a photograph taken.
T.Venkanna is an Indian artist known to be "one of his generation's most exciting, versatile, and unconventional artists." as quoted from Gallery Maskara's website. It is the gallery he represented at Art Stage Singapore. His art created quite a stir and there was controversy over if this was considered art and the appropriateness of his art at a public event.
So firstly, is this art? This would depend on one's definition of art. For me, art is self expression. Art is the expression of one's feelings, emotions, thoughts through any medium, be it drawing, painting, installation, performance, etc. Hence, i do consider his work art.
Secondly, is this good art? i feel that for art to be considered good, it has to be meaningful to the audience. If there is no connection between the art and the viewer, it would be just another performance, object or image, there is no significance to the work.
According to T.Venkanna, the meaning of his work is about "removing the trappings of identity". However, i find it rather difficult in understanding his work. The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo is a self portrait about the pain, turmoil and struggle during her martial crisis. It shows 2 of her personalities, one that loves her husband and one that was abandoned by her husband.
i do acknowledge that there are some slight connections between the work and the meaning, however i find it very difficult to understand how sitting stark naked holding the hand of a visitor in front of the painting can show the removing of the outward signs, features, or objects associated with identity. Hence the work is not very meaningful to me.
Furthermore, i also do not understand how charging $250 for a picture with the artist in front of the painting contributes to the meaning of the work, that is the "removing (of) the trappings of identity". If taking a photo is necessary in the work, i am able to accept it, if collecting a token of money is necessary, i am able to accept it. However what i find very hard to accept is the charging of $250. $250 is not a small sum of money, hence it makes me wonder if the artist is doing his work for self expression or if he is just doing it for the sake of money.
As for whether the such work is appropriate to be shown at Art Stage, i think it is appropriate.
Before the event, "permission was sought from the Media Development Authority (MDA) before Venkanna's exhibit was given the go ahead."(quoted from asiaone.com) Furthermore," additional measures taken were to screen the exhibit from the public area to avoid visitors from stumbling upon it by accident."(quoted from the deputy director of Art Stage Singapore). This was done by
Mr T. Venkanna had sitting behind a black curtain and a sign warning viewers of the content and restricting viewers to those who are 21 years and older was posted in front of the booth.
Hence i feel that only those who knew what was the content of the work and of the appropriate age would see the work.
Furthermore, in other countries, works with more explicit content are also displayed in such a way, with signs warning viewers of the content. However instead of a restriction of age, the signs only encouraged parental supervision. For example at Centre Pompidou, there was an exhibition which contained some explicit content. That exhibition entrances were covered with black curtain and signs warning viewers of the content were placed outside. However i do acknowledge that these exhibitions probably did not have a real naked man behind the curtains.
As for the artist's responsibility in creating one's art, society expectations, modesty,virtues, where do we draw the line between self expression and the society? i feel that before the work is done, the artist has the responsibility to ask himself if this is the only way to express what he feels, is this the only and best way? if it is still yes, i feel that the artist should warn potential viewers of the content and approach the authorities of the society before doing his work. This is to ensure that Innocent by-standers would not stumble onto the work and feel uncomfortable and be scarred.
Overall, i felt that T. Venkanna's work lacked explanation and that Singapore's art culture is still not mature enough to accept such works.