The Ways of My Serpent Mother are Strange
Sarah Brook Gallery
January 7 – February 4, 2023
These paintings (predominantly oil and acrylic on paper, and all created in 2022) are raw, even crude, and anointed with a childlike candor. They are comprised of ambiguous shapes and scribbles, which are scattered about the canvas like the building blocks of life conjoined. There is always a snake present – sometimes utterly distinct, and other times merely hinted at – which serves as the connecting vein of all forms.
For Rosai, the serpent represents the cycle of birth and rebirth: shedding signifies the body both discarded and made anew. Transcendent of space and time, its spirit slithers its way throughout the generations, eternally imparting an ancient wisdom and power. The fact that the creature’s physical form is phallic in appearance serves to acknowledges the male and female, dualistic energy that is the basis of creation, with the maternal playing the utmost role in the process. In essence, the snake is the mother, the giver of life.
When She Shed Her Skin, She Created All the Waters on the Earth is exemplary of this sentiment. Here we witness an act of creation conducted by an anthropomorphic, snakish figure, her split tongue extended through fierce fangs and her brown limbs spread upon the surrounding terrain, making way for the unfurling, blue form underneath.
Inherently, there is a sexual energy pulsing throughout many of these works, a kind of primal urge combined with elemental truths, which surpass our individualistic self-awareness, and delve more deeply into a spiritual realm shared by all. Rosai communicates myths, which, although cryptic, succeed in arousing emotional response. It’s as if we are being told stories through the language of feeling rather than words, somehow intuiting their meaning, even if on a purely subconscious level.
In The Three-Legged Serpent Man that Rode on the Cat’s Back, we immediately recognize a bold blue cat at the very top of the composition, from which all the rest of the painting’s chaotic contents emerge. Below, there is a human-like form possessing what indeed appears to be three limbs, and sure enough, spiraled through its center is the distinct, black line of the snake.
Rosai wields an eccentric pallet, each pieces utilizing tones that seem to convey the painful unearthing of deeply rooted layers. It’s as if we are glimpsing into frozen windows of a rapid moving, fiery process undergone by the artist herself. And while these works possess a degree of vulnerability and intimacy, there is likewise something very stoic and impersonal about their message, as if Rosai is bluntly speaking to the hidden, inner landscape of humanity, and its relationship to the cosmos, in general.
Cover image: Still Hanging from her Nipples; all images courtesy of Sarah Brook Gallery, photographed by the author.