19th March 2000

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Silence that screams for change

By Laila Nasry

For a man who is so eloquent, his works of art reflect an amazing muteness. The genius in him is brought out not when he attains absolute peace (most other artists talk about) but when his mind is restless and uneasy. Everything about him is in disagreement. Yes, Jagath Weerasinghe is one big contradiction. But a contradiction that makes sense. Do I sound like I'm contradicting myself...oh well?

I went expecting a typical "arty" looking artist, instead here he was clad in a pair of jeans and shirt. We get talking, about his work and contrary to the norm I'm informed his works of art are of "non-art" material. Jagath's paintings, which currently are on display at the Barefoot gallery reflect this contradiction. The present exhibition has two themes: 'Archaeology of Today' and '(My) Inability of Painting Woman'.

A teacher of archaeology at the Postgraduate Institute, for his first theme Jagath uses what is called "non-art" material like cement, pottery pieces, tar, sand and photocopied paper to convey his ideas. He tries to look at today from an archaeological point of view. It is here that the contradiction lies. Archaeology signifies all that is in the past, buried and done with. There isn't and cannot be an archaeology of today. For an archaeologist, in terms of excavation, pottery is the mark of pre-modernity. However, in the context of 'today' he feels the symbol of modernity would be plastic. In contrast it is this very plastic that he hasn't used in his art, creating that dissension which is an inherent quality of his work.

The theme has greater relevance and delves deeper into society's pre-dominant issues today. The series could be considered both a critique and a reflection on the traumatic political climate in Sri Lanka. He feels we are still a pre-modern feudal society. We remain in our same old slot with hardly any change. Our outlook is archaic and stagnant making us, in an archaeological sense, the pottery pieces that would be found today as opposed to the plastic that it should be.

A pro-capitalist, Jagath's work screams for social change. "We act like feudal kings. This is easily observed between political parties... between people and this causes suffering. We must resolve our issues in a modern capitalist way." Nevertheless, his work has a certain muteness. A silence that comes from the material he uses. That silence is loud enough to jolt you towards possible change. This optimism is reflected in his use of colour -- where in the dark murky works of art there is a glimmer of yellow light symbolising hope.

His women are on the first floor, elevated, on the conventional "pedestal". They comprise his next theme and though on the same lines of negation it has something different and original to it. He tries to paint women outside the history of art. Away from the general concept of women who have always been seen, as pleasure for the male gaze. In his art he tries to capture women in their own right, setting them free from their social mould. He tries painting them in black away from the typical Sri Lankan or European image of women. However, he is unable to persist, riveting back to the traditional image, by putting them in cheetta (chintz) material. In his art modern women are caged in conventionality. This is his contradiction and from here springs his inability to paint a woman.

Her paintings are full of life

By Ruhanie Perera

"A painting has to have a soul," says Ouida Keuneman and her paintings certainly do. This enchanting collection of original paintings will be exhibited by Ouida on March 25 from 6.30 8.30 p.m. at a private gallery at her residence, 8/2, 27th Lane, (off Inner Flower Road) Colombo 7.

It's amazing that Ouida who is so at home with a paintbrush in her hand wasn't a child artist. "In fact I wasn't at all interested in it." It was much later in life that she took to painting, and even then it was just a hobby.

Yet, it is clear that what she considered her hobby was really her prowess, for painting is something that Ouida has a passion for, even though it is "rather time consuming". Today art has become a solace and brings her inner peace and tranquillity. "It is an antidote to loneliness. You are never alone when you paint."

Just like most artists, Ouida learnt techniques at an art school, but pretty soon her creative instinct told her it was time to move on. "Technique isn't a bad thing. To learn the craft is useful. But I needed to break away. Paintings that concentrate on technique alone look mechanical," says Ouida.

Looking at her paintings which are full of life, one understands her point of view.

Taste of Sinhala

May you live long

By Prof. J.B. Disanayaka

When you turn on your television to watch news, you'll be greeted by the Sinhala news reader, with folded palms, with the word "a:yubo:van". Sri Lankan Airlines welcomes you on board with the same word. That's the way the Sinhalese greet each other in formal situations.

This word is really a contraction of three Sinhala words: "a:yu" meaning 'long life' "bo:" meaning 'much' and "van" meaning 'let it be'. When all three words are put together, it is a wish that says, 'May you live long!' This is, however, a wish that is made on formal social occasions. In informal social situations, such as when two friends meet during the day, on the road, in the office, in the market or in the temple, the Sinhalese resort to other forms of informal greetings.

One of the commonest informal greetings is the word "kohomada", which is roughly equivalent to the American greeting "hi", which is itself a contraction of the phrase "how are you?" It is not a question but just a greeting that seeks the conventional answer "Fine".

The Sinhala greeting is also a contraction of the sentence "saepa sani:pa kohomada?" which means 'How is your comfort (saepa) and health (sani:pa)?' The answer to this greeting, which resembles a question, is also a conventional phrase: "ohe innava" or "varadak nae:" meaning that there is nothing wrong, which is another way of saying "Fine".

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