- Do the passers-by hear the cries of these twisted figures? Do they notice their whispers? Apparently yes because these sculptures with improbable shapes do not leave the onlookers insensitive. "One day, a passer-by told me that my Jesus was about to speak," recalled Pem, the woodcarver whose work is always exhibited in a corner of the Caudan shopping mall in Port Louis. With mouths wide open or even completely silenced by fingers in front of their lips, the characters devised by Pem, nonetheless communicate. "When I find a piece of wood, I listen it in order to understand what it wants to tell me, and then I carve it so that it can express itself." Pem makes use of raw materials, such as eucalyptus, longan tree, casuarinas, guava and tecoma. He uses trunks and roots that he collects in the forest. "I do not cut the trees. I collect neglected wood. When I sculpt them, I do not change their forms. Thus, they seem more vivid," notes the artist. Pem had this brainwave about thirty years ago. Whilst going back home, the labourer stumbled on a root. "With its twisted shape, it seemed to want to tell me something." Since then, Pem has given up working in the fields in order to devote himself to the roots, listening and conveying what they have to say. But do not ask him what his sculptures say or do not say. "It is up to each individual to listen to what the wood is saying to them," states the artist. Besides, everyone is free to interpret what they want as Pem does not identify the faces. Art brut The works of Pem spring from his spontaneity in front of the wood. "I don't do any sketches before carving. I cut directly in accordance with my current inspiration." Therefore, each object turns out to be unique. Sometimes accidents occur and the work in progress breaks. But that does not seem to disturb the artist. "If the wood breaks, I collect the pieces and do other sculptures." With a chisel or gouge, Pem carves the wood under the watchful eye of the passers-by. His workshop is there, in the midst of his sculptures. The features blend with those that have already been carved out by nature. He works on the fat edge, the cracks and the ramifications to find random shapes, faces, mouths, an organ or even a finger. Human shapes are embedded within a piece of wood. An approach and products that some people describe as an art brut. One of the peculiarities of Pem's themes is the exclusive relationship with humans. "I carve only human faces because I can feel what people feel. Not animals," he says. Thus, without realising it, Pem seems to have defined his own style characterizsed by the authenticity of the facial expressions of these characters with deliberately coarse features. An authenticity that seems only to reflect the character of the artist.
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