Available at all Barefoot Branches: Colombo 1, 3 and Galle Fort
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.
I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
(From the poet William Wordsworth 1888).
Chaminda seems to dream his images like a poet. Paintings from most recent years have a fluttering quality seemingly poetic and visionary. Images from the mind, … a woman made like a a big central vase, a black woman with plants and wings decorating the surface, black head white lips, white painting with blue placenta-ish plants, black figure with white rings on legs and yellow legs, Some men have wings some black plants have white flowers, it seems to celebrate difference. Two black and white men facing each other surrounded by leaves nose to nose, many hands wings and tools. The ground is made expressively with strong colour and the figures are floated. Outlines – simple and flowing – I am reminded of Greek vases and Roman mural painting in the flatness and archetypal nature of the imagery. Their content seems formal as well as symbolic; the paintings are carefully constructed.
Why are the figures in Chaminda’s paintings black and white? Are they discussing divide, are they about reconciliation the bringing together of opposites? The juxtapositions are always beautiful and suggest light and shadow, privacy and the hidden world of the imagination. They also sometimes contain sharp edged implements and jagged plants, suggesting weapons, spears and barbed fences. It would be easy to over-interpret these paintings, reading then as symbolic in a literal manner. Their interpretation is ambigous enough to be left to the viewer.
The surfaces of the latest paintings are covered in train tickets that are used as the ground for the painting. This interuption of the surface (which happens in some of the other work) is a reminder of material reality, the long history of collage is evoked, a harsh reminder that the dream world is a world you wake up from….. or is it about the journey the dreaming journey where you can project your imagination on anything – the power of art and the imagination to transform anything and everything. This is a wake up call to materiality and to today’s world.
Double interpretation, Black and white, beautiful and harsh, expressive ground and delicate formal figure placements, material and illusion – it is a world of opposites. This swinging ambiguity seems to me to be at the root of Chaminda’s beautiful paintings, he permits the material to bring his art like all good art firmly into the real world. I believe that even in the late 90’s when I first knew his work, materiality of the surface, the stuff of paint and touch were at the heart of Chaminda’s paintings. He includes doubt. His brilliant use of material and imagery is not allowed to overwhelm – everything is in balance. The references are universal to painting and the discourse is transcultural.
Andrew Stahl August 11th 2011
Andrew Stahl : Director of Studies Undergraduate Programmes, Head of Undergraduate Painting. Slade School of Fine Art, London ,UK
A Buddhist Monk Takes up arms to resist the Chinese Invasion of Tibet-then spend the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve herself to death. Nine people, nine lives; each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. William Dalrymple delves deep into the heart of a nation torn between the relentless onslaught of modernity and the continuity of ancient traditions.
One copy left at the Barefoot Bookshop. rs. 4000/-
‘Around My French Table is the book that grew and grew and it grew to be so big that there wasn’t room for the glossary, so here it is. Like the glossary in Baking From My Home to Yours, this one will give you information on tools, techniques and ingredients. If you find that something’s missing – scream! The good thing about having it here, online, is that I can add and edit.’
Art as Advocate
In our increasingly globalized world with an expanding international art-scene boasting biennials and art fairs in a rising number of countries giving transnational exposure to artists; the accessibility of images and interpretations on the internet, arts potential for universal communication makes it a compelling form of activism. Art can strike at our ethos awakening us from the anesthetizing forces of the mainstream to distinguish the Non-Aligned visions that resist conformity and give presence to the marginalized. It can unite when language fails and ideologies clash, producing a generative exchange.
Artists build their careers on talent, perseverance, and an entrepreneurial discipline that allows for a fluid structure to nourish creativity. They enrich our society by translating ideas into expressive and aesthetic mediums. However, they often have to struggle to justify their profession and withstand social and economic pressures to continue to produce. Making art is a constructive practice. When displayed the outcome of this process is a gift that we are encouraged to look at in order to reflectively understand something and ponder it’s meaning. Through this act of looking, appreciation and contemplation we are connected beyond language, national boundaries, politics and dogmas to the essence of our shared human existence.
