OF COSMIC SYMBOLISM
Art descends from the roots of inspiration and inspiration builds from the atoms of spirituality. Despite modern influences, Mahen is distant from societal ideologies and attempts to communicate through spiritual themes and religious elements. The two disciplines of art and spirituality have impacted and influenced each other throughout history and carries strongly into the contemporary age. Cover personality for this edition, Mahen Chanmugam’s works of art embody the language of spirit and religion in his collections of work, ‘Ganeshism’ which consist of his interpretations of Vedic practices of humankind.
Ganeshism, is a collaboration between the streams of distinctive practice, a system, philosophy and artistic movement – minus the political ideologies. For more than one fourth of a century, Ganeshism has been a patient study of Ganesha’s iconography and symbolism. Revolving around an ancient Vedic philosophy of self-realization. Mahen Chanmugam’s paintings have been exhibited at several solo exhibitions in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The artist including varying components of surfaces such as antique door panels and industrial packaging materials. In conversation with ARTRA, Mahen reveals his perspective on the practices of Lord Ganesh and the expression of the idea that the divinity or spiritual awakening is found within one’s self.
Q | How did your journey in contemporary art & religion begin?
A | I have no formal training in art, I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was a kid. At 17, I started working as an illustrator in design. I went up the ranks and started air brush illustration, a very slick, smooth type of illustration and I became a professional illustrator. My art progressed as an illustrator but through it all I was painting, and having shows in between, every few years. I’ve been doing this for about 28 years now – single subject art, although I’ve studied a little bit of figure studying, this has been my core work. I started originally a long time ago while I was running my brand development business in Singapore. For me, religions were the oldest brands; they had brand identity systems, and that’s how I got into it in the first place. It was like a case study for me. Each religion has its own guidelines and identity systems. My concept of spirituality has changed since, when I talk about the microcosm and macrocosm of life, it’s all the same – we’re all made up of the same energy; we’re just a bunch of atoms put together and there’s nothing different between you and me. What I’d like my art to do is to allow people to see it in another way.
Q | Why have you used Lord Ganesh as the sole subject of your collections?
A | With Lord Ganesh there’s a lot of flexibility. He’s allowed to be represented in many ways, unlike Shiva and Vishnu. In terms of spirituality for me, my message is to get people to understand it as something else. Over the years, the form of Lord Ganesh has become very special to me. When I close my eyes to meditate, it is the face of Lord Ganesh that comes. It was meant to be something, to explain something.
Q | As an artist, what do you hope to evoke through your work for others?
A | On a personal level, the work for me is like a spiritual practice. Every day that I paint, it’s very gratifying for me, it has changed me. I believe in my art and my energy, my chi, and it goes into my painting. It’s a projection of a lot of things of everything positive. I always hope when people look at my paintings, it has an influence and effect on them which they might not understand but is very soothing and calming and make them think about things and perhaps look at life differently unlike the modern, commercial way we see things. I gave up my job to do this. I sacrificed that to pursue this and see where it takes, not just my art but my personal journey as well.
Q | With relation to your work, we see a lot of interaction between Ganeshism and a human form. What is the significance of the latter in this context?
A | It’s just that I feel the reflection that after immersing myself in this for so long, those teachings have been embedded in me. I have become a different person over the years painting and understanding. I’d like it to happen to other people too so the human form is a reflection of that desire.
Q | Can you tell us about the painting ‘Dance of Creation VI’?
A | The mouse is desire and ego and it’s always at the feet. We can’t have spirituality, if our ego is going to climb up onto our shoulder. The next thing is the dance, which is supposed to be the Dance of Creation. At a sub-atomic level, there’s actually a dance going on. The electromagnetic charges around every cell and atom is actually a dance of creation and destruction. I believe in the cyclic nature of creation and destruction. At a cosmic level, it happens all the time and the Vedic Rishis have known this for a long time; what we’d like to know is how they knew this, how did they understand this. I think it’s through meditation and inward reflection.
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