Rohan Amarasinghe first exhibited his work shortly after an uprising of Sri Lankan youth in the 70s. Soon after his 1978 exhibition Amarasinghe joined the advertising industry and moved away from the art scene until his next show in 1997. This long withdrawal allowed Amarasinghe to develop as a graphic designer, the traits of which can be viewed in the conceptualization and minimalism of his canvases.
At first glance of his work and portfolio an immediate assumption of the politically conceptual presents itself. While Amarasinghe makes no secret of his views on the local political and social environment, the strong presence of symbolism in his work presents a relevance to Buddhism and ancestry.
On one canvas, the image of the grey skull immediately implies death. A candy pink painted canvas, white lotuses and a butterfly flying overhead contrast with this symbol. It is this relationship between symbols, suggesting the subjects of ‘life and death’ that embody Amarasinghe’s oeuvre. His works all carry a strong contrast with the use of symbolism. The artist describes the relation of the Naga (snake) to hydraulic heritage (it is a symbol that appears in stone near ancient waterways of the country) as he also discusses the snake in the context of Sri Lanka’s turbulent past; a time when many waterways were cut by the LTTE.
The snake in connection to water, thereby represents fertility; its dearth and abundance.
Amarasinghe is one of many Sri Lankans who have experienced the war firsthand, and as he shows us pictures of blinded soldiers, who risked their lives to open up the waterways for the people, he exudes empathy for the lives damaged and lost in Sri Lanka over a period of 30 years. The symbols in Amarasinghe’s work carry his own stories while they also evoke one’s own personal emotions. In order to comprehend this artist and his work one must recognize the symbolism, appreciate the contrast and translate them; the result, a deeper understanding of one’s self.
Life, an exhibition of new work by Rohan Amarasinghe, will be on at the SF Gallery until May 24. For further information or an e-catalogue contact firstname.lastname@example.org.