Non-Aligned brings together a variety of work from artists of different backgrounds and experiences who share the unique landscape of Sri Lanka, whether by nationality, residence or spirit. Anchored to this site are aspects of their identity, relationships, memories, hopes and dreams. The works on display highlight different issues, ranging from the personal, collective, political and environmental and presented in tones varying from the reverential to humorous. This dialogue gives space for the discussion and critique of what it means to be attached to a place and the communal responsibilities for ensuring its positive future.
As we are becoming more globally interconnected we are threatened not only by our own nation’s political, economic and environmental crises, but that of the planet’s, which is rampant with inequalities, competition for natural resources, and violence. In these challenging times there are persuasive campaigners, who attempt to give the impression of security through the reinstatement of retro forms of Nationalism that promote a propagandistic nostalgic myth of society. These tactics to engage people on base levels of fear and ignorance driven by the self-interests of hierarchical power structures that often employ inhumane and unethical practices is not the way towards a cooperative civilization.
It is through the unified conduct of tolerance, compassion, and dignity, the support of educational and artistic integrity, and diplomatic interchange that we can work towards the prospect of peace. The growing international platform for the arts voraciously desires new content and presentations. Thus there is space for art to advocate humanity and the planet and influence positive change. The Non-Aligned must persist in their endeavor to create and we need to look deeply.
Natalie Sanderson, 2011
Natalie Sanderson is a curator and filmmaker currently pursuing a doctorate in Art Theory at the University of Oxford.
Published here with permission by the author and, originally printed in the catalogue available for sale at the Barefoot Gallery.
Written specifically for the Non Aligned exhibition on show at the Barefoot Gallery from March 24,- April 19, 2011. A group exhibition featuring artists: Muhanned Cader, Mariah Lookman, Vaidehi Raja, Lala Rukh, Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan and Ieuan Weinman.
Exhibition will remain open at the Barefoot Gallery until the end of
Druvinka is an established artist who has held exhibitions around the world. Born in Sri Lanka, she currently resides and paints in Himachal Pradesh, India with her two sons, Tashi and Drona. We are very pleased to present her 13th exhibition of paintings, which may very well be the peak of her working life so far.
The canvases speak with the assuredness of an artist who has found her place. The darkness and suffering implied in her earlier works – staggeringly beautiful as it was – is disappearing. In this collection, we sense hope; witness glimpses of a new beginning, an absolute control of form, a show of mastery. Each layer of water-based paint is visible on the canvas. Any line unappreciated in the process of painting gets incorporated into the work. Druvinka will use it; such is her practical command of the tempera technique. It is interesting to see an old technique delivered in such a contemporary manner, this will appeal to art lovers who tire of the conceptual installations that are exhibited and are searching for something new and exciting on a painting. Druvinka’s work delivers.
Other than the lingam and the yoni ( that everyone else is running away from ) Druvinka has introduced two new forms in this collection: The Snake and Lord Ganesh. The snake is there for protection, and for the intrigue of its moving shape. Druvinka lives in Shiva’s valley, where snakes are considered nature spirits. They bring rain and fertility and are only malevolent to humans when they have been mistreated. Ganesh represents the vehicle to transport you from one life experience to another and invokes the intellect and wisdom. Our friendly ‘remover of obstacles’ dances on the canvases with his feature serpent. Druvinka is on the threshold of new beginnings- in her work and in her life.
Students of Visual Arts & Design and Performing Arts Unit
University of Kelaniya
Barefoot Gallery, Colombo Sri Lanka, 25 April – 10 May, 2008
B.M.C.C. Krishnatha Basnayake – Dream Zone
R.A.N. Chandani Hatharasinghe – Western Province
P.R. Sanjula Kaumudi Karunarathna – Fantasy Friends
J.M. Chirthrapali Champa Kumari – Rebuilding of My Body
N.A. Amali Shrimani Kumari – Cooked Fashion
M.M.A. Nelika Lakmini – Still Life
Madduma Patabendige Shyamali – The Silent Protest
W.T. Dhammika Sirimanne – untitled
R.M. Duminda Subhashana – My Share of Tsunami
W.L. Sandun Mahesh Weerasinghe – Masochism
I was privileged to attend this exhibit of student work from the University of Kelaniya. It was a wonderful experience to see these young artists express themselves and their inner visions so freely, especially given the highly regimented, if not conservative, nature of their formal training. It is always good to see true talent break free from the conventional bonds that are placed around it.
