3rd June 2001

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Soothing a restless spirit

"Meditations", an exhibition of watercolours and drawings by Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon will be on show from June 6-9, at the Harold Peiris Gallery - Lionel Wendt Art Centre, Colombo.

By Yamini Sequeira

Pastel hues soothe the restless spirit, as the tranquil canvas reaches out to commune with the viewer in frame after frame. American artist Hong Bich's watercolours are a veritable triumph in symbolism. Although her artistic journey in Sri Lanka began just a year ago, the ageless wisdom that peeps out from behind her canvases reveals a profound awareness of culture and religion in this country.

Of Vietnamese origin, Hong-Bich left Vietnam along with her family to settle in USA, at the height of the conflagration in 1975. Once there, she studied Graphic Design and Illustration at a renowned art school, amongst other academic pursuits. But life had other plans in store for her. Despite her passion for art, she was drawn to the opportunity to work with refugees. Her job as a social worker with a UN body threw her in close contact with rootless refugees who were trying to come to terms with their trauma. "I would use art as therapy for these refugees," she explains. "The refugees were encouraged to draw and paint, and this helped to bring their inner turmoil to the surface, as they could at last unleash their emotions."

Hong-Bich swears by the therapeutic qualities of art, regretting the fact that in the East, this practice is not followed much. "One can actually see images and suggestions of trauma coming through in their drawings, especially with victims of violence."

In the meanwhile, globetrotting in her role as counsellor, social worker and art teacher, her palette and brush gathered dust. Ten years later, when she attempted to paint, she recalls, the canvas was blank. So, she took up Chinese brush painting lessons - echoes of which can be seen in her current works. Now married with two children, Hong-Bich feels that her confidence in her ability and her perception of life is what colours her frames. "As experiences colour your life, you learn to trust that inner voice," she adds philosophically.

While her life thus far was almost as interesting as each of her canvases, the artist in her thrived, for her current exhibits reveal her propensity to bring the unspoken to the surface. Shades of the Old Masters such as Rembrandt (whom she admires greatly) hover in the background. Deeply symbolic is her "Temple Dawn", which shows a Buddhist temple, with an outsized moon, awash in hints of blue, juxtaposed by the angry tint of the firebird plant. Hong-Bich has, in a short period, imbibed local sights, flora, and moods well. Her "Mondrian Fade", an image of a wilting flower, was painted soon after her sister's recent death and leaves one with a lingering sense of sadness. A fitting tribute to a loved one.

Her "Poya Day" is an impeccable blend of colour, shape, and form.

If flowers make a frequent appearance in her current exhibition, she also displays several accompanying drawings of nudes, which display an equal mastery over form. But, of course, watercolours rule the day. Hong-Bich explains: "There's something about the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka, apart from the unrelenting heat, that inspires me to use the medium of watercolours." She has used Conte on paper for the nudes. Surveying the local art scene, Hong-Bich notes that there is some fresh and original work being done, but she feels that it needs to be imbued with a greater degree of confidence.

Although Hong-Bich has taken part in group exhibitions in the US and Europe, "Meditations" will be her first solo art show. Part of the proceeds of the exhibition will be donated to the Sanhinda Home for Street Children in Colombo. This exhibition is also being endorsed by the United Nations Women's Guild.

"Meditations" is all about her "emotional response to Colombo", is how Hong-Bich puts it simply. There's no complicated imagery here, but what the viewer cannot miss is the way simple, everyday objects are elevated onto another plane, with the subtle use of colour and mood. "I enhance a simple object and it is for the artist and the viewer to take out of it what he or she can," she points out.

Hong-Bich is at odds with the stereotyped image of a painter, who must isolate himself or herself, and paint unhurriedly. For, she is a hands-on mother and wife. Her firm and serene brushstrokes belie the flurry of life around her. In her mind's eye, she just might be alone in her thoughts for every single frame is suffused with a meditative quality that endures until the end.

Art as therapy? You'll find it here.

Titbits and nuggets of everyday wisdom

Book review "Of Cabbages & Things"- by Therese Motha. Reviewed by Anne Abayasekera

Here they are, under one attractive cover all those delightful and useful bits and pieces that Therese Motha called "The random jottings in diary form of a very ordinary housewife" when they first appeared weekly in the 'Lanka Woman' during the years 1986 to 1997.

