'New art from Sri Lanka', a presentation by the Serendib Gallery,
Colombo of Sri Lankan painting, installation, sculpture, mixed media
work, poetry, dance and music is now on in London. Held in association
with the October Gallery of Bloomsbury, it is the first major exhibition
of Sri Lankan art outside the countrys shores since the 43
Group exhibited in London half a century ago.
artists were selected to represent the broad spread of artistic
had a successful preview on March 19, with Sri Lankan High Commissioner
Faiz Musthapa and his wife, the Deputy High Commissioner Kshenuka
Seneviratne and Mohan Daniel of the Serendib Gallery being present
amongst a large gathering of art lovers and critics.
curator of the October Gallery in her introduction to this exhibition
" I was
gently advised by someone who knew' that an exhibition of
new art from Sri Lanka would be a waste of time, as this country
had not produced an original artist since the modernist painters
of the 43 Group over half a century ago.
artists were to confront me with a very different story: one of
complexity, diversity and above all, a vitality that flew in the
face of social constraints. And then there were the artists of Jaffna.
For whilst the people of Sri Lanka have fought bitterly and suffered
more than anyone ever should, the creative energy of the island
gives powerful testimony to the strength and resilience of the human
Lankan art is not all about the war. Neither is it all about a modernist
legacy. Nor is it simply a synthesis of East and West. The art being
produced in Sri Lanka today is as complex as the country itself,
resolutely refusing to collude with expectations, or to be confined
within the boundaries of nationhood.
desire to reflect some measure of this complexity underscores this
exhibition. And in every work this quality is present, in a multitude
of forms in the layered duality of Gamage's installations and the
textured depths of Ratnayake's panels; in Malathie de Silva's organic
marble forms and Edirisinghe's wryly satirical reliefs; in Jagath
Ravindra's infinite colours, and Shanaathanan's dark vision of war-torn
Jaffna, in all these there is little that complies with a vision
of how Sri Lankan art should look, yet neither is there any surrendering
to western artistic vision. There is simply as rich a diversity
of expression as may be found anywhere on the planet. And if originality
must be measured, what better gauge than that?"
London, the exhibition will move to other locations in Britain ending
with an exhibition at Lincoln in February/March 2004.
For this exhibition
at the October Gal
lery a series
of special events titled - Serendipity- a festival of new arts from
Sri Lanka was arranged.
A night of
classical Tamil music had singer Manickam Yogeswaran performing
to an appreciative audience with a selection of musicians playing
violin, miridangam, and morsing (Jewish harp). Yogeswaran has made
an outstanding contribution to Tamil and Ragam music. He has sung
as a soloist in such ensembles as the Tamil Classical Band.
He was the
first Tamil vocalist ever to sing in a major Hollywood film as part
of Jocelyn Pook's soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's last film Eyes
Wide Shut in 1999. Yogeswaran was born in Sri Lanka.
of bharatha natyam had Anusha Subramanayam perform a selection from
this dance repertoire. A teacher for 17 years in Britain, Anusha
is part of the long tradition that has revitalized, restructured
and re-interpreted bharatha natyam in a contemporary context.
'Rohan de Saram and friends' will perform works especially devised
for cello, piano and tampura by Jonathan Mayer, with Druvi de Saram
on piano, and the composer on tampura.
end this festival of Sri Lankan events, Preshanthi Navaratnam, Sri
Lankan opera singer will perform a piece combining the work of Mendelssohn,
and Sri Lankan composer Deva Surya Sena, as well as works by Strauss,
Debussy, Brahms and Sri Lankan Norman Corea. Preshanthi has performed
widely, interpreting Benjamin Buell at the Royal Albert Hall, 'Jerry
Springer the opera' at the Edinburgh Festival, Madame Butterfly
with the English Festival Opera, and the 'Child of Jago' at the
Purcell Rooms. She is currently working on the Brahms Requiem.
A seminar too
is scheduled to be held with artists, curators and writers in the
field of Sri Lankan art along with a series of workshops by Sri
Lankan sculptress, Malathie de Silva whose work draws from Buddhist
approaches to life and the rhythms and forms and nature. Delicately
carved from stones such as marble, alabaster and serpentine, Malathie
will demonstrate the tools she uses to construct her sculpture.
