Rajni Perera’s Traveler at Patel Division Projects

Installation view of Rajni Perera, Traveler at Patel Division Projects

Rajni Perera’s solo exhibition Traveler is held by Patel X Division Projects, which is a new collaborative space shared by Patel Gallery and Division Montreal at 45 Ernest Ave in Toronto. Perera’s ‘travelling beings’ are the subject of this exhibition, displayed in painted and sculptural portraits as well as in installations. The ‘travelers’ are the embodiment of third culture people living within diaspora, who have evolved to survive in their new environments, even during a time where the Earth itself fights to overcome environmental destruction. The figures highlight the struggle of marginalized people resisting the ‘trappings of colonialization and oppression’. They are travelers because they do not belong in any one place, having a fluidity in where they are located. They have made roots in each place they live, which are holds that are strong enough to withstand even the Earth’s physical decline.

Installation view of Rajni Perera, Traveler at Patel Division Projects

Experiencing Perera’s works cannot be encapsulated by photographs. One must physically see the works to appreciate the strong presence of the travelers. The figures, clad in richly ornamented fabrics and crisp metals serving as armor, are inspired by Sri Lankan culture and the Chinese animated TV shows that Perera watched as a child. The rich colors of their armor float on the surface of the canvases as the viewer passes by. The colors are “reminiscent of all the colors found in the center of the deepest, oldest forests, the highest altitudes of the sky, and the deepest depths of the oceans.”

Painting from Rajni Perera, Traveler at Patel Division Projects

Each figure is unaware of the viewer’s gaze, overlooking those in the gallery space. These individuals are of nature, emphasized by natural colors and shapes. Their depiction is focused on the materiality of their armors in contrast to the faces which are typically covered, not giving the viewer any information. The travelers are androgynous but lean towards the female. When closely examined, we notice, that some of the beings have six eyes, marking them not quite of the Earth’s natural world. They rather are a result of the merging of human and ‘reptilian, floral, riparian, or insect qualities’ which gives them versatility to live in any type of environment, whether it be water, forest, or mountains.

Paintings of Rajni Perera, Traveler series, each mixed media on stretched paper, at Patel Division Projects

Perera incorporates a sculpture titled Rings of Truth, an installation of ‘elongated finger adornments’ which are weapons evoking the talons of a bird of prey. The gold talons are three-times the length of an index finger and become thinner as they go up, sharpening to a point. One of them is displayed on an orange clay hand, fitting around a finger like a ring. Beside the hand there is an assortment of claws lined up on a pillow, as if in an armory, ready to be utilized. The gold talons are a reference to the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria, where they are associated with Ìyàmi Àjé, a women’s society that carries out justice when order is disrupted. These metal claws are a mode of protection adding to the travelers’ armor because “if people are to survive a massive event of global scale such as climate change, inevitably protecting one’s self and defending one’s place becomes a necessity”.

Installation view with Rings of Truth of Rajni Perera, Traveler at Patel Division Projects

Perera’s striking travelers are a beautiful sight, both of this world while simultaneously otherworldly, clad in armor and equipped with defensive weapons to face the threats of the present, and of those unforetold in the future.

Text and photo: Olivia Musselwhite

*Exhibition information: September 19 – November 2, 2019, Patel Division Projects, 45 Ernest Avenue, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 11 am – 6 pm

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