Published on 16 February 2024 at 21:59

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2023 


My latest art feature is not merely a static image; it is a prelude to a narrative. As the artist behind this watercolor painting, I stand at the intersection of fear and fascination, surrounded by the nagas of my creation. This artwork is a testament to the unpredictable beauty of life, a snapshot of the surprise that grips us when confronted with the unknown. It is an acknowledgment that we must trust in the journey, in the tools we are given, and in the life that pulses within us. The nagas, with their humorous eyes, beckon us to embrace the good, to be wary of the potential for harm, and to see within every surprise an opportunity for growth. This is the essence of my art, the heart of my stories, and the spirit that I hope will linger in the minds of those who gaze upon the yellow-dogface and its entwined companions.

Yellow dog face and the Naga-snakes

The art piece started with my bright yellow face surrounded by colored naga-snakes. My face is a dog’s face with big, pointed ears. When I awoke from my dream, I put down on paper the dog face. I am comfortable with dogs, and yellow is my favorite color. I added the naga-snakes one by one as I recalled each one: first, the red naga, which then grew two heads; second, half of the double black naga; then a yellow naga, which gradually became the green naga with feathers; finally, the second half of the double black naga; together, they look like a highway. Two blue nagas grew later. These nagas have fun in their eyes. The colors show various kinds of nagas.

Sacred Snake with Feathers

I wanted to depict a snake that bore the sacredness of feathers. The ancient artisans of the Hongshan culture, dating back to 4000 BCE, channeled their spiritual vision into jade carvings, rendering snakes with delicate feathered outlines. Similarly, the Aztec civilization revered the feathered serpent, a deity that soared the heavens, borne aloft by the mighty eagle. My artistic journey has been a continuous quest to capture this mythical synergy on canvas. The allure of these legendary beings is irresistible, and my devotion to their form and story remains unquenched. Within the bounds of this particular painting, I have realized my rendition of the feathered serpent, a personal milestone in my exploration of these enthralling mythical creatures.

Surprise! Naga of Technology

The gaze of the yellow dog in my painting is one of bewilderment, reflecting the shimmer of something new. There is a spark of curiosity, a glimmer of the unknown that captivates its eyes. Perhaps it's the glint of a new device, as enigmatic and alluring as a naga slithering into view. For the dog, and indeed for myself, the encounter with modern technology—a cell phone, a labyrinth of new codes, the ritual of updating passwords—is akin to stumbling upon a mythical creature. It's an unexpected marvel, a puzzle that eludes comprehension, leaving us both in a state of surprise.

In the intertwined cables that power our lives, I perceive the essence of nagas, pulsating with vitality. These serpentine forms of technology are dual-natured: they are the carriers of innovation and progress, yet they possess the potential to ensnare us in their complexity. Just as the naga can be a force of benevolence or a harbinger of malice, our technology holds a similar power. It is a testament to duality, to the polarity that defines our existence. In these lines of energy and information, we find the embodiment of potential and peril, a reflection of the nagas' dualistic spirit.

Naga Story on the Farm

The narrative of extreme energies found in my dreams, imaginations, and intuitions mirrors the dual nature of the nagas, symbolizing the profound contrasts and balances within nature and our own lives. Nagas, embodying both benevolence and malevolence, parallel the stark contrasts between my desire to feel the scorching heat of the sun and the biting cold of frozen Arctic ice. These serpentine deities encapsulate the essence of elemental forces — as unpredictable and powerful as the weather patterns of my youth.

Once on a Greyhound bus coming out of South Dakota, two men near me talked. The first said his daughter said to him, “Dad, why don’t you write some stories about your childhood?” The second replied to the thought, “I have been asked to recall my childhood, too. All I really remember is the weather. The weather is so violent, so cold in the winter. The solid snow drifts driven by particles of ice into solid masses of cement of ice. Our difficulty was to find an open road into town. The heavy rains—once 12 inches in 20 minutes. The mud where we were stuck for 5 days and when I lost my boots pulled off by the sucking mud. In the summer, the great cracks in the dry earth where I lost toys. The summer sun that grew enormous trees of corn and cockleburs and forests of these growths to run through and get lost as a child and later the cornfields to work in as a teenager and later to fill the canning factories for the corn where we worked our way through school. The weather was overwhelming always in life both great and exhausting.

Just as the conversation on the Greyhound bus reflects a man's vivid recollections of weather's extremes — from brutal winters to suffocating summers, from snow that binds to mud that traps — the naga represents life's inherent unpredictability and its capacity to shape human experience. The weather, in its ferocity and beauty, becomes a metaphor for the naga's dual aspects: its ability to bestow fertility and abundance, akin to nourishing rains and sun that coax life from the earth, or to unleash destruction, reminiscent of storms and droughts that ravage the landscape.

This story, centered around the profound impact of weather, serves as a poignant reminder of the naga's symbolic significance. It underscores the duality of existence — the constant interplay between creation and destruction, growth, and decay — and the human resilience in facing nature's vicissitudes. Just as the weather leaves an indelible mark on the memories and lives of those who endure it, the naga stands as a testament to the enduring power of nature and the spiritual reverence it commands, challenging us to find harmony within these extremes.