The 12 artists
whose work is being presented are Tissa Ranasinghe whose monumental
bronzes extend the exhibition into the courtyard garden, Malathie
de Silva's whose recent series of fluid marble and serpentine sculpture,
designed for handling and feeling, are complemented by specially
commissioned poetry from Jane Russell, photographer Dominic Sansoni,
documenting over 20 years research into Sri Lanka's Ganesh Shrines
and Chaminda Gamage whose paintings explore indigenous objects that
have been 'borrowed' by the west.
uses acrylic on canvas to explore themes of the Sri Lankan soul
in isolation, Sudath Abeysekera - the winner of the Royal Overseas
Travel Scholarship for 2002 which enabled him to work and study
in Scotland, depicts Michelangelo's David as an icon for his generation
using collage and strong colours, Pradeep Chandrasiri paints with
reference to past social struggles and Wijelatha Edirisinghe's satirical
mixed media reliefs belie her keen sense of political irony.
series on the displaced woman in soft tones and Sujith Rathnayake's
acrylic on canvas both question an individual's position in history.
T. Shanaathanans' dark and surreal visions present with great
poignancy, life in war-ravaged Jaffna.
of the Serendib Gallery is pleased with the reviews of this first
major exhibition of Sri Lankan art abroad. The Serendib Gallery's
non-profit web portal www.artsrilanka.org was his first step in
providing Sri Lankan artists a window for the international exposure
they deserved; up to thirty nine artists are featured on this site
with no restrictions placed on the number of paintings which could
be displayed, with no fee charged from the artist.
This web portal
which now runs into 800 screens (at 800 x 600 resolution) promotes
Sri Lankan artand culture.
abroad was the next step to popularizing Sri Lankan art abroad,
says Daniel, this too being a non-commercial venture. He has already
arranged to hold exhibitions in other major cities in other countries
as well, not only of fine arts and photography but of the performing
arts as well.
songs lit up the ugly
Nina Simone, who died at age 70 at her home in the South
of France, never hid her intense rage, or her immense passion.
was the embodiment of the combustible artist, ready to rail at inattentive
audiences, inarticulate critics, deceitful promoters and thieving
label owners. In performance, and on her many albums, Simone offered
shimmering testimonials to the power of love as well as blistering
social commentaries, most but not all of them rooted in America's
shameful legacy of racism.
Like jazz artists
Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach and Charles Mingus, Simone used her populist
platform to shine a bright light into ugly corners of American society.
Sometimes those two worlds were joined, as "To Be Young, Gifted
and Black, the uplifting anthem Simone wrote with Weldon Irvine
Jr. The song captured the empowerment of racial pride:
How I long
to know the truth
There are times
when I look back
And I am haunted
by my youth
Oh but my joy
Is that we
can all be proud to say
To be young,
gifted and black
Is where it's
by Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin are better known, but Simone's
is the original. Simone was a crucial voice in the civil rights
era, when some of her most striking work addressed the horrors and
injustices attending blacks in the South, incendiary tracts like
"Mississippi Goddam" (inspired by the 1963 Birmingham
church bombing that killed four black girls), "Old Jim Crow"
and "Backlash Blues" (based on a poem written for Simone
by Langston Hughes).
There was a
time when Nina Simone was dubbed "the high priestess of soul,
a term she hated, not only because it smacked of marketing hype
but because it tried to put her in a box she'd never have fit in
comfortably. While Simone certainly invested all her work with soul,
she blurred boundaries and jumped genres, embracing jazz, pop, blues,
spirituals, folk, French chansons, African song and the works of
contemporary songwriters like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Bee
Gees and the Beatles - Simone's reading of "Here Comes the
Sun" remains a transcendent moment of elegance and joy. Simone
was also one of the first African American artists to embrace traditional
African garb, adding regal bearing to her already dramatic presence.
Ironically, Simone's first and only American hit came early in her
career, with a luminous reading of George Gershwin's "I Love
You Porgy" recorded in 1957; it went Top 20, the only Top 40
entry of a career that covered 45 years. Confirming the vagaries
of pop culture, Simone did enjoy a top-five single in England in
1987, when a three-decade-old recording of "My Baby Just Cares
for Me" - from the same "Little Girl Blue" album
that included "Porgy" - became a hit after being used
in a television commercial.
