Reminiscence: Memories of the past | Sunday Observer

Reminiscence: Memories of the past

10 May, 2021

Susiman Nirmalavasan is an aspiring visual artist, born and bred in Batticaloa and his latest exhibition ‘Reminiscence’ is now open for the public at the Paradise Road Gallery. 

As a visual artist, Susiman is not confined to one medium to express his creativity, rather he works across a range of mediums; from oil and clay to dye on cloth and canvas. The materiality of his work functions as an aesthetic choice and is a reflection of a broader reality.

In a conversation with the writer, the artist, recalling the beginnings of his artistic journey,  admitted the fact that his selection of the most suitable medium for his artworks was not a pure artistic choice, but rather his choice was entangled with the socio-political condition of society he lived in.

“In the early days I used oil paints such as acrylic paint. When I went to Jaffna for my higher studies, the A9 was closed due to terrorism. Buying groceries was a challenge. Buying colour media in this situation was unthinkable. It was then that I began to think that medium should not restrict my artistic expression. Therefore, I started creating  artwork with the medium I could find in my environment,” he said.

Without easy access to conventional art material, Nirmalavasan found that the organic medium such as clay, gravel, sack, coak, ash, and tea dye were far more representative of his narrative.

As a child, he began drawing and painting using charcoal, kurumpeddy (immature coconut fruits), and maampinchu (tender green mangoes). These early experiments have seeped into his current work. In his recent works he has used charcoal and dyes mostly as he discovered that the two mediums are the easiest options available for him. He loves the natural effect these two mediums bring to his creativity.

Invisible bridge

Speaking about his creative process, through his paintings, Nirmalavasan always tries to tell a story and painting is the invisible bridge between his imagination and his audience.

“I always look for opportunities to tell the stories that I love to share with others and painting is the best medium through which I can convey my stories easily and closely. Creating opportunities for the audience to participate in my artwork is a passion of mine,” he said. 

According to Nirmalavasan, the muse that ignites his creativity changes from time to time. However, his audience has always been his muse for creativity. Sometime ago his ultimate joy was to show his childhood paintings to his father, as his father was his muse for his childhood creativity.

However, it has changed with time and today he gets his inspiration from the audience that enjoy his artworks. “I have held many solo exhibitions and I have also participated in several group shows. The conversations that I have about my work with viewers, always inspire me for my next creation. The confidence they give me, inspires me to create the next work of art. Therefore, my audience is my muse,” Nirmalavasan said. 

His paintings are mostly based on contemporary themes. Together with the Third Eye Local Knowledge and Skills Activists Group, and the Artists for Nonviolent Living, he promotes contemporary ideas through a variety of art activities and shows.

East coast

His latest exhibition, titled ‘Reminiscence,’ is a reflection of these memories growing up in the east coast of Sri Lanka. As a child the artist grew up hearing only the distant tales of terrorism passed down to him from his father; soon, he himself became a victim of terrorism. The life and merriment of the village he grew up in, drained in front of his eyes as his family relocated to escape terrorism; but terrorism was inescapable. Through this exhibition, Nirmalavasan tries to revitalise memories of his past; the plentiful mangroves and sprawling paddy fields, the days spent drawing on the walls of his house, and the stories his father told him. 

“The most important part of my art is reminiscing about terrorism time memories. The main purpose of my art practice is to comfort spectators and give them hope for life. The twenty-one works of art placed here are made in the order in which a word from the Bible transforms the memories of the past into works of art. But they are not Christian paintings. They are not about Christianity. It’s about my memories, memories of the past. Shanth Fernando and Anjalendran are the people who helped in making this exhibition possible,” he said.

Nirmalavasan hesitates to frame what it means by art. He believes that art is not necessarily conveying a message but it may carry a story, an experience, an opposition, a question or a consolation and that can be the background of an art piece.  As he believes art is freedom and it liberates human beings from the chaotic realities and the complexities of the world we live in.

“Art is something very independent. However, I have certain ideologies that I believe as to what I should and should not do through my art. It is comforting and reassuring to be completely against violence. And the desire for transitional justice.

“Art keeps me alive while in the process of creating an artwork and thinking about it. I want others to have that same experience that I was going through while creating it. That is why I exhibit my art. Identifying and being identified as a visual artist has also been a passion of mine since childhood,” he said. 

Speaking about his inspirational genres and the artists he admires, the works of Chandragupta Thenuwara, Thamotharam Pillay Sanathanan, Vasuki, Dramatist Jaisankar, Teacher Bubsy and architect Anjalendran, are the artistes he admires the most.

“I was fascinated by the way these people travelled with their own clear ideology and expressed them through art. Each of them was one of the most important contributors to my artistic development at different times. I have learned a lot from them. Although I work on a variety of visual arts, I prefer activism through art. The reason is that it can easily bring about social change,” Nirmalavasan said.