||The first thing that needs to be said about
Sujeewa Kumari's work is that words will not mediate ably between artist and viewer. Her
images confront calmly, with no exorbitance, indeed with quite the opposite quality: her
images are almost like an utterance en passant. They produce in the viewer a very subtle
sense of having been reflected in some kind of strange mirror-but only in a quiet,
private, and circumspect way. For this reason, text can only have a crushing relationship
with the work: the inevitable 'hardness' of prose will constrict what is subtle, and
solidify what is fluid.
By inhabiting a liminal space that might be most accurately
described as quiet - a space in which ideas do not coalesce as words, much less text -
Kumari activates a critical imagination that first of all subverts text as the Janus-face,
so to speak, of art. However, it must be quickly pointed out that this wordlessness is a
subversive effect, and not' an a priori provocation, of a practice that creates fleeting,
disturbing stillness. (Even the word 'subversive' seems inappropriate; too focused on
projected design.) One recognizes the site of artistic intent, not in a scheme, but in the
fact and the moment and the ironic quiet/disquiet of encounter with difference.
Kumari pictures difference as self moving within and without (and through) the
specificity's of ethnic, gender, and class givens of her country of origin, Sri Lanka.
While well crafted, the work does not look belabored, as though the meditations that led
to her works had a slightly self-distancing, off-hand character. Yet that same distant
quality also reveals emotional intensity. Thus the surprise: it is precisely the lack of
stridency that conjures the possibility of depth of understanding. Thus the afterthought:
that depth of understanding is possible to realize outside the channels of talk. And thus
the moving effect: in the silent, momentary locking/looking of image and viewer upon each
other-difference, one realizes, is fluid, unpredictable, negotiable, lively, and strangely
familiar. Strange-ness is a paradoxical mood.
Most importantly, the strange one is not, after all (or not solely) the person in the
image. The stranger is someone within the viewer. And the someone who made the image. Here
again, text is potentially entrapment. It needs mentioning, also en passant, that Freud's
thoughts on the uncanny, the moment of unheimlich, the point at which one sees the
stranger within oneself, seems relevant in this connection. Cautionary word: the grand
machines of interpretation will stifle the fugitive unease and delight of Kumari's images.
Best to confront them, and remain still. The stranger within will be flitting between self
Marian Pastor Roces
Marian Pastor Roces is an independent curator and critic from the
Philippines who works, lectures and writes internationally. Her theoretical work is
grounded in the politics of cultural representation, mainly in museums, but also in
relation to larger agendas dealing with indigenous cultures, the traumas of modernization,
and power as it operates in urbanization. Her recent curatorial work includes 'Sheer
Realities: Body, Power and Clothing in 19th Century Philippines' (Asia Society, New York
City, 2000); 'Laon-Laan', which deals with the politics, science, and culture of rice in
the Philippines (National Museum, 2003); and 'Science Fictions',' a major international
exhibition of conternporary artists who are critiquing the orders of knowledge promoted by
specific sciences. (Earl Lu Gallery, Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore Art Museum, and
the Esplanade, Singapore, 2003). Recently the Prince Claus Fund invited her to organise
the upcoming symposium 'Beauty in Context' in Manila.