Man at His Best

A Degustation Of Liberal Asian Artists: Juan Luna Y Novicio & Ravi Shankar

Serving their own brand of beautiful justice that you'd appreciate in the gallery of your heart.

BY Prabhu Silvam & Franchesa Liauw | Apr 19, 2016 | Arts

Illustration by Carmen Chen

You mean art expounds the truth only to those who can see it? No way! Yes way. Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” still retains its relevance in today’s world filled with rage and unrest. But if there’s one form that continues to hold truth and extends liberation from the clutches of curated television, it is art. Just as much as Scott-Heron’s music revealed the unjust, American musician Sixto Rodriguez’s songs unknowingly served as anti-apartheid anthems in South Africa. If only you could decrypt beyond the subjectivism of what these artists—our selection of Asian musicians, painters and creators—are really saying, we are all gonna be alright in the end. Here's the third part of a four-part series, with Juan Luna y Novicio and Ravi Shankar.


Juan Luna y Novicio

The fevered, dreamy slowness of sensuality is magnified, as the true contours of a hyper-competitive moment are laid bare; the assault on the senses like an unending operetta—yet Juan Luna y Novico’s Una Chula II is able to capture, for all eternity, the intimacy of a gaze.  

Exuding a genial air of worldliness coupled with a tinge of sexuality, a Madrileña stares back flirtatiously from within the 1885 oil on canvas painting. A lit cigarette pivoted carefully between her fingers, she glances back at the viewer with a pursed smile that is at once strange as it is familiar—very much the same way one would describe Luna’s life.

Regarded as the savant virtuoso of classical Philippine art, the 18th century painter was also known as an avid sculptor and activist who often imbued, within his works, a style of magical realism that continues to astound critics and aficionados till today. 

Schooled in the romanticist and realist styles of the Spanish, Italian and French academies of his time, his paintings largely depict literary and historical scenes often laced with political innuendo. From dreary-eyed courtesans to the noble boudoirs of Spanish royalty, his works penetrated all strata of society, with his subjects often depicted in less-than-subtle poses.

The amalgamation of East and West is evident in his portrayals, immortalised by a colour composition brimming with unbridled, bold tones. If a painting can be thought of as a manifestation of an artist’s mind, then the works of Juan Luna y Novico must surely serve as the daguerreotypes of his life. Armed with a plebeian spark of sharp wit and a punctilious attention to detail, it is not hyperbole to say that Juan Luna changed the face of classical Philippine art. 

In fact, he gave it a face.  

Words by Prabhu Silvam.


Ravi Shankar

It’s 2016, and the landscape of music has become one homogenised cluster of laptop candy-pop. Classical music is passé, a required taste for a niche market, world music even more so. Looking back is for hipsters, looking forward is progress. So why should we remember a dead man that the youth of today would never dream of typing up on Spotify? Well, it’s 2016, and the push for globalisation is evident, Americanisation established. It’s 2016, and we are still establishing cultural ties that Ravi Shankar began threading through the fabric of society in the ’60s.

The West has always been intrigued by the idea of India, the Eat-Pray-Love-Kamasutra-I-will-find-peace-in-the-slums idea. This is a stigma, a haunting cliché. If we dare to peek behind the bejewelled Bollywood curtain, we will see Ravi Shankar. We will remember the real deal. Shankar brought Indian tradition to the western world. Winning Grammies, playing Woodstock, Shankar merged jazz with the sitar; he crossed the divide, the shaky, invisible bridge from east to west.

Having been a mentor to both George Harrison and John Coltrane, Shankar’s influence was assured. Through the Concert for Bangladesh, he raised money for refugees fleeing persecution, with the help of Harrison. It was the benefit concert that began all benefit concerts, a poignant time of camaraderie and togetherness. With his limitless talent, Shankar was able to achieve what today’s generation still struggles to accomplish, and that is bridging the gap that divides culture, age and geography.

Words by Franchesca Liauw.

From: Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.