CULTURAL POTPOURRI| Natee Utarit’s The Altarpieces

FROM February 17 until April 9, 2017, the Ayala Museum of Makati City presents a special individual exhibition entitled “Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces” by the 47-year-old Thai visual artist Natee Utarit. The amazing, 12 large-sized oil on canvas paintings reflect the artist’s view and perception of our present complex world. I felt so fortunate to have had the chance to attend the exhibition at the time when no less than the gifted artist, Natee Utarit, was at the Ayala Museum to hold a lecture regarding his masterpieces.

     In my conversation with the humble but extremely talented Natee Utarit, he admitted that his body of works takes its inspiration from paintings that traditionally adorn the altars of Roman Catholic churches.   “They are works that have a long history, one that stretches back almost to the very beginnings of Western painting. The Altarpieces have always dealt with religious matters, portraying Christian legends and myths, and foregrounding the sanctity of Christian ritual. They are filled with meaning and have always played an important role in giving tangible form to key tenets of the Cristian faith,” lectured Utarit.

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THAI artist, Natee Utarit with his painting at the Ayala Museum

    “In these paintings, I offer my interpretation of the world and its various beliefs that appear in the Western world from my own personal Asian perspective, instead of a perspective that has long been shaped by Western thinking and the spread of Western Imperialism, which began centuries ago. These paintings represent a view of God, the world around us, and the contemporary events, filtered through my own Buddhist beliefs. They, therefore, show traces of religious thinking on core issues like death, injustice, and human suffering. And while there are similarities with a number of Western conceptions, like memento mori, which are meant to remind us of certain elemental truths, different perspectives on the causes and means of eliminating suffering ensure that these are only surface similarities.”

     Utarit emphasized that all of his paintings exhibited at the ground floor of the Ayala Museum speak about relevant issues confronting humanity in the world today. “Through a range of differing subject matter, all of the works are meant as an examination of my beliefs and my attitude towards the notion of god and goodness in today’s world. They also pose questions about the nature of human identity in a world where the lines separating different ideas and set of beliefs have all but vanished.”

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MICHAEL E. Dakudao with Natee Utarit

     Mariles Lopez-Gustilo, the Senior Director of the Ayala Museum, commented, “This series showcases the artist’s mastery on visual imagery, incorporating iconic elements from both Christian and Buddhist religions. As a practicing Buddhist with a familiarity in Christian beliefs and iconography, Utarit assembles and weaves all the rituals and traditions that extol, revere, and mark life, death, suffering, injustice and torment. By depicting and composing human allegories, Utarit presents a universal experience within the filter of Thai culture and Western sacred symbols.”

     I am so grateful that the country has the Ayala Museum which continues to share exceptional art including those beyond our borders. Utarit’s Altarpieces are so masterfully done and conceived with such philosophical depth; and amazingly captures in a macabre sort of way our confused and uncertain times that I, a devout Roman Catholic, was almost brought to kneel before Utarit’s paintings and pray the rosary for divine intervention.

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