22nd February 1998


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Where tradition comes together

By Hiranthi Fernando

The Contempo rary Tradi tional Crafts Museum recently opened at the Gramodaya Folk Art Centre in Battaramulla is well worth a visit. Arrayed in its galleries is an outstanding collection of hand crafted articles produced by talented craftsmen. Dedicated to the craftsmen of Sri Lanka, the Museum truly represents the crafts of every province in the country.

Around 700 pieces of contemporary traditional handicrafts are attractively grouped and displayed.

Some articles are placed in large glass showcases while others such as furniture stand free. There was an impressive collection of brass castings and carvings mostly drawn from the Central Province.

Large ornately carved vases, bowls, oil lamps and betel trays were much in evidence. Trays and plaques of varying shapes and sizes, jewellery boxes and the elegant water pots or 'kendiya' were skilfully carved in traditional designs. The inlaid trays of brass, silver and copper were beautiful.

An unusual piece among the brassware was a dressing table crafted completely in brass. Its central mirror and two hinged side mirrors were bordered in brass carving. A large square receptacle fashioned in copper, silver and brass was also uncommon.

Exquisitely hand crafted articles in sterling silver and plated silver also came from master craftsmen of the Central Province. There were elegant tea sets, beautiful trays, jewellery boxes, serving spoons and tea spoons inlaid with stones as well as a magnificent perahera elephant set with semi precious stones. Placed among the silver were also seen some items made of oxidised brass which gives an attractive burnished effect.

Wood carvings from seven provinces were displayed at the Museum. They were executed in many varieties of wood such as Ebony, Mahogany, Palu, Sandun, Kaduru, Kolon and Nadun.

There were many figures of the Buddha as well as other religious statues. There were figures of men and women in many poses, a vedda couple, a stilt fisherman and bullock carts carved out in great detail. There was also a bust of Senarath Paranawithana and a skilfully carved piece of Martin Wickremasinghe and Maxim Ghorky engaged in a game of draughts. What was special about the wood carvings seen at the Museum were the facial expressions of the figures.

From the Southern Province and the Western Province were seen colourful masks of all types. There were over fifty different masks. The familiar masks used in mask dancing and devil dancing, kolam masks and animal faces. A large Makara Raksha mask stood outside the showcase. An array of laquer work including tables, chairs, teapoys, stools and lamp stands as well as a pair of 'Sesath' and 'Muraudha' were also drawn from the Central and Western Provinces.

Among the textile items were the National Flag and fifteen different district flags by the Kandyan Arts Society. An embroidered betel bag which was used to carry betel leaves in the days gone by lay in a showcase among other exhibits. Among frothy pillow lace and fine tattin lay an ornately embroidered Kandyan Nilame's dress with headdress and shoes all heavily encrusted with stones and sequins.

A grand collection of puppets were the work of a traditional puppeteer from the Southern Province. There were also a wide array of cloth and paper dolls depicting traditional Sri Lankan characters.

Hung on the walls were Batik hangings and Dumbara woven mats. There was also a variety of rush and reedware items such as mats, baskets, hats and boxes made of many kinds of reeds and leaves. There were baskets and boxes of Palmyra to represent the craftsmen from the North Eastern Province. Also seen were articles in ekel, bamboo and cane as well as a few coir items.

Traditional Kandyan and low country drums and musical instruments were made by craftsmen of the Central, North Central and Western Provinces while stonecraft was displayed by the North Eastern craftsmen. Ornamental and household articles of red clay were drawn from several provinces. There were also a few pieces of handmade ceramicware. Boxes, bowls, chair, tea poy, dishes, spoons and even an elaborate Paththirippuwa made with ebony inlaid with porcupine quills were a speciality of the craftsmen of the South and Uva. There were some items of tortoise shell which however is now banned from use.

To complete the display was a collection of silver jewellery. There were traditional chains such as 'Polmal male', 'Pethi male', 'Gedi male', Agate chains and chains with heavy gem studded pendants. Sets of bridal jewellery, chunky bangles and dainty bracelets and anklets, waist chains, and the traditional bridal head dress with the pendant on the forehead were turned out by craftsmen of the Central, Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.

"We have displayed here articles from every province in the country including the North," says Desamanya Mrs. Siva Obeyesekere, Chairperson of the National Crafts Council. "What is seen in this Museum are not antiques. Whatever traditional crafts people are producing today are displayed here to portray the crafts of the country. Some of these crafts are not known. Unless a vigorous effort is made to preserve the crafts we may lose them. I felt this Museum was important in order to document and preserve these crafts so that future generations could see and try to reproduce".

Mrs. Obeyesekere who was instrumental in the establishment of the craft emporium Laksala in order to revive the crafts of Sri Lanka has had a long association with the traditional crafts people of the country. She said it took them four years to collect and sort out the handicrafts displayed in the Museum.

