O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
—Salutation, Ezra Pound
Chati Coronel recently opened an exhibition of new paintings, entitled UnPortraits, at Silverlens Galleries in Manila. The large works were inspired by a compassion meditation from the Dalai Lama. In the meditation (and in Chati’s paintings) we are invited to zoom in on details of another person’s body in order to appreciate the things that we have in common with each other, as opposed to looking for the things that make us different and set us apart from other people.
Individuality is such a sacred cow these days that few people would even think to question the ever-present advice—on television, in self-help books, on lifestyle websites and at workshops and seminars for personal development and growth—that urges them to be unique, to emphasize their singularities, to stand out (and away) from others. This obsession with one’s Self is part of the cult of the ego, the offspring of Western philosophies that valued the clever intricacies of mind over the simple honesty of heart and soul. The ego is a fire that gets hungrier as you feed it; it can blaze up and out of control, laying waste to everything around it, and still never feel satisfied. Feeding the ego will help you stand out, but whatever rewards the ego manages to attain seem to lose their lustre very quickly, and the happiness and contentment you thought would come with reaching these goals will always seem to lie just beyond the next mountain. It’s like navigating through life using mirages as landmarks.
The cult of the ego has spread and rules most of the world, now. It has become dignified, respectable, sacrosanct. Whole industries are devoted to it, and if there is a problem or a feeling of lack in our lives it is suggested that we aren’t pampering our Selves enough, aren’t getting enough Me time, aren’t celebrating our own special and unique qualities enough, aren’t doing what we love or aren’t buying ourselves enough treats. So off we go, improving ourselves, competing with each other for rare prizes, indulging ourselves, promoting and calling attention to ourselves, adding pages and pages to that book called The Story of Me.
Many decades later, our race is unhappier than ever before. We are afraid of and despise each others’ differences; those traits that make each one of us unique also make us strange to each other. The higher we go, the lonelier it is. We are falling apart—mentally, emotionally, spiritually—as a race, as a people, as a species. The great and hallowed Cult of Me doesn’t work. We’ve taken it, we’ve tested it, we’ve assimilated it, and it has proven ineffective. The emperor hasn’t got any clothes on, but only the mad or the very young are happy to say it.
I don’t think Chati is mad, so she must be among the people whose hearts have managed to stay very young. I suspect it helps that she lives with a very fearless, very sage 6-year old daughter, who keeps her on her Zen toes every day with a wide-open heart and a lion’s spirit.
I was very happy to be asked to write the introduction to Chati’s painting exhibit. If you find yourself in the teeming metropolis between now and the 6th of July, please drop in and have a look. For a more intimate experience of UnPortraits you may want to schedule your visit for 3 p.m. on June 15th, and join Chati and others in a meditation session.
Silverlens has three Manila exhibition spaces and new space in Gillman Barracks, Singapore, showcasing contemporary art from the Philippines.
2F YMC Bldg 2,
2320 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension,
Makati City 1231, Philippines
T +63 2 816 0044