Malaysian artist gets 'skeletal' on Greek philosophy, peels away layers of immortality

  • Arts
  • Monday, 08 Apr 2019

Mandeep Singh's Endangered Series: White Rhino (2019). Photo: Mandeep Singh

When 23-year-old chemical engineering student Mandeep Singh came across Stoicism – an ancient Greek philosophy – last year, he did not think that it would one day make him an overnight Internet sensation.

All he wanted was something to ground him.

“I had a lot of that I was stressing out over at the time,” recalls Mandeep in a recent interview.

But when he posted his ink drawing of the Greek hero Perseus holding the head of the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa – based on Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus With The Head Of Medusa bronze sculpture (1554) – on Reddit last month, the KL-born couldn’t have imagined that it would earn him 20,000 upvotes (likes).

Reddit, known as the “front page of the Internet”, features a collection of forums and communities.

Forbes magazine even contacted me for an interview which was the craziest thing,” says Mandeep, a final year degree student.

Mandeep, the oldest of two siblings, was so “gripped” by the Latin phrase “memento mori”, which means “remember, you must die”, that he decided to peel away the layer of immortality from seemingly immortal beings and expose the skeleton beneath through his ink drawings.

Neptune At Bologna (2019).

“What I want to get across with my art is exactly what memento mori preaches. I want the people who look at my illustrations to be reminded that they, just like the subjects of my drawings who are often gods and ‘immortal beings’ will die eventually.

“I want them to be reminded that they should live their best life now ... there is no promise that there will always be a tomorrow,” adds Mandeep, who teaches art classes to children on weekends.

His ever growing Memento Mori series, which now consists of nine drawings, includes Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo And Daphne and Flemish sculptor Giambologna’s Neptune At Bologna.

But it all began with his macabre drawing of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Mandeep's Endangered Series: White Rhino (2019).

“I had seen his image somewhere on the Internet a long time ago, with a similar cut out showing the skull underneath, except it was done with photo manipulation and not ink drawing.

“I thought it looked amazing and I wanted to recreate it as a drawing. It was one of my most ‘liked’ pictures at the time, so I decided to expand on the idea,” explains Mandeep.

Apart from his demigods and immortal beings series, Mandeep has also expanded his skeleton-baring style to a wildlife conservation series featuring endangered animals.

“The message here is clear. If we do not do anything to save our wildlife now, all we will see are their skeletons,” he warns.

Mandeep admits his approach to art did not start out with such a philosophical bent. He began enjoying making art when he was two-years old – his father introduced drawing as a means of distraction.

Mandeep's Perseus With The Head Of Medusa (2019) earned him 20,000 likes on Reddit.

“I was an incredibly destructive kid and my father had the ingenious idea to sit me down and teach me to draw dinosaurs with simple shapes,” he says.

Then through encouragement from family members and periodical painting classes, Mandeep developed his artistic skills, from charcoal portraits to acrylic and oil paintings.

Now, Mandeep has his hands full with all the international attention that he’s getting. Between completing his chemical engineering degree and opening up a webstore to sell his prints, Mandeep has a busy year ahead of him.

Instagram: Mvndeep.

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