Words have a habit of evolving over time. Take “sensuality” as an example. Within the English language, it has its roots in the 14th Century Old French sensualite (“the five senses”), which in turn lies rooted in the Late Latin Sensualitatem (nominative sensualitas) “capacity for sensation,” or “endowed with feeling.” As used in the 14th Century, the term was oft used as a sign of “spirituality”, describing the ability to sense or perceive the meaning of Holy Scripture. Two hundred years later, however, “sensuality” was largely frowned upon by the religious, who saw it as a direct reference to our baser animal instincts and lusts of the flesh.
Today, we tend to use the word to express the the idea of enjoyment of the innocently pleasurable to give it an edge of “naughtiness” (“the sensually smooth dark chocolate”; ” the rich, sensual aroma from the blend of oils…”, etc.), as well as in reference to the lascivious and suggestive – particularly in reference to the female form. The latter use is perhaps most noticeable within the world of photography and advertising, where images – generally in monochrome – are used to encourage desire without actually being in sexually explicit it is the suggestion of want might happen or might just have happened, that is used to taunt our senses and emotions.
All of which forms a lengthy introduction to a collection of 32 images by Second Life photographer Izabela Navarathna entitled Sensuality, which is currently open through until November 15th, 2021 at Frank Atisso’s Art Korner Gallery.
This is a veritable tour de force of photographic depictions of sensuality that at first appears to be lifted from that monochrome world of suggestive advertising – but which is actually far more, offering as it does multiple takes on the idea of sensuality. And whilst the the use of monochrome might suggest an intent to emulate such advertising images, it is actually because since her entered the world of Second Life photography, Izabela has specialised in black-and white avatar studies, believing – and I would agree with her – that they convey a greater depth of emotional content.
Within them, we can find the full range of interpretations of sensuality from the clear pleasures of the flesh evoking by touch, closeness and – yes – the suggestion of sexual activity (which carries with it a discomforting frisson as we are cast also into the role of voyeur), through to pieces that might be considers personal takes on the “classical” suggestions of female sensuality, and the use of an image to engage our senses in response, through to a reminder that sensuality can be experienced in multiple ways, some simple others through our need to simply indulge ourselves, with many (if not all) of the pieces containing a subtle twist or layering of meaning.
The clearest examples of sensuality as experienced through physical pleasures are those featuring both man and woman together. But then there are images such as Wings, Hand in Hand and Back all of which present suggestions of sensual, sexual bondage – the placement of hands and arms behind back, the collar around the neck, together with an innocent twist through their titles. Elsewhere, Cherry, presents a classical image of the sensual / sexual: a ripe fruit caressed by pouting lips as they hold it almost teasingly; whilst the use of nude and semi-nude images present the that subtle projection of sexuality, the desire to be able to touch without tipping into raw nudity: it is the suggestion, rather than the exposure, giving them a sensual twist.
And then there are the likes of I Wait To See You Smiling, My Body Is My Temple, and Rose, all of which offer their own takes of the use of a partially-shadowed face, camera angle and / or single item – a hat, the cigarette, a rose, to evoke a system of sensual mystery and desire.
In this respect, I could wax on about individual images, but these are pieces that deserve to be witnessed first-hand and their richness experienced, they are a genuine and skilled demonstration of the art of photography, the ability to evoke an idea and / or sensation merged with a narrative skill that is utterly superb; Izabella has a unique ability to visually encourage the imagination in one direction, then pull the emotions in another, just be her consideration of the title she gives a piece.
Just take La Llorona (which, of all the pieces in the collection, for me is the most utterly captivating). Within it there are all the familiar suggestions of sensuality: the woman in the bath; pouted lips, lowered eyes, the symbolic cigarette held between languid fingers, the presence of the decanter indicating a rich liqueur / liquor awaiting consumption. All speak to sensuality (and a hint of sexuality). But then take the title of the piece into consideration, and the emotional narrative is utterly transformed, and with it our perception of what each element in the image is actually saying.
Most of all, however, is the manner in which this collection offers a stunning demonstration of Izabella’s skills as a photographer, storyteller, and sensualist (in the most positive sense of the word) through her choice of pose, camera angle and lighting, followed by cropping and finish. to produce imaginative images that weave subtle narratives through perfectly framed images.
A truly engaging exhibition, offering much to appreciate and admire.
- Art Korner Gallery (Deju, rated Moderate)