Exploring the world opened up by a work of art
This week’s showcase:
Acrylic on Japanese rice paper, 7′ x 7′
Every good Mandala worth its salt (or more notoriously, sand) is an ephemeral meditative journey towards enlightenment, peace and transcendence — big concepts indeed, all in short supply these days. And numerous Mandalas also dangle an alluring sidebar fantasy of “leaving this world behind.” I’m particularly fond of these Mandalas, especially of late, as I’m feeling a strong urge to chuck the “Now” in favor of a blissed out “otherland.” Anywhere but here. Anytime but the present . . . Say Amen.
Unfortunately, “Shaam” is not a “good” Mandala as Lebanese artist Yasser Dib has turned the notion of a Mandala on its head by centering it within the visceral pain of “Now.” Surrounding the central transfixing eye and flawless circular symmetry of religious and spiritual icons, is a written diary of soul-searching thoughts and ideas, confessions, pronouncements, realizations (in Arabic) that the artist grappled with during this long meditative practice in paint, his urgent reflections on the personal conflicts of those in the region, Syria-Palestine.
It feels as if Dib’s Mandalic practice becomes a means of absolution, expiation, and diffusion of the poetry of chaos and rage swirling around the unfazed center of being — the healing source of quiet.
To be sure, this painting/diary has all the mind-numbing, time-consuming, precisionist qualities of a transcendent Mandala. This painting is meticulously built up layers upon layers upon layers of acrylic paint, until it looks and feels like tooled leather. The lines and symmetry are miraculous. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Yes, it does transfix. It does transform. It does mesmerize. But unlike other good Mandalas this one grounds me in a completely different, specific time and place. Pulling me back into the reality of my life, or even more challengingly, the ever-present pressing reality of someone else’s life.
And for good or bad, this one can’t be swept away.