Our most important thoughts and feelings are those that are hard to put into words. Can art give them voices?
Tuba Sozudogru presented her devastatingly beautiful and profound self portrait, This is how I get to you, at synkroniciti‘s Open Mic, Broken Pieces, on January 9th, 2016. In writing the overview for that evening, which you can read here, I found that I had too many thoughts about this remarkable painting struggling through my mind to put down in that post.
She dreams that she is drowning, sinking beneath the surface never to rise again and yet, surprisingly, at peace and surrendered. Smiling, she listens as all voices are silenced and the water hugs and cradles her to its breast. Light streams about her and she rejoices that she will never have to hide again. Here at last she can be her genuine self and trace the connections between the living and the dead, the seen and unseen. There is a noise, a motion from the outside world. As she wakes she feels both relief to experience another earthly day and sorrow to be separated from that wondrous light and water.
Being underwater requires a different mode of sensation and communication, something primal that eschews words. This is why it has so often been used as a metaphor for the subconscious mind. There is so much that we experience as human beings that evades description. Could it be that these are the very experiences that connect us with one another and with the creative spirit most tightly?
This is how I get to you is painted in bright, glowing colors upon a piece of scrap cardboard. The cardboard was damaged, the top layer removed over a portion of the surface to reveal a corrugated texture. Once painted, this texture recalls both an architectural quality of fresco painting, in which the building surface sometimes shows through the artwork, either from age or design, and the natural texture of reeds growing next to a pond. The entire piece is permeated by a sensual atmosphere of decay and transformation.
Our heroine lies exposed, cradled by bright blue water, surrounded by a brilliant yellow light that suggests an illuminated emotional state more than a sense of place. Her body is aroused and yet at peace, a contented smile upon her lips which reassures us that nothing is wrong here. A school of fish swim about her legs. These are a particular species of carp that eat away old, dead skin. The dead parts of herself are being eaten away, a disturbing and yet pleasurable experience. The cells of the human body are constantly dying and being renewed; the human self image is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Death and life are the same process.
Not far from her body lies a figure, a totem which hints at personal tension and evolution. A human body is stretched, dancing, between a large birdlike skeleton and a transparent, winged creature that seems to be a fusion of bird and fish, perhaps even a dragon or mermaid. Birds, fish, mermaids and winged dragons are all beings that have spiritual connotations through their form of movement: flying through the air or swimming through the water. They are not earthbound beings and Tuba makes a strong case that we are not truly earthbound either.
During the death/life process, part of us decays, leaving behind only skeletal remnants, while another part, ethereal, is released, an energy that flies or swims away. It is a constant dance between that which will decay and that which will escape. There is also a profound tension between these two realms, the physical which is so obvious and yet short lived and the spiritual which is hard to define and yet enduring. We can fully describe the remnants of our past because we have lived them, but it is the future that contains our hope.
Even as we age, change and ultimately die, there is a part of us that escapes, remaining unique throughout this transformation. It is that part that we cannot fully describe in words or paint with our brush. Despite all our efforts we can only trace its outline as it moves into a place we have not yet visited. We can long for that homecoming even as we enjoy or endure our physical life.
Tuba has given us one more clue, an inscription which reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. Everything we see here is Tuba, from the brilliant yellow light to the pool, from the woman lying before us to the strange evolutionary figure. Her words remind us that the blueness of the water can also be interpreted as sky. After we leave the womb, the protective power of water still surrounds us, now as vapor. In a sense, we are all water spirits. We never leave water, but the element is diminished to a level that our consciousness and physical body can handle. Once the physical body is left behind, we do not know where the light of our existence will take us. Tuba has great hope for that journey and she is ready to share it.
Artists are often highly intuitive and expressive people who experience life in unique and individual ways. While many of us push away thoughts and images that make us explore our own death, Tuba has the gifts to explore these dark places. More than that, her art is able to reassure us when words and consciousness fail. It really does get to us.