Jumjum Ouano: Life and Death in Art

Jumjum Ouano: Life and Death in Art

“Life and death aren’t merely biological processes. In so far as they involve living, breathing humans, they too have a philosophical aspect by virtue of the meaning that is attached to them by each and every individual.”


In all of art, there is probably no theme more existential than that of life and death. After all, the two go hand in hand, not only because one marks the beginning and the other marks the end, but also because they represent two sides of the same coin. Life and death aren’t merely biological processes. In so far as they involve living, breathing humans, they too have a philosophical aspect by virtue of the meaning that is attached to them by each and every individual. 


Artist Jumjum Ouano is no less mortal than you and I, but his artworks seem to give us an otherworldly glimpse into the mystery of life and death. Of his first painting Kasal: Kamatayon, he says “Death is not the end of living, [it’s] when you start accepting the inevitable.” 



Indeed, it is. A person resigned to his or her circumstances is no less lifeless than a corpse at the morgue. This probably explains the skulls present in the three-layered background of the aforementioned painting. However, it would probably require a great leap of the imagination to explain how this relates to the presence of the feminine looking minotaur in a wedding dress (this figure is also present in the second painting). If one were to surmise, perhaps the presence of such a mythological creature is just like death itself. It can mean almost anything, but it’s exact meaning will still continue to confound. 


Ouano’s second painting, Kasal: Kinabuhi, is not so different from the first, but instead of skulls we see flowers. Apart from slight configurations in the color scheme, this might just be the only detail that distinguishes it from the first painting, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Of this second painting Ouano says, “Life is when you are not alive but when you start living.” In apparent succession to his first painting, his second painting now appeals to life. When both paintings are taken together, one can’t help but see that life and death aren’t just concepts that allude to natural phenomena, but are also terms that refer to the manner in which people live. 


Which will one choose: life or death? Apparently, any living person can answer this for himself. In the end, one’s decision comes down to the two choices laid down by that popular old adage. It’s either that people will get busy living or get busy dying. We should all strive to choose the former.  


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By ianpantaleon

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