Friday, November 08, 2013

Ogre-Demon (Nyak) in a Pink Sarong

Some time ago there was a traditional Burmese marionette made from teak the seller called "Ogre-Demon in a Pink Sarong."  Regular readers of this blog will recognize it as a depiction of the Burmese counterpart of a Nyak, who figure prominently in many Lao legends, including the epic Phra Lak Phra Lam. You'll also find more than a few in my forthcoming book DEMONSTRA. This wonderful specimen stands at 14".

Among the notes included, the seller mentions "His outfit is so heavily embroidered, studded with sequins and glass jewels, that you can barely see it. His wood fingers and toes have red designs painted on them.  His neck is carved with a separate disc to make it more movable, as are his legs which have two sections." 

The seller also notes: "Small flecks off the paint here and there, but he is clean, no odors and no major damage." This last bit saddens me a bit, because if he smelled as foul as a Nyak is reputed to smell from consuming humans and other sentient beings, I might applaud it for its multidimensional artistry truly going the next step.

I'm doubtless in the minority on this, but I think a masterful piece of sculpture changes from the angles one views it, and also the way if feels when one can touch it. As one criteria of this multisensory engagement with a particular piece of art: Do different elements have different and appropriate (or meaningfully inappropriate) temperatures and textures? Not many artisans incorporate this into the work, but when it's done, I respect it.

The olfactory rarely comes into play with sculpture, but when it does, and if it's masterfully done, I would hope its audience can truly appreciate it. Then there's the aural dimension: When you have a marionette like this, perhaps it's a bit much to ask if it can also move with particular sounds that evoke its ferocious nature, but I would not discourage an artisan from exploring this.

While I will doubtless never get a chance to own this lovely brute, I do admire what's gone into his craftsmanship, and I think it would be wonderful is Lao can master puppetry and marionette construction as well as this. At the moment, I think we still have a long way to go to really hit our golden age of puppetry.

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