Naga Story in the City

My friend Nicholasa wrote stories about the diaspora of Puerto Ricans in New York City. Her books are full of people interacting in their homes, at their bodegas, scuffling, and partying in the streets. Racism, police activity, loving connections between people, and bad connections within families or with strangers were the subject of her stories. She said to me, “What are your stories about? They seem to be about nothing. Why don’t you write about people?”
I replied, “My stories are about nature, the weather, about myths of people who lived close to the earth. Nature will kill you. It can be glorious, too. This clash is what I have in my imagination. We worked on the land. Our food was from the land. Nature sometimes destroyed our food for the year. Our poverty came through the land, not, as in a city, from hiring and firing between people. My images are about the mystic connection I felt as a child with Nature. Your memories are from people.”
I see country life and city life as a dichotomy, two sides of the same thing. Nagas is the same. Nagas can symbolize the essence of life.

Nagas and the Spiritual

Why do we worship the snake? Nagas stands for a spiritual dichotomy of nature. Snakes are mysterious with their slithering movement and their ability to act quickly with a strike to what frightens them or to what they want to eat. Snakes slough off their skin and are renewed, reborn it seems. Perhaps because of their mystery and their danger to us, long ago snakes became Nagas, creatures that could bring us danger and can be worshipped to avoid this danger. In India and Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, “snake” morphed to “naga,” the spiritual snake.

Feathered Snakes

Birds have the mystery of flight and the mystery of feathers. How they soar through the sky remains a subject of awe and scientific study. How does flight work? Look at the colors and patterns the colors have. Some ancient societies did worship birds. Birds are not frightening; a bird may take our life. We are drawn to them by their mystery. We are not drawn to worship them in order to avoid the danger. Their feathers do not often appear on images of snakes. Sometimes they do. Feathered nagas can fly. They can represent what we cannot understand and what we fear, even a better reason to pray to them. Ancient civilizations did not just observe birds; they deified them, drawing connections between their flight and the divine.

Buddha and the Nagas Temple, Yangon

A spectacular temple called Buddha and the Nagas is in Yangon. It is on the map of Yangon but not on any tourist itinerary because there is another reason to venerate the naga: male erection. In the temple, sculptures of colorful men in red or blue dance happily with their erections. These guys are life-sized sculptures prancing in the audience area in front of this very large (30-40 feet tall) Buddha, which has a screen carved in teak wood standing behind it. The subject of this magnificent screen is intertwining snakes. Come to think of it, the tools of human reproduction are totally essential to our life. Outside of our bodies proper, a snake is the closest live creature in appearance to the tool we need for reproduction. We do worship our continuing life. Don’t we worship life, too?

Bible Snake

In the Bible, the snake wrapped around the tree of knowledge. Eve pays attention to the snake. The snake offers fruit from the tree to Eve. Eve accepts the snake’s offer. Eve offers this fruit to Adam. He accepts her gift. They leave the innocence of Paradise, Adam and Eve begin their family and their hard life. There is an enigmatic allure to the serpent- a creature shrouded in the duality of danger and desire. In its story, we grapple with our own vulnerabilities, the innate human tension between temptation and morality. The serpent's power, which once evoked fear, now compels a deeper understanding, perhaps even reverence, as if by honoring it, we might temper its influence over us.

Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat in Cambodia, there are huge nagas protecting this temple. Nagas is part of this enormous holy place. Nagas on the bridges and on the terraces keep the temple safe from those who could damage the shrines, steal the wealth, and injure the holy dancers and priests.

Trust Life and Trust the Tools for Life

In my picture, the yellow dog is surprised and looks frightened. Yellow dog does not know what to do, yet he is a strong yellow and will trust life. The nagas have humor in their eyes that reflect their contained energy. Reflectively, I think of our technology today as a naga energy which can be for great good, but also can be dangerous. That dichotomy of great good with the real possibility of great negativity is the pull of attraction. This is the unconscious draw of the nagas in my pictures.

As these narrative winds to its close, we reflect on the dichotomy that the naga embodies. These creatures, be they of myth, earth, or technology, represent the dual nature of existence. They symbolize the ever-present balance between creation and destruction, between the nurturing warmth of the sun and the biting cold of the Arctic ice. The tales spun within the confines of a Greyhound bus, or the bustling streets of New York City are not just stories; they are the essence of life's perpetual dance, a dance where every step is a moment of living, every movement a note in the symphony of our days.

The journey through the landscapes of sacred snakes, feathered serpents, and technological marvels culminates in an understanding that life, in all its forms, is a force to be revered and respected. In temples and texts, through the lenses of cultures spanning continents and eras, we find reverence for life's tools, be they biological or spiritual. The snake by the tree of knowledge, the naga on the temple bridge, they are more than symbols; they are reminders of our intrinsic connection to the world around us, of the power that lies in renewal, transformation, and the continual cycle of rebirth.


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