Sita & Rama
Written by Zena Khan
Emerging Malaysian contemporary painter Raja Lope Rasydi Raja Rozlan continues his theme of narrative art with his latest work, Sita and Rama. Based on the ancient Indian legend of the Ramayana, this beautifully detailed diptych showcases not only Raja Lope’s talents as a painter, but also his enchanting storytelling abilities.
A great Indian epic, the Ramayana essentially explores the duties of human relationships through the story of Rama, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu. Rama was considered perfect in his duties as a son, husband and ruler, despite the trials and tribulations he faced, such as the abduction of his wife Sita by the villainous Ravana. The Ramayana can be seen as much more than just a story; it presents the teachings of the ancient Hindu sages through narration, and so is filled with philosophical and devotional elements, and acts as a behavioural guide. Due to the spread of Hinduism from South Asia into Southeast Asia, the Ramayana and all its characters – Rama, Sita, Ravana, Hanuman to name a few – are entrenched in the cultural consciousness not only of India and Nepal, but also Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Kelantan and Cambodia. Raja Lope has studied the myth as it is perceived in each of these societies and combined them to produce his personal narration on the legend, as presented in Sita and Rama.
Raja Lope’s embrace of the mythic landscape is evident in the rich imageries of Sita and Rama which show the scene of Sita’s search and rescue. Ravana, embodied by a large hydra, snakes menacingly across the canvas of Sita, faced by Sita as she holds Jentayu with Hanuman the white monkey by her side. As the audience watches, Ravana is defeated by Rama, astride a metallic Chinese horse. Rama was aided in this epic battle by his allies, including Hanuman and Garuda. A man-bird hybrid God, Garuda originates from the Balinese version of the legend and is shown on the second canvas, Rama. Raja Lope mixes together patterns and symbols from the various South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures who contribute to the Ramayana legend in this work, for example with the Maharisi character in Rama. A Shaman who is the father of Sita, Maharisi is shown in possession of a dragon wand, whose design is based on Royal Siamese barges. A strong influence of the shadow puppetry of Indonesia and Kelantan filters through the depiction of Sita and Garuda.
Raja Lope is known to produce narrative works, which he describes as painted films, filled with fully resolved characters. Indeed he views Sita and Rama as a two-part film. Although they are connected, they narrate a sequence and each canvas is able to exist independently due to its position in narrating an exact moment in the Ramayana tale. In his pre-production process, he produces several sketches of each character, considering their appearance from all angles, their personalities and how they move. Such intense attention to detail results in the creation of graceful figures, which appear realistic despite their fantastical features. Working with acrylic and airbrushing on canvas aids the artist’s ability to achieve the surreal quality he strives for in his paintings, as his medium enables him to portray scenes of fantasy with precise realism. Airbrush painting can be regarded as a tool which advances Raja Lope’s abilities to fully express the dreamy tales he weaves through his paintings. By layering airbrushing, in which a small spray gun filled with paint uses compressed air to apply colour to the canvas like a pencil, over a fully finished acrylic realism painting, the artist shows his dual mastery of traditional mediums and experimental practices.
Re-telling myths such as the Ramayana is a valuable and valid concept. The survival of these legends has always been due to the fact they are constantly readdressed, readjusted and reinterpreted through the ages. With his re-telling of the Ramayana, the artist hopes to challenge the imagination of his audience, particularly the younger viewers. Raja Lope understands the importance of history and mythology to culture, and searches for a way to connect younger generations to these stories through his paintings. Sita and Rama come together to achieve this ambition, with a wonderfully detailed combination of several Asian cultural elements presented in techniques both established and experimental.
Title: Sita & Rama
Artist: Raja Lope Rasydi
Size: 162 cm x 195 cm (Rama); 163 cm x 183 cm (Sita)
Medium: Acrylic & Airbrush on Canvas