Vision of brutality
By Smriti Daniel
They say that war is an ugly thing; they say it brings to the fore all that is cruel, inhuman and ruthless in us and yet, war has been (and can still be) the event that offers us the opportunity to discover the compassion, courage and understanding that can unite us.

This juxtaposition of such seeming opposites is presented in the vivid and somewhat disturbing artistic visions of T. Shanaathanan. His works have that intriguing ability to take the good, the bad and the ugly and lay them out for his viewers so that they may inspect and reflect and somehow in the process find their own answers.

For Shanaathanan himself, there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in the very process of creating, which he says helps him to “figurate his ideas”. This is one of the reasons, he says, that he almost invariably makes use of mixed media as that results in a more dynamic whole with all the various elements interacting and enhancing each other. “In a way, it helps me to re-invent my childhood games,” he says smiling.

Born in Jaffna in 1969, Shanaathanan went on to study painting at Delhi University in India, where after completing his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts (BFA), he went onto to receive his Masters (MFA) in the same field.
Interestingly, while his paintings are quite aesthetically pleasing, that is not the impression one takes away after a viewing.

There is instead the feeling of having had a vision, one in which gaping rents in the land are held together by stitches and where a man does not know where he belongs and so is in many different places at the same time. The paintings that are to be on display at The Shanaathanan Exhibition at the Gallery Café – open to the public from January 6 to 28– are mostly in this vein, giving the viewer a three dimensional experience.

Shanaathanan’s work in this showing is brutal in some ways, not allowing one to hide from the apparitions it offers up. Its impact is further heightened by the fact that though his work is replete with turmoil and emotion, it is disciplined and contained within the lines on his canvas. “It has been about locating myself,” says Shanaathanan, further explaining that “maps have become a centre of my creativity”. This can be seen clearly in works such as “Dislocation”, “Legends” and “Grandpa’s Story”.

“During the war, carrying a map was prohibited,” explains the artist, adding that after the ceasefire was signed the maps became a “symbol” of change. The security situation having changed, the official geography of the country somewhat resulted in there being “places that exist only in maps,” he says, “maps have become like museum pieces”. For Shanaathanan, the challenge has been in “rethinking maps”, “extending this reading in terms of society” – examining relationships, maps, and how the two have layers and collages of overlapping meanings.

“My paintings deal with issues of identity,” says Shanaathanan. Take for instance, he explains, those who have been forced to leave certain areas due to the conflict are now in the position where their “dislocation has become a location”. “People live in their memories,” he adds. “It is not a black and white issue.” Shanaathanan struggles to convey these ideas which he describes as “metaphorical” and “symbolic”.

His efforts obviously strike a chord with many. “Since his first exhibition his work has developed…it has become more sensitive,” says Shanth Fernando, the name behind the Paradise Road group, who is himself a Shanaathanan enthusiast and avid collector. Mr. Fernando goes on to explain, however, that Shanaathanan’s signature style remains distinct.

Currently a Lecturer in Art History in the Department of Fine Arts in the University of Jaffna (a department which he helped to establish), Shanaathanan was the recipient of the 2005 Kalasuri Award, an honour bestowed upon him by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. His work has been exhibited in London, Madras, New Delhi, Paris, and Colombo itself, while collections of his work are to be found in France, England, Germany, Canada, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Shanaathanan is credited with having played a fundamental role in re-establishing artistic production in post-war Jaffna, and has done much to promote artistic links between the Jaffna province and the south of the island.

Nature’s reflections
By Dhananjani Silva
In Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, Lankan-born Saman Leema Perera’s work has adorned many homes. Her paintings, table tops, lanterns, window and door panes all in stained glass are much sought after, while her posters and greeting cards are snapped up too.

Entirely self-taught, Saman Leema is a versatile artist who is equally at home with watercolours, oil on canvas and stained glass paintings. What is significant is her ability to capture nature in its pristine beauty through her work.

“I believe that my environment has given me the energy to be an artist. Without nature, a person cannot be an artist. However, I got closer to nature after I returned to Sri Lanka and I have noticed a remarkable change in the style of my painting as well,” she said. Explaining the technique of doing mosaic on glass, Saman Leema says it is time consuming. Once the sketch and the outlines are done, the paint is applied drop by drop onto the surface.

“Designs are first drawn on paper, mosaic style in segmented drawings and painted to establish the desired colours. They are then cut out and taped to the underside of the glass. This is followed by a long procedure to reach the end result, which is a colourful stained glass design,” she explained.
These glass paintings are so versatile that she has even made them into coffee tables and glass panes for windows.

Today, back in Sri Lanka, Saman Leema has opened her own art gallery - ‘The Island Art Gallery’ in Pahalawatta Medawathugoda, Yakkala, which showcases many of her works including one she had done of Britain’s Prince Charles. The Island, is open to any artist from anywhere in the world to display their work free of charge, she says.

Louvre prints in Colombo
The Alliance Francaise de Colombo is now holding a lithographic exhibition of engravings selected by the Louvre Museum, at the National Museum in Colombo of works by Edouard Denis Baldus, Claude Mellan, Robert Morris, Franz Gertsch etc. The works will be exhibited till January 13.

This exhibition "Chalcograpies du Louvre" travels around the world. It was exhibited in Korea in October, in Taiwan in November and will move on to Pakistan after Sri Lanka. The Chalcography collection of the Louvre, contains all prints made from plates held by the museum.

Engraving is a craft, a trade - as the 19th century academicians would have it - whose exemplary nature is inextricably linked to the traditions of the great masters.

But, just as Mellan, Daubigny, Audran of Demarteau continually invented their own language to interpret the great masters, the contemporary artists who, for the Chalcographs of the Louvre, have engaged in their own dialogue with the classical heritage entrusted to the museum, have asserted the same need for a new language.

It’s poetry in motion
The Book Buzz series, an initiative of the British Council offers audiences the opportunity to get a taste of the best contemporary UK talent. On Monday, January 9, the British Council garden will come alive with the powerful vocals of performance poet Zena Edwards.

Zena uses techniques like song, music and dance to perform her poetry as against merely reading it. She is also a musician and workshop leader who works in schools and arts colleges across the world facilitating self-devised workshops in creative writing, performance poetry and singing.

Zena’s workshops and performances provide a platform for creative self-expression and encourage the development of style and originality providing performance skills for young people who wish to explore and improve their own creative flair.

Finding inspiration through personal experiences and/or using external resources such as music and instruments, images, debate, the use of literary and multimedia materials (paintings, sculptures, photographs etc., she also encourages children and adults to be confident about their performance, teaching them about rhythm, tone tension, release projection, dynamics etc.
Zena will be the first artiste to be featured in the Book Buzz series for 2006 and will perform in the British Council garden at 5.30 p.m. on Monday, January 9. This event is open to all children and adults on a first-come-first-served basis.

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