SHAKIL SOLANKI: The Pearl Fishers, Reprised
Apr 26 – May 13, 2023
The Pearl Fishers, Reprised
A collaboration between Shakil Solanki, Cape Town Opera, and Everard Read Cape Town.
In azure seas
Washing the isle of the dead
We lie there
Fanned by the billowing
Sails of forgotten ships
Deep love drifting on the tide forever.’
- Derek Jarman, Chroma (1993)
These words by Derek Jarman, taken from ‘Chroma’ - a melancholic meditation on the colour spectrum-inspired the original series of 10 paintings, produced for ‘The Pearl Fishers’ in 2021. In returning to this oeuvre, these verses, once more, were the driving force of this romantic quartet of gouache works.
Jarman’s words provided me the most poetic approach to the canvas of Georges Bizet’s opera. Through their lens, I fleshed out a queer subversion of the latter’s tragic love triangle, building upon the homoeroticism, and unrequited passions which I found intrinsic to his narrative. The queerness beneath Bizet’s script was waiting to be tapped, I felt - a classic backdrop to, what could be, a most contemporary interpretation of male intimacy, overarching friendship and sacrifice. Bizet’s rendering, as well as his haunting melodies, establish a landscape of desire, rage and tragedy, spread across the ever-changing tides of a sapphire ocean.
This series offers a more nuanced slant to The Pearl Fishers’ synopsis, with a primary focus on the intimate dynamic of the opera’s three focal characters, and the mortal love triangle which develops through its scenes. The building of this amatory, fantastic diorama meant the binding of queerness and mythology; each character becomes a sensual, regal deity, in their own right, trapped within bittersweet webs (or nets, perhaps) of yearning, affection and grief. The ocean too, becomes a critical identity in its own right - a blue-hued motif of queerness, a vital stage of romance and boundless desire, precisely as Jarman had contextualised it. It shifts with these characters, both graceful and benevolent, violent and tempestuous- mirroring the journeys of the three characters, evoking and embracing their conflicts and romances.
Through the melange of sorrow and fervour which grip the three characters, it seemed that a note of hope was necessary to close this quartet, however ambiguously, with the work, IV: ‘A sumptuous palace opens itself to our gaze, Our rapid flight carries us off to the heavens.’ Here, the three central characters coexist in harmony- a sumptuous landscape of queer tenderness, beneath the depths of the ocean. Their ultimate fates remain unknown, yet their beauty remains consecrated within this liminal space, or enchanted reverie.
Shakil Solanki ( b.1997) was born in Cape Town, where he is currently based. He completed his undergraduate degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2019, and has since been practising as an artist, working primarily within the mediums of paintings and printmaking. On completion of his degree, he was awarded the Simon Gerson Award, as well as the Katrine Harries Print Cabinet Award, for excellent achievement in the printmaking medium. Since 2018, he has taken part in several group shows, along with many silkscreen-printing jobs, and a short residency at the South Atlantic Press.
Solanki interrogates dynamics of intimacy, using the space of a secret garden to explore dualities of tenderness, desire and violence. His experiences as a queer brown man remain central to his practice, with classical Eastern art standing as a prominent source of inspiration. This vernacular is repurposed, encompassing homoerotic dialogues to evoke lush, dreamlike lands, which remain both romantic and discomforting at once. The trope of a secret garden is used as a liminal space, where contrasting emotions of trauma and longing exist hand-in-hand with moments of stillness, using the theme of intimacy as a point of convergence to explore its many dynamics, evoked within many shades of the colour blue.
Installation images by Michael Hall