18th June 2000

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A prize catch

By Kesara Ratnatunga

Ajith SeneviratneA slight man in physique, but no mean achiever, photojournalist Ajith Seneviratne's photographs which exposed the brutal side of human nature, won him an accolade reserved for the most courageous in the Fourth Estate. 'Excellence in Journalism while reporting under special circumstances' was how he was commended, at the recent Editors' Guild awards ceremony, for his work above and beyond the call of duty.

Ajith is fully committed to his work. With little regard for himself and his safety, he endeavours to get to the heart of the story and capture its essence. "As a photojournalist, I always try to get the best possible angle. I think, 'Where will there be trouble?' and go there." An internationally acclaimed photographer has said that 'the photograph you should get, is one that will compel the reader to read the article'—a guideline Ajith's work is undoubtedly based on.

Early on in his career, Ajith learned that a journalist's job is not easy. Sent on assignment to cover a hunger strike in front of President's House in May 1993, he was accused of joining the protest and locked up at the Fort Police Station for two days. "This incident has stayed in my mind and taught me that you need to be aware and careful to succeed as a media person."The picture which won the award

He risked his life to capture the harrowing moments of violence, when UNP demonstrators and journalists covering the event were attacked near the Town Hall and the Red Cross on July 15, last year. He had been following the procession just before the incident.

"We saw a man in civvies talk to the police officers who were in a jeep near us. It immediately pulled away and headed towards Kollupitiya. Instinct told me that something was about to happen," he said. "Moments later we saw men with clubs and sticks ahead of the procession awaiting an opportunity to attack."

He was a man with a camera facing thugs with blunt iron weapons. "I was scared at that point, but my duty to the media and the people outweighed my fears and gave me the courage to go on," he said reliving those moments.

No sooner had he snapped a few shots, the mob began assaulting the people in the procession.

"I was hammered, and being small-made, flung aside. As I fell I saw another person being beaten. I quickly took a picture and ran into the crowd." Tear-gassed and wounded he emerged that day with an award-winning picture and a story to tell.

From humble beginnings was this award winner thrust into the world of photography and journalism. He laughs as he remembers how he was first 'inspired'. "I had promised to bring a camera for a trip that I was going on with my classmates. The relative who had the camera refused to give it and I ultimately had to go empty-handed. I was the butt-end of many a joke and was ridiculed during the whole journey. From that day on I thought to myself that I would learn photography and do it as a hobby."

He relates how he secretly sold a ring he had, and bought a second-hand Yashica, with which he took photographs of protests and demonstrations in front of Fort station. A friend encouraged him to submit his pictures to the Aththa newspaper, which he did. "I wasn't paid, but it was very satisfying to see them published with my byline," he says. Fuelled by his success he worked as a freelancer and later as a full-time photographer for Aththa. After stints at the Yukthiya and Irida newspapers he joined Ravaya in May 1998 for which he has been working ever since.

"Had it not been for that fateful school trip I might not have ended up in this profession," grins Ajith.

"More than writing, news photography is my passion and I hope to reach the top in that field, and ultimately move into the international scene." Whatever Ajith Seneviratne's aspirations may be, his dedication and commitment to his profession as well as his art, will undoubtedly see him walk on to many a stage to receive recognition.

Stop, look and create

By Ruhanie Perera

Most people don't take time off to stop and search their souls, to learn what lies within them. Of the few who do, some come up with nothing, while others tend to exhaust whatever newfound insight they've gathered.

Yet, there are the precious few who keep on probing their souls and as a result keep coming up with something refreshingly new every time.

After almost 50 years of doing just that, Kala Guru H.A. Karunaratne still has something new to paint, to express, to create.

Born from the very depths of his soul, he calls his latest collection 'Soul Searching', which will be exhibited from June 23 to July 9 from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. at the Artrium (The Lanka Oberoi, ground floor new wing).

Karunaratne is an artist of great distinction, very much a leader in the 'who's who' of the art world.

Starting from around1952 when he was studying art, he has sailed through exhibitions both solo and group, collected awards (including the Kalapathi award, the Kalasuri award and the Vishwa Prasadini award) for his prowess and imparted his knowledge to many art students.

"I've had the opportunity to travel around and study contemporary works in other countries," says the artist who has clearly moved with art as it evolved. "Art is not stagnant, it develops and you need to move forward with it."

He himself has moved from realistic work to abstract art, from bright colours to softer, sober shades. "Abstract is the purification of the artist's language, it's free expression. It comes from knowing the subject completely.

And then your art speaks for you, expresses ideas an artist may never be able to express in words.

The viewer grasps it according to his experience."

To him art is life - life that surrounds us . One doesn't have to go around looking for art. It can be found if you just stop to look around. Look at his art and you can see what he means. Nails, pots, chipped teacups, scraps of cloth, thread, ceramic slabs and blobs of paint adorn his canvas.

All mundane, everyday items transformed into a masterpiece. "It almost pains me to hear them being called pots and nails, for they are to me something sent from heaven. They are the spices that make my curry perfect."

She fights back in fury

A young and brilliant director brings to life a powerful drama about sexual abuse, human rights and human relationships at the end of this month. Twenty-seven-year-old Tracy Holsinger directs the internationally acclaimed 'Death and the Maiden' at the Lionel Wendt from June 29 to July 2 at 7 p.m. each day.

The play's author, Ariel Dorfman, was an outspoken critic of Chilean Dictator Pinochet and spent 17 years in exile. Dorfman wrote the play in 1990 at a time when Chile was making the uneasy transition to democracy. The country had just set up a Truth Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and its people were trying to come to grips with the hatreds and divisions of the past. Dorfman used these events as the backdrop for his play.

The plot revolves around a woman's search for justice and her commitment to holding accountable her abusers and torturers. Fifteen years ago, Paulina had been raped and tortured during a period of military dictatorship. She now believes that she has identified the man who abused her in the form of a 'Good Samaritan' who helped her husband change a flat tyre.She proceeds to tie him up and 'put him on trial' in their holiday home. Her husband, a human rights lawyer who had previously fought the military regime and in whose cause she had gone to jail, is horrified. He has just been appointed as a member of a Truth Commission.

The play grapples with many difficult issues in a language that is remarkable for its simplicity and precision. How can those who torture and those who were tortured exist in the same land? How do you reconcile the need for justice and accountability with the need for reconciliation and stability? are some of the issues.

Karen Balthazaar plays Paulina Salas, the woman who seeks justice for her loss of dignity, Mario Gomez plays Gerado Escobar, her lawyer husband, recently appointed as a member of the Truth Commission, and Mohamed Adamaly plays Roberto Miranda, a medical doctor, Paulina's alleged torturer. Three theatre companies have put their minds and energy for this production–the Performing Arts Company, Stage Light & Magic Inc. and Mind Adventures. The Sunday Times and TNL are the media sponsors.

The play contains explicit language, which some may find offensive.

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