Where local skills take shape

With courses that ‘produce 100 percent employable persons’, the Faculty of Visual Arts takes pride in nurturing students’ talents
By Chandani Kirinde

From the Sigirya fresco to the rock carvings in the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura to the intricate temple paintings at Dambulla, Sri Lankans have well preserved historic proof of the multi –faceted talents of local artists. The task of ensuring that the present generations are given the opportunity to hone their skills in such forms of art lies primarily with several government institutions.

Students engaged in sculpture (top) and painting (above). Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

One such place is the Faculty of Visual Arts of the University of Visual and Performing Arts which has over the years embraced with enthusiasm talented young men and women who gain entrance to the Faculty. Many have since gone onto become well established artists and sculptors, learning to use various mediums to enhance their artistic abilities.

“The Government spends more per student during the four year period he/she studies at our Faculty than on a medical student. This includes the costs of providing raw materials to each student be it canvases, paints, tools for sculpture etc.,” Dr. Sarath Gunnasiri Maldeniya, the Dean of the Faculty said.
His association with the Faculty goes back more than 30 years and for him it is a rewarding experience to watch the students bloom under the guidance of their teachers and go onto master their skills.

Gaining entrance to the University of Visual and Performing Arts is highly competitive. More than 680 students had applied for enrolment to the Faulty in 2010 but only 70 students were selected. “We have restrictions on space as well as finances and we have to limit the number of intakes. Our courses have proven to produce 100 percent employable persons at the end of the four years and we have to ensure that the standards are maintained,” Dr.Maldeniya said.

The origins of the Faculty of Visual Arts go as far back as 1893 with the establishment of the Ceylon Technical College where the first course was taught in drawing and painting. In 1949 it moved to the Heywood Building at Horton Place and was made a full-fledged university in 2005.

A walk through the Faculty premises is a treat in itself to see the students engaged in their various activities. The high standards of the stone and wooden carvings as well as paintings are ample proof that the artistic talent of these students surfaces when exposed to the right environment.

The Faculty also affords the unique opportunity of painting live models as part of their training in the final year. “We hire live models to enable the students to learn how to draw the human figure. There are certain cultural and value based sensitivities in this sort of art in our country but we go about it as best as we can,” the Dean explained.

Despite the successes, the Faculty is heavily dependent on state funding which often falls short of the needs of the students, Dr. Maldeniya said. “There are many students who find it difficult to afford their own paints and canvas. We do our best to provide whatever they need but it is always not possible to meet their demands,” he said. The Faculty also largely depends on visiting lecturers to train the students. “We have been asked to recruit permanent lecturers but again the shortage of funds is an obstacle,” he added. He is hopeful the private sector would step in to assist with the needs of the students so that they would be able to realize their full potential.

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