In I See Sea, Muhanned Cader turns his meditative, playful vision towards the ocean. Building on his previous engagement with land and landscape, Cader’s latest works probe the far less stable, ever-changing face of the sea – long held as point of fascination, a force of sublime and unpredictable power for artists and non-artists alike. Spanning various media – from delicately-rendered acrylic painting, to darker, more mysterious charcoal drawings – the series in I See Sea share a close, intimate scale. Refusing the vast, all-encompassing vision so familiar from traditional seascapes, these works allow only glimpses of the sea – iridescent yet fragmented, each framed within unexpected, idiosyncratic shapes. Part-geometric, part-organic, these hybrid shapes restrict our view in much of the same way that the new development along the coast in Cader’s native Sri Lanka restricts access to the ocean – hinting at that which unfolds beyond. Yet these shapes are more than just frames; with their unpredictable contours, they begin to take on a presence of their own. These are, indeed, as much “Portraits of the Sea” as seascapes, and they allude to the many meanings the ocean can hold – political border, insurmountable obstacle, symbol of escape. The ocean’s refusal to be contained, its unpredictability, becomes palpable in these series, summarizing the volatile political geography of Sri Lanka in the past decades.
Cader’s work emerges from a practice that is experimental and open-ended – one that investigates, insistently but without a rigid, predetermined agenda, the norms that shape the visual world. Working iteratively, he intervenes into Western artistic traditions, like the picturesque landscape, that favor the singular, totalizing view. Cader utilizes his base in Sri Lanka to press back on these and other colonial legacies that continue to shape life there, casting an oblique light on the West’s insatiable need for control, possession, and mastery. His series instead unfold sensuously, associatively, and often reveal surprising subtleties – the play of sun across water, the formal rhymes within the pages of a magazine – that go unattended in daily life. His collages quietly, rhythmically, but with razor-sharp precision undo the containment of the rectangular frame, while his paintings bring considerations of presence and absence to larger, human scale. Intimate and exquisitely rendered, Cader always retains an element of the handmade – making vivid the limitations as well the power of the human presence within the natural world.