Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Orokie's Narcissus.

The myth of Narcissus is well known. In the story told by Ovid, Narcissus falls in love with his own image in a mirror-pool. Over the centuries, that myth has become concerned with error. Narcissus represents incurvatus in se: the sin of curving inwards to worship self above all else. The word Narcissism has come to represent two evils. Firstly, political narcissism (as seen in Kenya today) where the individual places his own body above the body of the state, where self-worship (born out of little knowledge of self) is mirrored falsely as the people’s wishes. Political narcissism is so deluded that it can justify violence and murder as the means to a beautiful dream. Secondly, personal narcissism, celebrated today in the word “metrosexual” whereby the body is a thing to be endlessly satisfied, where image is all and the surface matters more than spirit.

The history of painting shows many forms of Narcissus, but most take the path described above. In early Renaissance drawings, Narcissus is caught in the act of worshipping his image. The tale carries a simple, moral meaning: pride in self leads to a fall.

In the work of Caravaggio, a more complex gaze appears. Here, an elaborately dressed Narcissus is absorbed by the water that holds his image and his sinister hand plays with the medium that holds his face. Two lovers, who are one, meet in an erotic exchange.

By the seventeenth century, the broader narrative had come to dominate. So Poussin substituted the central sexual self-absorption of Narcissus with an allegorical, heterosexual meaning. Narcissus languishes, having spurned Echo, whilst Amor stands impotently, dwarfed by the arrow of love and bearing a weak, sexual flame.

It is this narrative tradition which passes on into Waterhouse and the nineteenth century. Now, Echo is fore-grounded, her heterosexual bare-breasted lure to the viewer cancelling out the homosexual attraction that exists in the gaze of Narcissus. Behind this idealised Victorian Classicism there exists a plain, Biblical morality that self-absorption in beauty is ungodly and leads to vice.

Narcissus had continued to influence modern minds. Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” is the ultimate joke, for the narcissistic Dali presents a painting in which Narcissus does not appear: he has been absorbed into the flower, into the psychological pool of the painting.

Modern photography, in a similar way, has absorbed the Narcissus myth into its method: the photographer gazing through the viewer is caught up within the pool of vision and its perfect, air-brushed, enhanced plastic imagery. If there ever was a medium made for Narcissus it was photography. As can be seen above where the black male watches himself and more is revealed in the reflection than in the "real world" outside the mirror. The mirror is all.

In Orokie’s Narcissus, there is a return to the single figure of Narcissus. Not surprisingly, the heterosexual narrative has been abandoned (does not even exist as a muted echo!) Instead, this ink drawing shows a beautiful African male in a sacred place, his hand stretching out in an act of creation. This is a Black Adam responding to Black Adam, all of which is summed up in a delicate finger gesture that does not quite touch the surface of the water. Colour begins to spread where reality and image almost meet, as if this is a point of awakening…a realisation of blue and orange, of sun and sky, of political identity? There is no condemnation in Orokie’s drawing, no romantic languishing, no ennui, no lying down— the body of Narcissus is awake and primed, holding the life in his flesh. To the bottom right of Orokie’s Narcissus, a penis surfaces, not an elongated penis, but one shrunken by cold water: it is a double awakening. The figure in the water yearns towards warm flesh. In some ways, Orokie’s Narcissus returns to the very roots of the myth. Narcissus casts off the heterosexual world and its temptations for Platonic wholeness: to the Platonic thinkers of the Renaissance, Narcissus was a myth about wholeness, of man’s unification with the realm of the heavenly (blue) from which an awareness of body and body politic (orange) might come. Orokie’s Narcissus is a beautiful ode to Beauty, to the soul of Africa…which also includes Black men who love men. Spirit seeks body and body seeks spirit.


gayuganda said...

The pics speak to me. The words I understand not. The pics, they speak.


Afriboy said...

Gug, Orokie's words coming soon. Hope they will speak.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

More! Please! More! You pretty much took my breath away with the last paragraph. Thank you for this blog. Thank so much!!!

In the original tale of Narcissus, there is no heterosexual leanings. My understanding is that the "straight" context came into existence with a Roman writer. Recently discovered material predates this Roman and puts Narcissus back into its gay telling.

rahmane said...

This is very thought-provoking. I remember when I was a teen-ager in awe before the beauty of another boy, I'd always have this odd (but not so odd) thought: "Does he know himself how beautiful he is?" The meaning of that interrogation was that if he knew, then he'd understand why I admired him, and would accept my tribute. Since it would mean that although he is a boy, he could see the beauty of a boy, since he could see his own beauty.

Afriboy said...

bronzebuckaroo, I missed your comment until now. It feels like rudeness only to see it now. Sorry. What you say is lovely about the birth of this myth.

rahmane, I missed yours too. yes, yes, yes. You describe the feeling of Narcissus!

BronzeBuckaroo said...

The last drawing, Pond, appears to be on a sketch pad. Was it ever for sale? I am interested in it. Like an idiot I waited until now to ask you. This drawing just means a lot to me. Oh well!