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 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.
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.