Nelun Harasgama has been painting ever since she can remember. As a girl she
took classes at the renowned Melbourne Art School, founded by Cora Abrahams.
There Nelun developed her skills, guided by her wonderful teachers, Mrs. Latifa Ismail and Noeliene Fernando.
Ms.Ismail enjoyed taking her students out of the classroom to explore Colombo.
The Vihra Maha Devi Park, The Beaches, Galle face Green… It was
outdoors that Ms. Ismail had her students sit down, to paint. Nelun loved it.
After finishing school at Ladies College in 1977, Nelun went to the
University of Trent to learn the fundamentals of design. In 1981 she left with a degree
in Graphic Visual Communication.
Six months after returning to Sri-Lanka, Nelun joined JWT, and for next
ten years she worked in advertising, including short stints at Masters,
Ribbs, Shri Communications and Grants.
In 1991,she decided to leave the advertising industry and
and joined Barefoot as a designer of fabric and clothes. Today she works on her
own terms, freelancing for a number of clients.She paints in
between her role as mother, wife, designer of books and freelancing as
creative director for various ad campaigns, all conceived and
designed by her.
Nelun’s first exhibition was as a contributor to a group show in 1984 at the
Lionel Wendt . The group consisted of five artists, students
of Lafita Ismail’s adult classes. Michael Anthonis, Sharmaine Mendis were
partcipants (Nelun cannot remember the other two).
Nelun Harasgama’s forthcoming exhibition at the Barefoot Gallery highlights
her characteristic tall, thin like people, without distinctive features
and her stark landscapes. This time, the landscapes focus is on
Hambantota Bay, the paintings sombre in tone with a blue-black hue
Hambantota is where, when not in Colombo, she spends time with her husband,
Luxshman and delightful one of a kind daughter Aringa.
Those of you who know her work will recognise the current series of
paintings, as Nelun depicted similar figures in exhibitions starting
in 1994 at the Hermitage Gallery and thereafter at Gallery 706 and
the Barefoot Gallery.
Beginning in the year 2000, Nelun moved to concentrate on painting landscapes and
the changing environment. Her paintings in those exhibitions consisted of ethereal
images of a landscape that is evolving and vanishing due to our
lack of care and concern. An exceptional exhibition at the Barefoot
Gallery in 2001, titled “wounding, requiem and mourning,” resulted from the
frustration of being witness to the wounding, death, and then, naturally,
the mourning of a landscape which was once there, and now, disappearing.
These paintings depicted in red, black and white an allegorical
reference to our wanton scarring of our countryside. The religious
connotations cannot be ignored.
Nelun was angry at what mankind was doing to our land, trees,
jungles. All of a sudden, she did not care much about people and their
blatant disregard of their environment, their home.
But the Dec. 26 tsunami changed that. Following the distaster, her love of people overshadowed
her concern about the land, and her anger dissipated. Consequently, her figures, once again,
feature prominently. Spurred by the extraordinary number of lives
lost that day – on Dec. 26, 2004 and especially, in her beloved Hambantota
- Nelun saw her “vanishing people” literally vanish, swept with the wave,
displaced, despite the rebuilding efforts.
Where is the amah wearing the Reddha and Hatte sweeping the veranda
timelessly? She paints these people so we will remember them. Ultimately she
paints these images again and again, because she does not want to forget
them, And she does not want us to forget them.
Why does she not paint us? “We are horrid,” she says. “We do not stay in one
place long enough to be painted.”
To the viewer, Nelun’s work is a reminder of how it was once, – these people will
never be part of our lives today. This realization saddens Nelun. It saddens me.
Our generation, especially those of us who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s,
constantly refer to a time where life was simple and we knew the
answers. It is the reason we deeply mourn deaths of loved ones in their 70’s
and 80’s. Gone are they, never to return. They represent a different era,
where values and morals held strong, and a gentle and civilised way of life
was the name of the game. Intelligence in whatever form was deep and true.
But who are we to mourn, this generation in transition? We need to
take what we know and what we‘ve learned and move bravely toward the
future. Our children depend on it. We have to do it to keep us sane, and to
make sense of it all. And the gentle reminder, by Nelun, when we look at her
paintings may be all the sense we need.
A piece on Nelun Harsagama written in 2005 re posted here in the hope she will grace our gallery with an exhibition.