Monday, 20 April 2009

Hearing from Cora de Lang again

Detail of ‘I want’. 2 008. Acrylic, permanent ink on digital print on canvas


THE works of the gifted and versatile Argentine painter, Cora de Lang, who is currently residing in Colombo, were displayed from January 18, to February 9, 2009 at the Red Dot Gallery (Pitakotte) as part of the Theertha Exhibition Season. De Lang could be viewed as a modern, transnational artist with a strong leaning towards magic realism, mysticism and eclecticism. A unique blending of reality and fantasy is achieved through the use of intense, vivid colours and archetypal images and symbols. The bright greens, yellows, oranges, blues, pinks, purples and reds woven into intricate, surreal patterns are as captivating and energising as ritual music or dance.
The media used in de Lang’s works include permanent ink, acrylic, polymer, digital collages and mixed media, while the surfaces range from canvas to paper bags and boxes. The exhibits could be broadly grouped into the ritual art series, the flight bag series, the lady’s bag series, the paper bag series, and the pop art series (cosmetic advertisements). My favourite is a large mystical painting titled “Bangles” (acrylic, permanent ink on digital print on canvas), where the dominant colour is red. A bright and colourful Dior ad titled “Hello Paradise” composed in the cubic style (digital collage on photo paper) is another painting I would not hesitate to hang in my living room.
The spatial template for her paintings comprises several regions, including South America, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and Australasia. Her work is multi-cultural as well as multi-religious, for there are elements of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and animism in her work. In the catalogue Anoli Perera writes, “De Lang’s personal history is inextricably bound with her work: growing up in the background of a political dictatorship and amidst Beatle mania, electric guitars and imagining of a world without boundaries, the woman from Argentina who has nurtured roots in Germany, a frequent flyer within and between continents, living with a notion of impermanence in other people’s countries and cultures. This is the reality of de Lang’s life; this is the topography of her work. All these factual markers let us process our perceptions of de Lang’s work allowing us to read them within a broad canvas. They also make her intensely cosmopolitan in her approach to lif e and art.”
Some of her paintings take the form of giant tapestries and their emotional impact is profound, for they succeed in distorting and expanding the mind at one and the same time. Perhaps that is the artist’s intention – to provoke the mind to enter a kind of hallucinatory state through total immersion in her lush, psychedelic patterns, motifs and designs. Says Anoli, “Her series of work titled Pandora’s Box cannot distance itself from the ideas of women as keepers of memory … Each box invokes a particular memory and desire of the artist, a desire to remember and record through the transformation of a simple box into a unique time capsule. This series of works creatively and sensitively presents the dilemma of the nomad who is caught between the desire for rootedness and the demands of transiency. One wonders if the artist’s purpose in Pandora’s Box is to tell us that the only thing permanent in such a predicament is the memories and the nostalgia that one harbou rs.”

FIGURATIVELY speaking, de Lang’s powerful subliminal impulses and desires spring not from a single mind, but rather from a kind of collective consciousness. Anyone with the ability to transcend the boundaries of the conscious mind and access the collective unconscious will have discovered the enchanting world of Jungian imagery. This world is as magical as it is mysterious, where the boundaries between the rational and the irrational, between sensory and extra-sensory perception, and between the mundane and the supernatural are extensively blurred or distorted.
Whether de Lang consciously uses Jungian perspectives in her work is difficult to say. But she is clearly someone who has tuned into the collective unconscious and channeled its primordial energy and memory traces into a highly original and eclectic art form. Her work embraces mysticism, modernism and pop art, and her passion for surreal imagery is both fierce and compelling. Because her style is unconventional, her paintings may not appeal to those with traditional tastes and preferences. But the free thinkers and innovators, who are looking for something different, are likely to find her work extremely interesting, if not intensely appealing, as well as intellectually stimulating, given the deeply symbolic, ritualistic and iconic aspects of her work.
De Lang (in my opinion) is an incredibly bold and stylish artist, with a keen eye for detail, a passion for colour, and a potent desire for innovation. We need time to imbibe the thoughts, ideas and feelings embodied in her paintings. The more we look at them, the more we realise how startlingly beautiful they are. Her compositions are amazingly complex and her choice of colours, designs and motifs is such as to unsettle the mind and provoke a hallucinogenic response. To be honest, I was on a “high” for quite a while after seeing her exhibition, which was of mind-blowing proportions.

Delang practised her art in Nigeria between 1999 and 2003 when her husband Richard Lang was Director, Goethe Institut, Lagos.
First published on March 4, 2009.

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