From 'Inner Glory' (2009, mixed media)
If, as Embah says, art is measuring life, then how do we measure art? Or the artist's engagement with his art, over the years? Can we even measure art at all? Can we measure life at all? What does it mean to say that life is measurable? Do we even have to measure life? Shouldn't we just be living it?
These were not the questions that were, at first, at the forefront of my mind as I strolled through Embah's current exhibition 'Measuring Tape' which is enjoying an extended run at the Fernandes Industrial Estate. I'd left work early to stop by before 6pm when the exhibition normally closes. I had decided to convince my dad to come along. He and Embah hit it off instantly, beginning a very long, intense conversation at the front space of what used to house CCA7. As they chatted, I took a look at the work.
'Measuring Tape' is like a retrospective of the artist and his life. There is a deliberate blend of old and new pieces, each coming from a moment in Embah's career. For me, Embah's work is a sophisticated hodge podge of different elements that work on different levels. Some of the older pieces, with their intricately observed elements, have the capacity to tell a narrative tale, like odes to medieval or renaissance painting (think of the triptychs of Matthias Grünewald or Biagio d'Antonio's 'Story of Joseph', for instance).
From 'Monument II'(2008, collage, 51" x 69"). It is as though each element of each composition has the capacity to tell its own narrative.
Embah, too, has another thing in common with the renaissance painters. Whilst they were deeply concerned with Christianity, he is concerned, to some extent, with issues of spirituality. For instance, the installation piece 'Inner Glory' confronts you as you enter the exhibition space. It is an audacious work of assemblage, complete with a miniature spire and what may well be pews; two mismatched tree trunks which act as table/alter legs, but are not; a glass half-full with stones, another water, but both almost overflowing.
In terms of the painting, Embah's most recent pieces in the exhibition show a movement away from symmetrically ordered narrative pieces with sophisticated motifs, to smaller canvasses which look as though they could be landscapes but are not. These pieces appear more intuitive but are as carefully felt through as the earlier work; with almost mythic narratives. We sense that the personal is becoming epic.
In the end, as Embah and my dad continued to chat, more and more questions popped into my mind. Clearly, the work provokes thought, and, apparently, it also literally provokes discussion. This is a key to what Embah aims to do, I imagine. Here is an artist expressing a deeply personal, still unfolding story. And we, too, become a part of that story when encountering his work.
My dad and Embah (right) in deep conversation.
READ an interview with Embah here. FIND out more about the exhibition here. CHECK a profile on Embah here.