5th November 2000
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Breaking barriers with strokes of colour

By Alfreda de Silva
The George Keyt Foundation founded in 1988, by Cedric de Silva, has brought vigour and new perspectives and aspirations to the Sri Lankan art scene in the past 12 years. This is mainly through the organising and presenting of a whole range of creative experiences, through an exposure to the best of both this country's artistic expression, as well as that of the world outside. 

There have been regular exhibitions of the work of young contemporaries and the nava kalakaruwo; periodic major exhibitions of modern Sri Lankan art and expositions by SAARC artists and a largescale display of Sri Lankan art from 1948-1998. 

A special feature has been the setting up of a highly successful annual Kala Pola or Art Fairs opposite the Art Gallery on Green Path where unknown artists have had a chance of displaying and selling their work. 

The George Keyt Foundation has promoted creativity through International Artists Camps in scenic settings of this country from 1997. 

Its indefatigable Secretary, Sita de Silva, gave me an impressive picture of the ten-day camp recently concluded at the Habarana Village, a John Keells Group Hotel, within easy reach of heritage and historic sites. 

Art sans Frontiers was its theme, which spoke for itself about the breaking down of barriers and the getting together of artists for a sharing and interchange of views and skills. 

The Camp was composed of carefully selected Sri Lankan and international artists.

The pastoral beauty of Habarana was the ideal setting for inter-relationships, artistic activity, and interchange of concepts, visions and ideas and healthy discussions. 

During the day the participants worked, each in his own space and activity - on painting, sculpture or as installation artists. They chose a variety of genres and mediums. 

A valuable innovation was the evening session of each day set apart for artistic communication between the Asian participants and their American and European counterparts. Arun Dias Bandaranaike was its vivacious and knowledgeable facilitator in what he called 'a landscape within a landscape'.

The setting seemed to have set the artists free to participate both individually and fully in the open discussion. 

Every one of them made a contribution to it, talking about the philosophy and rationale behind their work, the changes that took place through the course of time and the new directions that it has taken them. 

Each participant also had the opportunity to defend himself when faced with tricky questions from the others. 

It was not all work at the Camp where the artists lived and worked together. Activities for relaxation included spending a day at each of the historic sites of Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. The overall sponsor of the Artists Camp this year was NORAD - the Norwegian funding agency. 

The Sri Lankan artists represented were Sudath Abeysekera, Alefiya Akbarally, Deepthi Bandara, Nirmala de Alwis, Kumudu Dias, Chaminda Gamage, Vajira Gunawardana, Preethi Hapuwatte, Manoranjan Herath, Sisira Kumara, Neel Rajakaruna, Jagath Ravin-dra, Rasitha Sangeewa and Anjana Wijeratne, Dhammaj-ith Nissanka and Dilini Perera. 

The international participants were Byron Breece, a painter from the USA, who founded an Arts Guild in Rochester, New York, Nisar Hussein from Bangladesh, Associate Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, Martin Lohr, a full-time artist from Germany, Muhammed Naeem, Visiting Lecturer, National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, Naureen Naqui, an artist from Pakistan, Noella Roos, painter and sculptor from the Netherlands, Dietmar Schmale, a mixed media artist from the Academy of Art in Munster, Germany, Sajitha Shankar, a full-time artist from Chennai, India and Lars Strandh, a Norwegian artist. 

The guest artist of the camp was Ghulam Rasul, Director-General of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad. 

Lalanath's 'Tablesque' in EUCO's concert

The European Union Chamber Orchestra returns to Sri Lanka this month with two concerts in Colombo on November 27 and 28 at the Bishop's College Auditorium. 

Lalanath De SilvaDuring its first performance which is a Christmas Concert, EUCO will feature the work of Sri Lankan composer, Lalanath De Silva. De Silva, who is conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka and secretary of the Composers' Guild of Sri Lanka has composed a special work titled, 'Tablesque', especially for EUCO's forthcoming programme.

'Tablesque' is a short piece for string orchestra based on "tabla" rhythms. Explains De Silva: "For awhile I have been preoccupied with synthesizing tabla and local drum rhythms on standard instruments. 

"We tend to think of rhythms as "non-melodic" pulses, beats and accents. But if you listen carefully to a tablist or local drummer there is a kind of "melody" to the rhythms. The tabla uses two drums - the lower and higher. By pressing the drum head the tablist can change the pitch of the drum while playing! So we are actually hearing both rhythm and melody. 

"The preoccupation of the west with timbre and harmony and the east with melody and rhythm has always intrigued me. Why is this the case? Should this continue? Can we borrow from each other? If so how? These are some of the questions that have concerned me with regard to all this. Form in the east is mostly theme and variations. In the west it is well formulated, structured. Is there something in between like what Kodaly and Bartok discovered? Is there embryonic forms which grow from a seed and is unique for each piece, yet whole and self over the years." 

"Tablesque" is a simple attempt to see the "Tablist" through the eyes of a string orchestra. One could with ease add a Tablist to this ensemble and he would "blend" without being observed. For awhile there is some melody, there is mostly rhythm. As for harmony, it is based on Raga formulations and quite free. The form is embryonic, there are observable "genes" that surface and keep the short piece together," De Silva says. 

"We hope to include De Silva's new work at our concerts during the rest of our tour in other parts of the world too," Ambrose Miller, the Executive Director of EUCO says.

The Christmas Concert will also feature Schubert (Rondo for Violin and Strings), Corelli (Christmas Concerto), Tchaikovsky (Andante Cantabille) and Mozart (Divertimento K. 138) and Faure (Nocturne from Shylock). 

A highlight of EUCO's second concert in Colombo, will be the blending of Sri Lankan musicians with EUCO for one item. The concert will feature Vivaldi (Concerto Grosso for two Violins and Cello), Elgar (Serenade for Strings), Greig (Serenade for Strings) and Mozart (Divertimento K. 137). During this piece, some of the most advanced string players of the Sri Lanka Symphony Orchestra will join EUCO on stage. 

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