This collection of 456 pages comprises recipes, cookery and household hints, tips relating to health and nutrition, food facts, personal experiences, grandson Rajeev's bright sayings, all sorts of titbits from around the world and nuggets of everyday wisdom.

Therese has a flair for presenting a fact or a recipe in her own individual style, easy yet attention catching. When I am stumped about how to remove a stain or am not sure of the correct way to dissolve the gelatine mentioned in a recipe, my husband says, "Why don't you ring Therese?" And when I do, she always has the answer. For less knowledgeable housewives like myself, she's a fount of expertise and experience.

But even the experts find her tips invaluable and her quick and easy recipes most welcome for ringing changes in the family menu with minimum expense and toil. A very competent housewife who visited me was glancing through Therese's book with obvious pleasure. She said, "just look at this! Therese says her husband is addicted to brown bread and that when she buys a loaf she slices it, puts it into a polythene bag which she seals with a rubber band and places it in her fridge-freezer. Then it's only a matter of taking out the required number of slices in the morning and letting them thaw. I'd never have thought of that!"

I came across "A simple remedy for phlegm in the throat and chest. Boil together about eight leaves of lemon or lime with about four leaves of 'ada thoda'. Inhale this just before going to bed. This thins out the secretions, and gives equate humidification." An interesting news item Therese had gleaned from a newspaper reads thus: "On the island of Sado in the Japan Sea, Japanese farmers still follow an ancient tradition. When a girl child is born they plant a paulownia sapling in the courtyard. By the time the girl reaches the age of marriage, the fast-growing tree has matured. It is cut down, and from its wood a chest is made, with a variety of drawers and wrought iron fittings, to hold the bride-to-be's trousseau. Thus trees and women are linked in this age-old custom in a symbolic manner. Here's an example of the kind of cookery tip I find so helpful: "A quick topping for a cake. Mix together brown sugar and chopped cadjunuts. Sprinkle over top of unbaked cake. Bake as usual. It will come out of the oven already frosted and delicious. An observation worth keeping in mind: "A thought to ponder on, taken from the Reader's Digest. Middle Age is when you realise that you'll never live long enough to try all the recipes you spent 30 years clipping out of newspapers and magazines."

Therese has thoughtfully taken pains to provide a handy index at the end of this compendium. All the recipes in it are listed in alphabetical order, giving the page on which each appears. The same has been done for all the other bits of information provided and these items are listed under headings like Health & Nutrition, Household Hints and Kitchen Gadgets.

Colourful world for little ones

By Nilika de Silva

"Relating stories to children is both an art and a science," says the author of 'Kathandara Kiya Demu' (Let's relate stories), Samanmali Padmakumara, a specialist in the field of pre-school education.

In this handbook for parents and pre-school teachers, Samanmali explains in depth how a child should be guided to love reading.

"Appealing to the senses will always help a child to learn," said Samanmali who recently published three colourful story books for children titled 'Apata Hora Siduvana de', 'Mage Gedera Weda Pirila' and 'Len Kuduwe Ammai Patiyai'.

Books for children generally centre around uncomplicated subjects. It's a fantasy world, a fairy tale world, and one with animals, Samanmali says, in short, an imaginary world where happiness is an essential ingredient.

Her first steps in writing took place in her diaries where she wrote about trees, plants, and even little fights which drew her attention.

The Directress of a preschool, Samanmali has had wide experience in child education. She has spent much time observing preschool education abroad. Experiences gathered in England, India, Ireland, Japan and the US have helped her in developing and implementing her own theories on the subject.

Having studied child psychology has helped her develop a good understanding of the young mind.

Her own two children counted books among their favourite toys, says Samanmali who stressed that first the mother and father should be good readers, to communicate a love for reading to their children.

Spending time at children's homes, Samanmali is dedicated to instilling in the young her own enthusiasm and love for reading. "Read aloud and sing along" is a programme she does voluntarily for orphan children.

