During the early stages of research for this exhibition, I was gently advised, by
'someone who knew', that an exhbition of new art from Sri Lanka would be a waste of time,
as the country had not produced an original artist since the Modernist painters of the 43
Group over half a century ago.
Colombo's artists were to confront me with a very different story; one of complexity,
diversity, and above all, a vitality that flew in the face of social constraints.
And then there were the artists of Jaffna
For whilst the people of Sri Lanka have
fought bitterly and suffered more than anyone ever should, the creative energy of the
island gives powerful testimony to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
Yet Sri Lankan art is not all about the war. Neither is it all about a Modernist
legacy. Nor is it simply a synthesis of East and West. The art being produced
in Sri Lanka today is as complex as the country itself, resolutely refusing to collude
with expectations, or to be confined within the boundaries of nationhood.
An earnest desire to reflect some measure of this complexity underscores this
exhibition. And in every work this quality is present, in a multitude of forms: in
the layered duality of Gamages installations and the textured depths of
Rathnayakes panels; in Malathie de Silvas organic marble forms and
Edirisinghes wryly satirical reliefs; in Jagath Ravindras infinite colours,
and Shanathanans dark visions of war-torn Jaffna. In all these works, there is
little that complies with a vision of how Sri Lankan art should look, yet neither is there
any surrendering to a Western artistic vision. There is simply as rich a diversity
of expression as may be found anywhere on the planet. And if originality must be measured,
what better gauge than that?