Enclosed, Firi Rahman

The lamenting cries of grief and sorrow have echoed throughout the ages in diary entries and theatre scripts, on canvas paintings and symphonic compositions. From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’ to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ or the many great tragedies of Shakespeare, grief and sorrow have resounded across time, recorded in art and reflected and pondered upon by society still. The pandemic that followed the global disease became a period of self-isolation and unending loss; the subject of tragedy is one that’s attached unequivocally to its corresponding counterparts of which are sorrow, loss, death and depression – a myriad of anguished human emotions that encapsulate a notion both embryonic and enduring. ‘Enclosed’ becomes a retelling of artist Firi Rahman’s experience during this critical era, his stories emerging from those of loss and grief alike.

Firi Rahman was educated at the Foundation of Art and Design at City and Guilds at Manchester College UK. His work has largely consisted of hyperrealist drawings of monochrome and ink narrating the stories of endangered species of animals in Sri Lanka. Firi Rahman has also previously been featured on ARTRA Magazine’s Dynamic Mediums May 2019 E43 for his work on the project ‘We Are from Here’ – a community-based art project initiated by himself, Vicky Shahjahan and Parilojithan Ramanathan in 2016 that conceptualizes a novel narratology of the Slave Island community where we found that the dynamism of ‘We Are From Here’ lies in their ability to subvert the space of a wall into a dynamic medium of art, and in turn, attempt to change the perception the wider society has about Slave Island and its people. Firi Rahman’s most recent body of work, ‘Enclosed’ was showcased at Saskia Fernando Gallery on the 12 th of November.

Walking in, the viewer’s attention is immediately arrested by the sound of cawing and chirping of birds echoing across the expanse of the gallery; an installation, the origin of the echoing chirps, a bird’s life in video and a glimpse into Firi’s relationship with the subjects of his collection. And as it goes on in the background, the onlooker fixates their gaze on the works of art on the walls around, an empty bird cage, jars of feathers, black and canvas’ of Firi’s depiction of enclosure. The title ‘Enclosed’ derives from its particularity to his narration: the notion of being enclosed as a carer to his late father as well as being restricted during the pandemic. The story emerges through his encounters, his narration of the lockdown, memories pouring out onto the canvas; the artist’s grapple with loss, not only of his father but his oldest bird, is one that he attempts to recount in this exhibition.

The distinct monochromatic direction aligns with this sombre theme; his collections ‘Enclosed’ are portrayed on black and white canvas, and complemented by cotton thread taking the shape of a bird cage, inside lay a branch, the empty silhouette of a bird’s existence – a remembrance of its place – entrancing yet quiet, there lies a story of a companion. The bird cage is symbolic to Firi’s story, not only by name but by form, the arched ceiling of the cage a depiction of its capacity to resound the bird’s pleasant sound, a meaningful song of phonetic significance. Morphing slowly, as the story progresses through his creative process, the dome becomes a blanket encasing the bird as a funerary shroud. Although the feeling of loss and grief is primitively cold and callous, the portrayal offers closure to the onlooker, leading to believe in the process of the cycle of life, a minute and fleeting feeling of saccharine comfort.

The series is a delineation of complex emotions that Firi has experienced yet portrayed such that the viewer comprehends and relates. On cloth and canvas, the story will continue to exist in these forms. The depiction of grief, sorrow, loss, death or depression becomes a process of comprehending the incomprehensible and a concept of closure, the coming to terms with and finding solace in the act of remembering. The collection subsists as a melancholic yet spiritual representation of a safe place, a communal net of collective grief to grapple with tragedy, be it monolithic or infinitesimal. The presentation finds consolation through the act of allying the beautiful with an inevitable truth. Firi Rahman’s story and encounter with this sorrow is recounted through ‘Enclosed’ onto ‘Covered’, ‘Passing’, ‘Scattered’ and so on as he creates a space to find comfort in the strange inconceivable universe.


18th January, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings