Notes from Sri Lanka


Polly Savage

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 Gamage’s installations and the textured depths of Rathnayake’s panels; in Malathie de Silva’s organic marble forms and Edirisinghe’s wryly satirical reliefs; in Jagath Ravindra’s infinite colours, and Shanathanan’s 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?

Sudath Abeyesekera
Pradeep Chandrasiri
Jayamini de Silva
Malathie de Silva
Wijelatha Edirisinghe
Chaminda Gamage
Kingsley Gunatillake
Tissa Ranasinghe
Sujith Rathnayake
Jagath Ravindra
Dominic Sansoni
T. Sathathanan