The ancient Greeks told tales of giant beings called Titans. The sculptor and I might have been cleverer to call this collection The Titans but perhaps ‘The Giant collection ‘is more straightforward. One Titan’s name was Atlas, he was the leader in a war against Zeus, the sky and thunder-god Zeus. After the defeat of the titans Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of the earth and hold the heavens on his shoulders to prevent the earth and sky resuming their primordial embrace.
There has been a misconception that Atlas carries the world on his shoulders as classical sculpture often shows Atlas holding the celestial sphere but it has been misunderstood to be a globe. Atlas therefore embodies the celestial axis and is the personification of endurance as he was a sentence to hold up the sky for eternity.
In later myth he finally turns to stone and becomes what we know now as the Atlas Mountains. Around 500 years ago Mercator made a book of maps and named it an Atlas, Keeper of the World.
In classical European architecture an, ‘atlas’ is a support sculpted in the form of a man, which takes places of a column. Named ‘Atlantes’ these express extreme effort in their function. Head is often bent forward to support the weight of the structure above them across their shoulders.
Here, in this contemporary version of Atlas, Shendi depicts the head bent forward but in an almost ironic twist we see across this titan’s shoulders a collection of birds.
This sculpture depicts the notion that today we carry a weight on our shoulders, which often isn’t as heavy as we might believe. Most of humanity share similar experiences and memories that can weigh us down. The use of colour in this piece represents memories and emotions. The figure here represents us, the birds our problems, which have become larger than the reality of them.
Birds perched together decreases the risk of predators and they usually choose places to roost, which are safe. The size of this giant hasn’t prevented the birds from staying. We associate ‘giants’ with the idea that they have power or a physical presence over us. In this case the birds are the more empowered presence. Just as we can sometimes not shake off our worries or the past, this giant man is unable to shake off the birds.
“That great giant, Atlas, whose shoulders bear the circling sky.” Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 172. Birds often circle the sky following migratory patterns using the sun to navigate by day and the stellar compass at night which depends on the constellations. So they have a need for this ‘Atlas god of astronomy and navigation.
So this piece is heavy in it’s symbolism, rich in its references to classical art and architecture and also brings to modern society a philosophical idea and message that sometimes we need to let go of the heavy burden which weighs us down. Especially here in the ‘western’ world where our problems by comparison should be fleeting.