Baptism Series

Short text about the ‘Baptism Series’
Desmond Lazaro

If the last series of works – Blue House project (2011/12) – questioned notions of ‘house’ and ‘home’, then ‘The Baptism’ represent a ‘home’ coming. In the catalogue ‘recent works’ (Ben Brown London, May 2012) I had written:

“House and home are recurring themes in my work. But sometimes I don’t know how to get home, so I constantly define and redefine it within myself. It’s the typical East-West dichotomy that has informed and continues to inform my work – often summed up with a simple object like a garden shed, a shack.”

Confronted by such realities, the “blue house” – a shack made of palm leaf and metal, a somewhere-in-between house – spoke of contradictions on many levels: of ingenuity and improvisation, of have and have not, of want, desire and necessity – all the things we grapple with as individuals and as societies, in our constant defining and redefining of “home.”

In each case there is a sense of searching – when I look back at earlier work, I see titles like ‘waiting looking’ (2010) and ‘The long wait’ (2011). Both imply an observation – looking at something from the outside. No surprises – the search for ‘home’ and identity run deep in my life – growing up in the north of England – then moving (back) to India has been fuel for much work.

So – for purely practical reason – I started searching my Indian ancestry. The Baptism Certificate is my great-grandfathers, who live in Madras during the 1800’s. I found it in the church records at St Mary’s Co Catholic Church, Armenian Street, Chennai. The records are locked away in tiny cupboard that would fare well in any typical office setting – fake walnut veneer – draped over ply board. There is no conservation to mention, the volumes are stacked like schoolbooks, some covered in plastic sheets others wrapped in brown paper.

However, when you delve into each book, another story unfolds – they are beautiful objects. The paper, washed with years is stained, printed, scratched and marked. The script is exquisite because it is written by some unknown scribe (clerk) in a matter of fact way, another entry, another day, another marriage, another birth, another death… Each line tells of a different life, of people I will never know, will never meet, and conversation I will never have…and yet… and yet…the connection is visceral. When you spend your whole life looking and finally you find something that connects you to place and people the feeling is (and remains) overwhelming.

This body of work comes from that space; a space that is both abstract (inward) and physical (outward) all at the same time. If earlier work suggested ‘waiting’ then I’m not ‘waiting’ any more, the male figures (bits of me) aren’t looking to some ‘other space’. I realize that the object is more crucial, important and real, than the observation of the object. The space, so to speak is here, tangible and open, what remains is to embrace, engage and celebrate.