It seems to me an especially difficult thing to do here in Sri Lanka, given the highly structured and formalized nature of the education system, where objective technical skills in subject matter (math, science, history, the Arts, whatever) are given a higher priority than the other side of the academic coin; analysis, a critical and personal approach, and creativity.
These students were exceptionally lucky. They fell under the tutelage of Kingsley Gunatillake, a visiting lecturer at the University of Kelaniya and Horton Place. From what I hear tell, Professor Gunatillake’s decidedly unorthodox manner of nurturing his students, including outside-of-class rap sessions and encouraging both honesty and creativity, was just the fertilizer needed to allow these artists to blossom. Lucky indeed, and lucky for the University of Kelaniya; the education system in Sri Lanka needs more Mr. Gunatillakes, who are willing to trust their students and encourage them to take risks and push beyond the formal and the acceptable. And I mean this for all subjects of study.
It is difficult to summarize the work as a whole, given the wide range of subject matter discussed, not to say the wide variety of materials used. Perhaps the one unifying factor of the exhibit is the deeply personal, deeply psychological and deeply vulnerable expressions that find voice here. As mentioned, the subject matter is wide in scope (abortion to the tsunami to internet porn, etc.) but they are all uniformly dealt with in an immediate, personal way.
Each piece, or series of pieces, tackles a different subject matter, and each artist presents their ideas in an open and honest way. For example, whatever your politics on the subject of abortion, Madduma Patabendige Shyamali’s “The Silent Protest,” does give one pause in its simultaneously abstract yet graphic depiction of the cost of abortion. The simple use of small baby cream bottles, each with an abstract form of a woman, each with a less abstract figure of an unborn child, underlines the seriousness of the decision.
The work of one contributor especially surprised me. The “Still Life” series by M.M.A. Nelika Lakmini took a bit of pondering and thinking on my part before I realized what was going on. When one thinks conventionally of still life paintings, one conjures up images of Old Master paintings of apples, insects, a vase of flowers, and perhaps a pewter pitcher or two. This time I was confronted a riotous blur of color, painted with thick strokes of paint that at first didn’t seem to quite form into anything recognizable. Then I started to realize, “Hey, that looks like a plastic cup. And that looks like a plastic water bottle.” It was then that I realized I was looking at the antithesis of the classic still life: a pile of garbage. I enjoyed being forced to think about what I was seeing, and the commentary on the growing throw-away consumerism and lack of environmental consciousness in Sri Lanka was quite refreshing.
“My Share of Tsunami” by R.M. Duminda Subhashana and “Western Province” by R.A.N. Chandani Hatharasinghe provide an interesting commentary on the psychology of human suffering. I live in Batticaloa, and near my house still sits the wreck of van. When the tsunami hit, this van was driving along a road at the side of a lagoon, and the waves washed the van almost a kilometer inland, rolling it down the lagoon, and killing the entire extended family of passengers. Thus for me “My Share of Tsunami,” which is constructed out of pieces of car doors, with painted parts of human bodies, including horrified faces, spoke to me in a particularly effective way. On the opposite side of the spectrum, “Western Province,” a series of maps on which are painted faces and torn/burned/bloodied clothes speaks to the horror of terror bombings in the West, especially in the Colombo area. The faces of the victims are sketched in to become a part of the maps themselves, and illustrate the community gaps their abrupt deaths leave behind. This is especially timely given the two bombings two nights ago (25 April 2008). Suffering, whether as an act of God or manmade, result in the suffering of average people, the little people, as is illustrated by both artist’s work.
