Awaken from a dogmatic slumber of ‘freedom’ | Sunday Observer

Awaken from a dogmatic slumber of ‘freedom’

18 August, 2019

An exhibition titled Figures Assembled II by Prageeth Ratnayake is being held at the Paradise Road Galleries, The Gallery Café, 2 Alfred House Road, Colombo 3, from August 1 to 21. The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. until midnight daily.   

“We are constantly bombarded with ‘free choices’ being imposed; forced to make decisions for which we are mostly not qualified (or do not possess enough information), we increasingly experience our freedom as a burden that causes unbearable anxiety. We are unable to break out of this vicious cycle alone, as isolated individuals, since the more we act freely the more we become enslaved by the system. We need to be ‘awakened’ from this ‘dogmatic slumber’ of fake freedom.” - Slavoj Žižek

The age we live in is more connected to each other than ever before and ‘freedom’ is the utmost promise of the era. If this is really true, why is there so much unbearable anxiety and isolation everywhere? We have been living in an illusion of believing that we are liberated economically, socially and emotionally, and we have misinterpreted the isolation created by fake intimacy as freedom - we have been trapped more and more into the system while anxiety grows beyond imagination becoming enslaved by the system than ever before.

If an artist can bring this multifaceted idea - ‘the cynical moment’ of every living individual, through his creativity, that would be remarkable. Figures Assembled II an exhibition of paintings by Prageeth Rathnayake is one such bold attempt where he brings thousands of silhouettes of human figures together, framed in individual boxes, where he brings out the powerful idea of isolation.

At a glance you would delusionally believe that thousands of human figures connected to one another live in harmony, appreciating the togetherness. But the ‘gap’ that the artist has deliberately created in between every framed human figure shows the ‘cynical gap’ that has been maintained in every human relationship of the present moment. “Although we live in a society where we have been very much connected to one another, and are within a finger tip’s distance, as a human being I feel isolated than ever before.

Although we can at any moment, connect with thousands of people through social media within seconds, are these relationships real? If it is real why am I feeling so isolated?” Prageeth questioned.

Through Figures Assembled II a collection of paintings he has been working on for the past few years, now displayed at the Paradise Road Gallery, he attempts to bring out the present moment of the complexity of society, its relationships and the unbearable isolation that every human being is going through silently.

As Prageeth explains, he applied small squares painted with human silhouettes in an abstract form on a clean, white canvas, consciously keeping a space in between each human silhouette and constructed his Figures Assembled works. The evenness of his textural and linear composition is visible and brings out the unbearable dullness and uniformity of almost every human being in society. The deeper tones of acrylic green, blue and red have replaced the pastel shades of his previous collections.

As an artist Prageeth believes that one has to accept being a human being before being an artist. Throughout his career as an artist, the human figure has been his subject, muse and inspiration. Someone who has been walking through his evolution of painting consciously would easily figure out the giant, detailed human figures that he used to paint, that has taken a radical shift into the disappearance of its details, beauty and ultimately become only a silhouette with no essence.

“We, who dream of an endless orgasm of over consumption, have failed as human beings. There are no ideals in society which we can look up to. The essence of the humans has faded away. Things have replaced the position of the people. People have turned into things and we are in the process of becoming post-people even as we are becoming a collective that is ‘solitary, although together.’ I think we would be the final generation who has been brought up by the ideals who tried to change the system without being adopted by its dynamics so easily. I think we have to suffer more than the next generation because they have been born into the ‘present moment’ with no ideals and they wouldn’t have something to compare with,” Prageeth explained.

Prageeth Rathnayake has marked his imprints as the emerging visual artist of the new generation. Following in the footsteps of his father who was known for his work as a local artist, and brother Sujith Rathnayake, also a renowned artist for his iconic work, Prageeth entered the Sri Lankan art scene at a very young age.

He has been one of the students of the iconic contemporary artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara and inspired by his ground breaking conceptual art exhibition of Barralism. Prageeth is known for his unique contemporary artistic approach in bringing mind opening subjects to the canvas and has held five solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions in Sri Lanka as well as overseas. He gained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree ((Paintings First Class) at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in 2007. He is an Art Director and a set designer at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Co-operation.

Figures Assembled II is Prageeth’s sixth solo exhibition. His paintings have the ability to transport the viewer to the scene in the painting. With the intention of inspiring mankind for a better tomorrow, he always comes up with unique artistic creations.

Having created a passion for himself, the artist focuses on creating exquisite pieces of art that mesmerize the onlooker while communicating a precise message to humankind. Prageeth truly believes in minimalism and collective identity and endeavours to reflect them in his creations.

For a conscious observer, it is very much visible that we no more care to change the system, but the system has changed us and we have become a mere symptom of its diseases. Being that conscious observer Prageeth’s recent exhibition comes to you against the traumatic background of this deadly moment. He invites you to come and enjoy with the other, having recognized even a minimal form of human being and let the identity of competition to a collective identity.