Brendan Fernandes' Mutual Surrender

Brendan Fernandes’ latest exhibition at the contemporary art gallery Truck, one of Calgary’s premier artist-run centers, gauges the trauma of placelessness and examines linguistic dimensions of memory, loss, and the performance of ritual amidst the confrontation of dissimilar cultural showcasing. Mutual Surrender scrutinizes imagery of New York fashion’s elite and the potential for Colonial fetishism at the heart of African footage of the primitive creation of fire by hand. What becomes evident in the installation is the struggle to disavow the instinct to resolve questions of universal humanism, and the anticipation of a coerced identity.

As both runway model and Masai warrior perform for their filmic captor, the daunting task of the viewer becomes an evaluative one: what does the prissy New York runway model convey? What does the Masai man in seemingly traditional garb (blue plaid and maroon cloth) authenticate? Fernandes’ answer is slowly conjured. The African Safari, and the Big Apple fashion show meld tall, lank bodies in ritual – offer succinct moments to gauge the human forms in their invented environments. And Fernandes is at the heart of these images. A longing pervades these disparate moving pictures, whose range extends to the bloodshed of Kenyan political strife. In the three camouflage tents at the entrance of the exhibition videos depict the burning of poached elephant tusks, as a symbolic gesture of Kenya’s governmental authority.

A deeper, morel lonely world is in production, and registers in the artist’s voice accompanying the video: “I cannot remember the word for house anymore.” As sorrowful as the authentic lion in the attraction of the Safari, mouthing the subtitled human phrase “Go Home” in one of Fernandes’ video installations entitled Homecoming, is the disconnection of its author, whose heritage itself embodies the fractured, yet federated terrain of this installation. Born in the East African country of Kenya to Goan parents of East Indian descent, Fernandes’ practice to date attempts to locate authenticity within the scope of regional socio-political realities. From the Masai men’s exposed modern watches and clothing, to the paraded mule of the fashion enterprise, to the artist’s New York artist status, and Canadian citizenship, evidence collates to give an indication of the failed performance of permanent home.

In ordering himself to “go home” the artist breaches a state of perpetual becoming and contemplates the expanse between the individual, rendered by the language of his contemporariness and access to the world, and the lost knowledge of the word for house, from his Kenyan childhood. He reads the script accompanying Aya Mama, the main video component of the show, as a letter to his Anglo-Indian nanny, his Aya, and his connection to the nation of his birth through her memory. This memory serves only as well as the language that once allowed him to annunciate “house”, and the realization that “home” is a commitment to a form of surrender – one that embodies both the violence of the flaming tusks, and the ambivalence of a disconnected “progressive” West.

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All Rights Reserved Travis Murphy 2019