Writing for a child readership is in fact very different to writing for adults, she says, because children are not miniature adults. Colours and pictures inspire children.

Although the pictures in her books are very important, Samanmali stresses that the words on the page must never be placed upon the picture as this will have a disturbing effect on the young reader.

"A child's brain is under construction until age two and a half or three. Providing a stimulating environment affects how a child's brain is wired for life," she adds.

Kala korner by Dee Cee

From darkness to light

While we wait for Prasanna Vithanage's much talked about film, 'Purahanda Kaluwara', another of his creations, 'Anantha Rathriya' (Dark night of the soul) is now being screened. It's his second film, the first being 'Sisila Gini Gani' (1992). Made in 1996, 'Anantha Rathriya' won eight Critics Awards including the Best Director and was shown at 15 international film festivals winning an Honourable Mention at the Pusan Festival.

'Anantha Rathriya' proves that Prasanna is a talented filmmaker who understands the medium perfectly. With a series of flashbacks, he makes you sit through a most interesting 87 minutes of suspense in a plot which could easily have been turned into a melodrama in the hands of a less mature filmmaker. It's an all round performance - fine acting, clever photography, pleasing music score, tight editing and intelligent direction.

Ravindra Randeniya and Swarna Mallawarachchi playing the lead roles excel. It was nice to see Lucky Wickremanayake, better known among English theatregoers at one time in a supporting role. Tony, Asoka, Yashoda, Hemasiri - they are all there, doing their bit well. Every time Harsha Makalanda is given the task of providing music to a film or a teledrama, he does something different, something exciting. So too in 'Anantha Rathriya'. On the opening night at the Regal, many may have wondered who the creator of the music played before the film was. It was Harsha's music from his recent CD titled 'Khrome'.

Photographer M.D. Mahindapala and editor Lal Piyasena have given their best to make the film a top quality creation.

Critics have lauded 'Anantha Rathriya'. Calling it "a highly intelligent film", eminent American critic Donald Ritchie describes Swarna's acting as "an extraordinary performance". To Indian film critic Shoma Chatterjee it is "a beautifully orchestrated film with all the pieces of music fitting into each other" , "a total cinematic experience". Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen congratulates Prasanna for his "courage, conviction and sensitivity".

Incidentally, 'Purahanda Kaluwara' may soon be screened if the trailer with the tag 'Coming soon' is to be believed. Meanwhile, Prasanna has gone to courts following the sudden cancellation of the original release date sometime last year when another film was brought in, in its place.

A Vesak special

Joining the Vesak publications this year is the Vesak issue of 'Vishva Taranga', the monthly journal of Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Publishers, devoted to the holiest event in the Buddhist calendar.

The well illustrated publication has a fine selection of temple paintings in colour and a host of black and white pictures on places of worship, in addition to a large number of articles on Buddhist themes.

The impressive colour plates cover a wide range of temple paintings from Raja Maha Viharas at Suriyagoda, Medawala, Sigalena (Ambakote), Mulkirigala, Kumarakanda (Dodanduwa), Kathaluwa, Gintota, Dambulla and Degaldoruwa - some well known temples and some not so well known. Seeing the beautiful paintings many are bound to visit these temples. In addition, well known places of worship including the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura have been covered.

Among the articles are some from eminent writers like Ven.Professor Kotahene Pannakeetti and Martin Wickremesinghe. Among contemporary contributors are Ven Professor

Bellawila Wimalaratana, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita, Ven. Dr. Meegoda Pannaloka, Professor Chandima Wijayabandara and Professor Nandesena Ratnapala, the chief editor of the publication.

'The Great Sandy River'

Out in the book stands is the fourth English publication by nature lover Gamini de S. G. Punchihewa, a regular contributor to the newspapers on wild life and environment. The title is 'The Great Sandy River of History & Legend'. It's a collection of articles he wrote to newspapers and magazines over a five year period on the Mahaweli basin.

Having been attached to the Mahaweli Centre, the author obviously had access to interesting facts and figures which he shares with readers. And now the whole collection is available in a single volume published by Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha.

Having served the public service for three and a half decades, Punchihewa now leads a quiet life in retirement in Embilipitiya.

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