Tilak exhibits in Oslo

Architect de signer Tilak Samarawickrema, will present a one man exhibition "Modern Woven Art from Sri Lanka" at Norsk Form: The Centre for Design and Architecture and the Built Environment in Oslo, Norway from February 25 -March 29.

The exhibition will be opened by Madam Tove Strand Gerhardsen, Director NORAD and former cabinet minister of the Norwegian government. This exhibition at the prestigious architecture and design museum Norsk Form in Oslo, Norway is housed at a contemporary architectural space and would have 35 pieces of Tilak's hand-woven cotten tapestries, produced by Lanka Textiles. Langenthal, Switzerland. A video documentary on the work of Tilak Samarawickrema produced by YA TV, Colombo will be screened at the museum.

Inspired by music and Literature

American artist Douglas Johnson will exhibit his work at the Gallery 706 from February 27 to March 12.

Born in 1937 in Michigan, Johnson graduated with a Master's Degree in Fine Arts from Columbia University in 1962. During his student years, he formed an influential and lasting friendship with composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menolth.

He is also inspired by Literature and has a growing reputation as a portraitist of international stature. Johnson spends six months of the year at his beach house in Tangalle, on the south coast. He has made his home in Sri Lanka for the past six years and says it's the place he likes best in the world. He would like to spend all year here but he has necessarily to spend the other six months in the south of France where he sells most of his work.

This is Johnson's first exhibition in Sri Lanka and his first show after quite a while. Primarily a portrait painter, one of his best known subjects here is architect Geoffrey Bawa

Art review

For sensitive eyes only

By Yamini Sequeira

Bright colours, stark forms and a minimalist touch- these are the highlights of the tableau of German artist Jurgen Zaringer's exhibition of installations showing at the Heritage Art Gallery in Colombo and organised by the Goethe-Institute German Cultural Institute. Exhibiting until February 28 and interestingly titled 'Meal For Hungry Eyes' the show evokes images of a scrumptious repast that would please - in this case not a discerning palate but sensitive eyes.

Starting off at a woodcarving school in Germany where old traditions were ingrained and Renaissance art made sacred, Zahringer naturally veered to sculpture. Even then at a young age, he experimented with non-traditional forms and materials. Though the realm of painting was never where his heart lay, his use of multi-hued pigments in sculptures indulged his passion for colour."I developed a special combination of colour and sculpture."

Once Zahringer has sculpted the skeleton of his next installation, which could be a combination of glass and steel, cement and wood, he plays around with the colours. He is delighted to discover the commonly used floor polish in Sri Lanka, that he swears, when added to colour pigments adds lasting value to the colour and also allows the colour to retain its original hue. This novel concept of his has been implemented in the work, 'Relief for daily colours' where he works with plaster on plywood vividly painted with black and brown floor polish, separated with a thin aluminium strip, painted yellow. As an artist whose senses are overtly receptive to sensory impressions, he says the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka are reflected in his current work. In one installation titled 'Divided' which is a black expanse of wood, with a few red lines, he says it reflects the wasteland of the ongoing war and the resultant bloodshed.

Emotion and recognisable forms are not his offerings to the viewers of his works. Abstract forms and mathematical shape would be more like it. For a slightly complicated installation, Zahringer would work and rework it for as long as even two months. He scours the city's hardware stores for certain objects he would want to incorporate, orders colour pigments from Madras and in this quest the artist's passion for perfection is revealed. "I strive for timeless, universal element in my work," he declares. He refutes the suggestion that his work could be seen as too 'clinical' because of its cropped bare look. "There is definitely visual drama in my work. This is evident in his installation, large table coated with ultramarine blue, wine glasses filled with a bright red and yellow plates. "The yellow powder on the plate would be Sri Lankan curry," he jokes in a lighter vein.

He experiments with both static and movable forms. One work could be a black box, just that, a wooden box painted black while another would be a tryptichon, or a 'container' as he calls it that could be arranged and rearranged over and over again. Hinged, the tryptichon can be collapsed or folded out lending a third dimension to his works. One trypichon on display has three panels in vivid blue with the German words 'Du Bist Du', that could mean interchangeably, "Here You Are' or "Are You Here?' posing an existential question to the viewer.

What is evident is Jurgen Zahringer's erudition in the field of art. Having studied it upto the highest levels, he has been a founder member of the artist's group 'Studio Leipzig' in Kassel, Germany and worked on the organising committee of several museums in Germany, crafting exhibitions for young artists. He feels a special kinship with the young artists he mingles with in Sri Lanka. A regular at the art school in Kelaniya, he declares some interesting work is being done by art students in the country, although he feels they are often stymied by cost and availability of materials.Currenly residing in Colombo Zahringer is open to whatever influences this country, its people, sights and sounds have on his future work. With wife Sabina, an art scientist and lecturer with the University of Kelaniya and the German Cultural Institute, Jurgen Zahringher is in Sri Lanka to stay and observe his creative meandering in a new land, at once exotic and impressive.

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