Over the last few years I’ve watched and enjoyed Kavita’s many Star Trek paintings as they came to life under the command of her paintbrushes. These pieces had always excited and engaged me, and yet I must admit that I was wholly unprepared for the range of emotions and visceral reactions that would be invoked in me as I watch the progress of her painting, “A Counterpart” piece. At each stage of the piece, Kavita shared her incredible work and I found myself wanting to post a comment but was thwarted by the complexity of my reactions to the image.
I have always loved Star Trek, even as a child when I would watch the Original Series as a new telecast on screen. My love of Star Trek did not always garner support at home however, as my father did not like science fiction. While my love for Star Trek began early, it would be a number of years before I truly understood the deeper themes within the storytelling and really saw how the Star Trek universe tackled social issues that have remained relevant over 50 years on. My love for Mister Spock also began early, and has stayed with me as the decades passed; the Vulcan philosophy of ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’ resonates deeply within me.
When Star Trek The Next Generation came along, I found that it held true to the vision that I had fallen in love with through the Original Series. The Enterprise D and her crew, seeking out new life and new civilizations, striving to maintain the non-interference Prime Directive. Jean-Luc Picard modelled an honourable Captain, a man working through all of his many difficult decisions to maintain the integrity of the Federation and thereby uphold the ideals first framed in the Original Series. Indeed it was Captain Picard’s ever-striving for nobility through his commitment to Starfleet ideals that earned him a place in my heart.
As The Borg Collective was introduced, it soon became clear to me that, in many ways, their ‘mandate’ was a complete flip side of the Federation’s non-intervention directive towards other species. While the Federation’s Starfleet exploration sought out new life and new wisdom, they chose to invite rather than to command the joining of minds and forces under the United Federation of Planets, therefore always leaving the autonomy of a species in its own hands. The Borg, by contrast, assimilated without consent, seeing value only in its chosen collective form.
For me, the Borg Collective has always been a complex study of a society. On one level they portray the drive to assimilate other worlds to achieve perfection by adding the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to that of the Borg. While the Borg hive mind contains all the data and wisdom that a species has learned and experienced, the elements that human beings and other species value are discarded, as if without worth, and are not seen in the Borg. There is no art displayed within a Borg Cube as we would see in a Federation starship, nor tales of valour sung, as on a Klingon battle cruiser, for example. Creativity, individualism and diversity are stripped away with an eye only to assimilation.
In Kavita’s piece, A Counterpart, the traumatic event of Captain Picard’s assimilation is explored. In this event, captured on canvas, The Borg have attempted to strip away the essential individuality of Captain Picard, even to the extent that he is now given a Borg name: Locutus. In the image, Kavita captures the Borg Queen’s curious examination of “Locutus”. The Queen does not understand the honourable nature of humanity that Jean-Luc Picard portrays, nor does she seek to understand it. She has the imperious sureness that “Locutus” is simply another drone that serves her, and by extension, the Collective. The Queen exhibits a belief in her right to unquestionable supremacy.
What I find unsettling in this image is the Queen’s position of extreme intimacy with “Locutus”. She enters, without consideration of Captain Picard’s wishes, the physical space that we, as human beings, reserve solely for our most cherished, trusted and intimate companions. She then engages in another disconcerting act of intense intimacy as she touches his face. But this is a dispassionate intimacy. Even as the Queen stands within Picard’s intimate space and touches his face, her hands are gloved, provoking thoughts of the examination of a lab specimen, and nothing more.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the related reasons why this piece is also so compelling to me. The Borg Queen is, in fact, both ruthless AND sensual. In the movie First Contact, where this scene takes place, we learn that the Queen actually desired Locutus to become her Consort. In the film, the Queen uses Commander Data, providing him with human flesh and attempting to seduce him with the one thing he most desires: the sensuality of human feeling. While ‘courting’ Commander Data, the Queen reacts to Jean-Luc Picard as a spurned lover would, denying that she ever wished to have “Locutus” as her Consort. But it is evident that Jean-Luc himself remembers all too well. He retains the memories of his time as “Locutus of Borg”; time spent with the Queen. So, in this image, drawn from Picard’s memory of his existence as “Locutus”, we see the Queen’s physical intimacy with him in a potentially slightly different context. Perhaps the look in the Queen’s eye and the intimacy she demonstrates is not simply one of power and dispassionate curiosity after all. Indeed, might this be the moment of the Queen’s attempted seduction of “Locutus”; the moment she attempts to make him her desired Consort? The undeniably sensual element to the piece is compelling, and presents a tension between the feminine and masculine, Borg Queen and drone, that as a viewer, I find palpable.
Thinking further about the discomfort that the image provoked in me, I came to realize that the uncomfortable feelings were due to the parallels I sense between the Borg’s ‘forced assimilation’ and variations of ownership and assimilation we human beings inflict upon others in our current human society. While it is natural that we seek a certain level of conformity of ideas and ideology in any society for it to function, the extent to which it appears to be happening in present day seems somehow more extreme. The current push for conformity appears to be vastly overriding any value for infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Factions of society in our current timeline are at odds with one another in ways that many of us would have thought to be unimaginable only a few years ago. And as oppressions and assimilations are brought to light, and into broader public awareness, our eyes are being opened to a painful reality and new view of OUR world and civilization. It begs the uncomfortable question, just how different are we from the Borg?
In the painting, Locutus’ face portrays the neutrality and passivity of a Borg drone, keeping anything that remains of Jean-Luc Picard hidden from view. And while this camouflage is almost complete, there is a small window that belies the soul of our Captain within: the subtle welling up of a single tear within Locutus’ eyes reveals the presence of Picard beneath the Borg cybernetic implants and compromised human flesh and blood.
In the end, Jean-Luc Picard conveys through his eyes the dramatic and striking portrayal of the battle between dominance and the honourable path in life. He shows us that resistance is NOT futile.
Like all wondrous art, the beauty of Kavita’s “A Counterpart” ‘is in the eye of the beholder’, and indeed the deeper meaning held within the image is such an individual, yet simultaneously collective experience. “A Counterpart” draws me into the underlying emotions and interplay between two very strong-willed individuals who represent vastly different ideologies and approaches within a created universe. But more to the point, it draws me into the interplay of these ideologies and approaches within my society, and indeed, more pointedly, within myself.
And to that end, I say “Thank you, Kavita”, for this very thought provoking and provocative piece of incredible artistry that helps me to get to know the infinite diversity in infinite combinations within myself.
Live Long. And Prosper,