Simone - born
Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C. - had originally trained to be a classical
pianist, but such opportunities for African Americans in the 1950s
to support her education, she made a living accompanying classical
singers. When an opportunity to work in an Atlantic City lounge
cropped up in 1954, it was on the condition that she sang as well
as played. That's when Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone, out of
fear of offending her handyman father and, perhaps more important,
her Methodist minister mother. Up to that point, Simone had never
sung in public. Simone started off exploring the Great American
Songbook, but also expanded her repertoire with stately spirituals
like "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and reconstituted
folk standards like "House of the Rising Sun" and "Black
Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Whatever the material,
Simone offered it on her terms.
career started in the mid-'50s on the Bethlehem label, and even
though she was never a particularly commercial presence, she was
prolific. The online site All Music Guide lists almost 100 albums
(including compilations). Many of the best are live albums that
capture the artist's charisma, tenderness and fervour - as well
as the occasional firestorm of anger and frustration. Because Simone
was so productive, particularly in the first two decades of her
career, she could be annoyingly erratic and inconsistent on record:
her best-ofs are often the best representation of less-than-stellar
efforts, but there's usually at least one gem on every album she
By the late
'60s, Nina Simone had grown weary of American racial politics and
frustrated with the level of her commercial success. She relocated
to Europe, where she felt more appreciated as both an artist and
a black person. She lived at various times in Switzerland, France
and England, as well as Liberia and Barbados.
Back in 1992,
Simone published her autobiography, "I Put a Spell on You."
The title is taken from one of Simone's unparalleled covers, this
one of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's wild voodoo declaration of lust and
hands, it was seductive, bold and irresistible, a testament to a
fiercely independent spirit who did things her way because that
was the only way.
musical evening of education not entertainment
with two violins and a viola by Lakshman Joseph de Saram, assisted
by Chaturika Abeysekera and Shehara Gunasekera, that took place
at the Alliance Francaise on March 29 under the auspices of the
Western Music Panel of the Arts Council proved to be a musical evening
with a difference.
For the focus
was not on entertainment but on education, not on the works performed
but on the musical tradition from which they originated or to which
they contributed; and hence, not on the presenter himself but on
the material he presented. The music in itself was not remarkable,
albeit most skilfully and feelingly played.
The two early
Beethoven duets transcribed for violin and viola were essentially
minor works. But it was interesting to see how the first reflected
the influence of the Italian style of composition which Beethoven
discarded as he came under the Teutonic influence that was to determine
his development as a composer. Examples of the former were the use
of the glissando and the obviously Italian lilt of the melodic line.
The second work
performed was a duet for two violins by Viotti, a composer of whom
little is heard. We appreciated his being given the limelight here
because of the influence he was to exercise over the writing for
violin of Beethoven and Brahms, among others, as reflected even
in their great violin concertos.
Beethoven violin/viola duet, apart from demonstrating the indebtedness
to Viotti, was interesting for its depiction of other features that
were to come to play a major part in the development of Beethoven's
distinctive style. It was in the key of B flat, to which Beethoven
returned in major works like the Fourth Symphony, the Hammerklavier
Piano Sonata and the 13th String Quartet plus the subsequently separated
Grosse Fuge. Here, too, we saw the very first use of the Scherzo,
which was actually invented by Beethoven to succeed the Minuet and
Trio as a compositional movement. There was also the theme and variations
format to which Beethoven would have recourse in his greatest works,
such as the last Symphony, the last Piano Sonatas and the last String
Last to be
performed were nine of the 44 duets for two violins by Bartok. These
represented the composer's "fusion" of modern and folk
elements with the modern influences of Debussy and Stravinsky.
At a time when
so much quasi-fusion music is being forced upon us, it was good
to be able to perceive from these excerpts that genuine fusion comes
about only when the creative imagination of the composer welds otherwise
disparate elements into a new harmonic whole.
I believe the
most significant achievement of this lecture-demonstration was to
help the audience to realize that behind the great and well-known
works of musical composition there lies an unbroken tradition of
techniques, styles and other influences all of which, in the hands
of their innovators and developers, the small and the great alike,
have contributed to the rich and living tapestry of this tradition.
Even Beethoven, for all the originality of his genius, was indebted
to this tradition and even the modern individuality of Bartok drew
inspiration from it.