Sabrina Amrani Gallery is pleased to present When the day belongs to the night, a project specifically created for India Art Fair 2017 by Joël Andrianomearisoa. The artist was interested in envisioning a project that speaks to Madagascar and India’s complex, and multiplicitous landscape of shared experiences, as well as to his own aesthetic interest in memory and nostalgia. The result is When the day belongs to the night, a triptych that is at once a monumental construction undergirded by intricate structures, a painting that experiments with fields of colour, and a tapestry that weaves together melancholia, remembrances, and personal narratives.
Andrianomearisoa grew up in Madagascar, a lozenge-shaped island that is still attached, in the depths of the ocean, to the continental plate of Africa. Yet it has a long and influential relationship with the Subcontinent – through trade winds, the three-cornered dhows, and sailors’ and traders’ adventuresome desires for what lies beyond. Madagascar is thus the embodiment of both influences: one side witness to the sunrise and the cultural pull of the Indian Ocean world, and the other, to the setting sun and the geographic proximity of Africa. One might also acknowledge a third horizon: that of Europe, -France and UK in particular as former colonial powers, drawing Madagascar’s and India’s gaze through their considerable influence.
On a slim island that lies facing north-northeast and south-south west, these monumental horizons – formed by sea, sky, sun, and political history – dominate one’s everyday experiences. In Andrianomearisoa’s work, we see that the linearity of the horizon also reveals the complexity of contact; it exposes the ragged edges of relationships that seem, from a distance, determined to define and delineate themselves from each other using clear and continuous boundaries. But in his horizons, there is an acknowledgement that the Subcontinent of India, Africa and Europe came together in this island outpost – a remnant of a broken love, sometimes acknowledged, and at others, denied, a connection maintained through a sea of tears, forgotten narratives, and intangible memories.
Andrianomearisoa is a trained architect who developed his knowledge under the tutelage of Odile Decq – one of the most esteemed female architects in France – at the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris. The influence of architecture – and the artist’s interest in complex layers necessary for creating form and structure – is unmistakable in this triptych. Each section only reveals its intricate, underlying structure when one moves closer; it is only when we develop a relationship with the work that we notice that these three monumental “wall” structures are not impenetrable.
Each section of the triptych is about 3 meters in length and 2 meters high. The triptych’s monumental structure – and the fields of black, perforated by longitudinal mineral veins of gold – suggests a contradiction: it is both a formidable boundary and an invitation. It forbids our desire to enter, indicating an end to exploration and freedom; yet, at the same time, we are drawn to the wall of shimmering black and gold, attracted by the play of reflected and absorbed light.
In order to achieve density and depth in the sections that are black, the artist used new, black cotton cloth made in Madagascar. It was cut into three-centimetre by three-centimetre pieces, which were then affixed to the foundational structure of each part of the triptych, to form dark fields of mobile tiles. However, for the sections that appear gold in this triptych, Andrianomearisoa searched for texture and complexity, in order to project a field of many shades, rather than attempting to create a composition in a singular or pure colour. He favoured used materials, each of which bears the experiences of their previous owners – narratives that were inevitably threaded between the underlying structure of the fibres. Included in the gold sections are fifty scarves, each of which had a previous life and history, about ten metres of tablecloth and napkins, all of which were found in a second-hand market in Madagascar, and some sarees bought in Jodhpur, India. Finally, he also used a colourful material that is made especially for funeral shrouds in Madagascar. This funeral shroud, intermingled with other detritus of existence, reminds us that we, too – so enmeshed though we may be in the business of living and making gold and golden memories – will one day have use for this shroud.
Evident in Andrianomearisoa’s use of materials that speak of “dark atmospheres” – the black fibres, funeral shrouds, and materials with unacknowledged or forgotten histories – we note the artist’s interest in psychological undertows that often determine our attractions and aversions. In what appears to be fields of impenetrable blackness and melancholia, there also exist layers of multiplicity and complexity; what seems, from a distance, to be simple, monochromatic sections separated by clean lines are not so distinct from one another. As we move closer to the triptych, we realise that the walls of darkness – which we often fear and attempt to suppress – are always at play with a thousand shades of light and shimmer, texture and depth. We recognise that it is the liminal moments – where the gold intermingles with the black, when the day belongs to the night – that yield richer conversations with our own psyches. Our “shadow selves” – those dark histories that we often suppress into the subconscious, but nevertheless affect our daily decisions – are always with us.
Andrianomearisoa’s work allows us to understand that if we embrace the complexity and beauty of our gleaming shadow selves, if we have the courage to develop a relationship with all that seems unlovable within us, we may learn to relish the conversations that result from acceptance.
Joël Andrianomearisoa is the recipient of the IV Audemars Piguet Award ARCOmadrid 2016. His work, Negociations sentimentales Act V (Sentimental Negotiations Act V) was featured in the ambitious and critically acclaimed exhibition “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists”, curated by Simon Njami, at the National Museum of African Art in 2015.
M. Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). She was a senior editor and contributor to the online magazine, Africa is a Country, from 2010-2106. Her writing is featured in Transitions, Contemporary&, Art South Africa, Contemporary Practices: Visual Art from the Middle East, and Research in African Literatures. She writes about and collaborates with visual artists.