Two pieces talk directly to the experience of modern woman in Sri Lanka. J.M. Chirthrapali Champa Kumari created a set of four inter-related pieces called “Rebuilding of my Body.” Each piece has one or two pictures of the artist in various dress styles – blue jeans, or a dress, for example. These photos are then echoed throughout the pieces in rows of matching silhouettes, each one differently composed. Many are cut-outs of various fabrics manufactured around the world. The message of a lack of control over self image is patently clear, as is the frenetic drive to fit all categories of beauty – as decided by outsiders. In a similar vein, “Cooked Fashion” by N.A. Amali Shrimani Kumari is a commentary of the split between the traditional and modern roles of women as seen through style and fashion. The use of simple cooking pots of the kind used in everyday households in Sri Lanka, the interiors of which contain sketches and paintings of women in hip clothing, speaks to the schizophrenia of a modern woman in a still-traditional society, as well as illustrates that tradition – traditional values, traditional tastes, etc, – still form the solid backbone of modern woman in Sri Lanka. This also seems to imply that all this mad rush to follow Western fashion trends is actually superficial, and that the core of a woman does not change.
Two pieces playfully reckon back to back to the wonderful days of childhood and childhood imagination. First there is the untitled piece by W.T. Dhammika Sirimanne. It comprises a set of tiny abstract animals, each no more than a centimeter or two high, constructed out of wire, beads, bits of materials and so forth. Each animal is individual and full of character. Some look like insects, others like tiny miniatures of larger animals found in nature. The skill of construction, with the imagination involved, is really quite impressive.
The second “childhood” piece caught my eye immediately and is one of my favorites. “Imaginary Friends,” by P.R. Sanjula Kaumudi Karunarathna is absolutely delightful. I’m not sure how many there are, but a swarm of tiny sci-fi robotic looking creatures enters through one window and, antlike, swarms down the wall, pools onto the floor, and then climbs back up and out through another window. The creatures themselves, made of bits of wire, beads and circuitry, are individualized. The wave to each other, congregate to have discussion, and call to each other across the distance. You can practically hear the faint murmur of little beeps, squeaks, and chirps. The overall effect is like some fantastic Disney-esque (and I mean this is a good way) children’s movie. The good kind; the kind that makes you feel warm and glow-ey.
Lastly, there are two deeply psychological studies on desire.
B.M.C.C. Krishnatha Basnayake apparently has a thing for Aishwara Rai (who wouldn’t?) and an active fantasy life. However, one of his dreams went from the erotic to the horrific, as dreams are unfortunately wont to do. He expresses this experience in his piece, “Dream Zone,” an extremely well conceived piece. On the ceiling is an embroidered pillow, the colored threads of which are pulled tautly down to the floor. As the threads get close to the floor, the colors dim, eventually reaching the floor a uniform black. Small glass balls, with painted pictures of Ms. Rai, hang throughout the piece, although more heavily concentrated towards the black-threaded bottom. This top-down linear expression of a dream which was probably not linear in form, is a particularly imaginative way of expressing the change from erotic to scary. I hope that working this piece has allowed the artist to return to former, happier dreams of Ms. Rai.
The last piece is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Called “Masochism,” this piece is both very personal and quite universal. W.L. Sandun Mahesh Weerasinghe has really opened up and exposed himself, as it were, or at least one aspect of his inner self, to the full glare of the public. In this piece, which is a series of computer mother boards, and CD cases, the viewer finds erotic photos of naked women, over which crawl presumably real dried insects. In his explanation, the artist writes about a fascination (obsession? addiction?) to internet pornography and the dissatisfaction that ultimately comes from an overload of overly-easy to get, overly-explicit, overly-stereotypical images that eventually kill off the romance and mystery of one of the greatest experiences of existence; the act of making love. By calling it “Masochism,” the artist is commenting on the pain of conflicting desires and compulsions; the need for meaning in sex, versus the physical (and oft time psychological) need to have it off. I think this is very brave and honest on the part of the artist, considering the discussion of the subject matter takes place in a conservative social context. Additionally, this is a universal subject in this day of DVDs, the internet, and cable TV stations. So bravo to him, for his honesty, his bravery, and his understanding of a very human failing.
Actually, bravo to all the students, who have obviously invested a lot of themselves into their work. The results are uniformly successful. If the talents displayed at this exhibit are an indication of the future of art in Sri Lanka, despite the overly formalized training sometimes received here, then these young artists have a fine future ahead of them, as does Art in Sri Lanka in general.
Well done! Well done indeed!
San Francisco / Los Angeles / Batticaloa