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 highlight
her characteristic tall, thin people, and stark landscapes.
This time, the landscape focus is on Hambantota Bay. The paintings;
sombre in tone, colored 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. Nelun painted similar figures and exhibited her work
in 1994 at the Hermitage Gallery and, thereafter, at Gallery 706 and
the Barefoot Gallery.
In the year 2000, Nelun moved to concentrate on painting landscapes and
the changing environment. The paintings that were exhibited consisted of ethereal
images of a landscape that is vanishing due to our
lack of “care and concern.” A landmark exhibition at the Barefoot
Gallery in 2001, titled “wounding, requiem and mourning,” was the result of the
frustration of being witness to the “wounding, death, and
the mourning” of a landscape that is fast disappearing.
These paintings are depicted in red, black and white an allegorical
reference to our wanton scarring of our countryside.
Nelun was angry at what mankind was doing to the land, trees,
jungles. All of a sudden, she did not care much about people and their
blatant disregard of the environment, their natural habitat.
The Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami changed that. Following the distaster, her love of people
overshadowed her concern for the land and her anger dissipated.
Once again,figures feature prominently. Spurred by the extraordinary number of lives
lost that day – especially in her beloved Hambantota – Nelun saw her
“vanishing people” literally vanish — swept with the wave–
displaced, lost, despite the rebuilding efforts.
Where is the Amma wearing the Reddha and Hatte sweeping the veranda?
She paints these people so we will remember them. In the end, 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
nostalgically refer to a time when life was simple and the
answers to our questions seemed simple. This may be the reason we deeply
mourn deaths of loved ones in their 70’s and 80’s. They represent a different era,
values and morals were unwavering 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 question 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; to keep sane, and to
make sense of it all.
This gentle reminder by Nelun, when we view her
paintings may be the catalyst that we need.
A piece on Nelun Harsagama written in 2005 re posted here in the hope she will grace our gallery with an exhibition.