WORK by MANDEEP SINGH MANU
The body is either an inspiration or a liability. For Mandeep, it has been both. Born in Amritsar, India, with cerebral palsy (C.P), he has struggled against the odds, physically, socially and creatively, to become a digital artist.
Although he could not get college admission to study art, he completed a correspondence course in History. At the same time, Mandeep started designing book covers with digital software. From around 2002, with the support of his brother, Sandeep Singh, a photographer, he decided to expand into digital art.
Much of Manu’s work is through, and about meditation, a process of piercing through the limits of the mind, body and the material world to freely explore the self, existence and the cosmos. It is as if the artist grows wings and takes flight to new realms.
‘Bird Inside’ shows a bird inside the silhouette of a face. Mandeep says ‘This is about the power of spirituality. Darkness is outside. Light is inside but it has to be ignited. The mind has a bird inside it. That has to be awakened. Then stilled.’
‘Bird’ departs to shades of golden yellow to evoke the light of the imagination. This creative process is often a journey full of surprises. Mandeep says:
‘My work is exphrastic. I see things and make them into art. Suddenly and surprisingly, they come out, from inside through meditation. Afterwards I realise what it is. Then name it. Other times, the name or idea comes first’.
In life as in art, Mandeep’s aim is to go beyond superficialities. Rather than sit in silence, his is a moving meditation.
‘Sufi’ departs from a limited digital palette with a splash of colour and light (roshni) to portray Whirling Dervishes spinning to the Sufi poetry of Rumi and Bulleh Shah. Mandeep explains: ‘There is one world here. And another there. They connect inside with a chord. They enter into self-annihilation (fanaa). Like a phoenix in the fire of the sun, they are born anew’.
Although a Sikh, the heritage he draws upon is much more diverse. He follows the guru-shishsya tradition where he also teaches his philosophy and artistry to other students. His is a ‘pure digital art’ as he does not merge his works with photographs. His artwork weaves stories with wisdom through digital brushstrokes. Like sargun, the artwork is the sign, a manifest story of purity for something ineffable, nirgun.
Each taking a few hours to make, Mandeep calls his artworks ‘digital dreams on canvas’. The work becomes like an effort to ‘join wires so as to create electricity’. He admits that sometimes his work does not quite get to the space he wants to reach. ‘Then I close my computer’.
Mandeep’s C.P. has affected his body and movements. It is something that he has come to live with a degree of creative caution. A clot on the brain could lead to the seizure of breath. Neurologic damage could lead to a dizzy spell. And the rest of his body might be more impaired. But his artistic practice gives him ‘energy and motivation – I can see things come to life. I can make my own small worlds. I can live in that world’.
Mandeep has campaigned for disability rights and changes to the built infrastructure especially with regards to accessibility. Even though he has been protected from the worsts of social discrimination by his family and friends, he recognises that ‘barriers are always there’ and change will be slow: ‘This system will change gradually with more education and awareness, not quickly’. His commentaries also extend to other social issues expressed through his artworks.
‘We the people’ depicts those who are stuck in maya. Caught in their work, religions and ideologies, they are fixated with the cycle of money and relationships.
‘Stone Age’ alludes to the prehistoric period while commenting on how orthodoxy traps women so as they are petrified in stone. Mandeep says: ‘This shouldn’t be. Women should progress and go forwards’.
‘Mother’ is a eulogy to the person who gives and sustains life. Yet she is behind a veil. She has mystical powers and experience (anbhav) that are suppressed yet cannot be expressed in words alone.