Fragile: A thought provoking reflection on past and present | Sunday Observer

Fragile: A thought provoking reflection on past and present

30 July, 2023

The exhibition invites viewers to engage with diverse perspectives and foster a deeper understanding of the past and present, emphasizing the importance of redressing past wrongs and working towards a more harmonious future

‘Fragile’ is an ongoing exhibition at the J.D.A. Perera Gallery, featuring a diverse group of young visual artists engaged in ongoing creative work, each hailing from unique cultural, territorial, social, and economic backgrounds. The exhibition was recently launched to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Black July, a deeply painful chapter in Sri Lanka’s history.

‘Fragile’ showcases the works of six talented young artists, Vinoja Tharmalingam, Arulraj Ulaganathan, Fathima Rukshana, Devinda Gamage, Shanika Wijesinghe, and Shabrina Zarook. The exhibition is expertly curated by renowned artists Chandraguptha Thenuwara, S.P. Pushpakanthan, and Asanka Jayasinghe.

Instead of dwelling solely on the past, this exhibition aims to look at the present and its complex realities. Through their art, these artists share personal journeys and reflect on the lives and struggles of the Malaiyaha Tamils, gender biases in marginalized narratives, the loss of freedoms, and contemporary triumphs, struggles, aspirations, and fragilities.

The exhibition invites viewers to engage with diverse perspectives and foster a deeper understanding of the past and present, emphasizing the importance of redressing past wrongs and working towards a more harmonious future.

Unveiling the enduring legacy

Arulraj, a rising visual artist born in Haputale, has made a profound impact on the art world through his expressive and emotive creations. Focused on printmaking, painting, and drawing, Arulraj’s art serves as a powerful reflection of the lives and struggles of the people residing in the tea estates of the upcountry.

Having obtained his BA in Visual Arts from Pondicherry University, India, and a MA in Fine Arts from Government College of Fine Arts Chennai, India, Arulraj’s academic background has provided him with a strong foundation to convey his ideas through various visual art methods.

In the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’, Arulraj’s poignant artworks take center stage, offering viewers an intimate glimpse into the lives and hardships of a community deeply rooted in the country’s history. At the heart of his artistic endeavors lies a deep connection to his personal experiences and the history of his community.

Through his powerful artist statement, Arulraj sheds light on the enduring legacy of indentured labourers brought from India to Sri Lanka during the British colonial era. His evocative portrayal of the Line Rooms, symbolic of the struggle and resilience of the Malaiyaha Tamil community, highlights the harsh living conditions endured by his ancestors.

Drawing inspiration from his mother’s experiences and the memories of his childhood spent in the Pullakambira, a childcare centre, Arulraj’s artworks capture the beauty and tragedy of life in the tea estates. Through his creative expression, he brings attention to the unchanging realities faced by these communities, prompting a profound reflection on their identities and histories.

The landscape of resilience

Vinoja Tharmalingam, a talented artist and educator hailing from Kilinochchi, with a BA in Fine Arts from the Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Eastern University Sri Lanka, and currently pursuing a MA in Art and Design Studies at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan, Vinoja’s artistic journey has been a testament to her dedication to addressing the profound struggles faced by war-affected communities.

Her recent works at the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’, is a powerful manifestation of her artistic vision. Through intricate needlework and multi-layered maps, she crafts a poignant narrative of a disabled, wounded, and deeply affected landscape, mirroring the trauma and displacement endured by the people during and after the civil war.

As a committed member of the Artists for Nonviolent Living Collective, her art not only confronts the past but also advocates for healing and understanding in the present, inviting viewers to engage in a profound reflection on the importance of acknowledging and confronting unresolved conflicts.

With her thought-provoking and emotionally charged creations, she sparks conversations about the complexities of displacement, memory, and the human spirit’s indomitable will to endure. As she continues to teach at the Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Vinoja remains a beacon of hope and empathy, using her art as a catalyst for healing and reconciliation, both within her homeland and on the global stage.

Empowering marginalized narratives of women

Fathima Rukshana, a versatile artist and activist from Kurunegala, advocating for gender equality and challenging the societal norms that marginalize women’s narratives.

With a BFA from SVIAS, Eastern University, Sri Lanka, and an MA in Art & Design Studies from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan, Fathima’s academic background has enriched her art practice, which delves deep into issues of gender biases and the dehumanization of women in Sri Lankan society.

Her thought-provoking exhibitions across South Asia, have provided a platform for her to shed light on the psychological destruction caused by the loss of individual freedoms, as well as the resilience and strength women display in reclaiming their agency.

Fathima’s artist statement of the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’ reveals the heart and soul behind her interdisciplinary art process. By utilizing weaving techniques and reusing discarded artifacts, she empowers the marginalized voices by giving them prominence and a medium to express their struggles.

The continuous rhythms of the weaving patterns, representing restraint and freedom, death and birth, serve as metaphors for the dynamic concepts of societal expectations and individual freedoms. Through her creations of vessel forms and baskets made from natural materials and mixed media, Fathima memorializes the violence inflicted upon women, portraying the emotional agony they endure under socio-political frameworks that seek to control their lives.

Her art reframes human identity, emphasizing a primordial connection with nature, as she believes that a profound connection with natural and organic materials, especially trees, can evoke the wisdom of our ancestors and strengthen the bond between living beings.

Societal Fragility

Pramod Devinda Gamage, a skilled freelance artist, brings a thought-provoking perspective to the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’. Having received his education from Ananda Shastralaya National School and C.W.W. Kannangara Madhya Maha Vidyalaya in Matugama, he later pursued a BA at the Visual Arts Faculty of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo. Through his art, Pramod seeks to raise critical questions about the preservation of human freedoms and rights within the socio-political landscape of the country.

In his artist statement, Pramod’s paintings stand as powerful commentaries on the issues that plague contemporary society. Pramod’s art is a compelling reflection on the delicate balance between the quest for truth and the manipulation of reality for personal gains.

His paintings ‘Beauty of the Truth’ and ‘Death Riders’ further delve into the themes of truth and freedom, highlighting the destructive consequences of distorted realities and the loss of human freedom of life. His artworks serve as poignant reminders of the fragility of societal norms and the need for a vigilant pursuit of justice and freedom for all.

The essence of humanity

Shanika Wijesignhe’s artistic journey has been marked by a diverse range of experiences and influences, shaping her unique perspective on the human condition. Initially, she ventured into the world of accounting but soon found her true calling in the realm of art.

Under the mentorship of artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Shanika honed her skills in painting, laying the foundation for her artistic exploration. Her passion for creative expression led her to establish a successful clothing design and retail business, providing a practical outlet for her artistic inclinations. During her time in the US and France, she delved into two different cultures, broadening her artistic vision and inspiring her to examine the universality of human experiences.

In her artist statement in the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’, Shanika unveils her profound artistic intentions. Through her art, she seeks to delve into the essence of the human condition, transcending cultural and temporal boundaries. By juxtaposing historical and contemporary contexts, she captures the myriad ways in which humanity responds and reacts to its surroundings, from joyous celebrations to the darker manifestations of violence, migration, and political unrest.

Shanika’s artwork encapsulates the fluidity and rhythm of movement, constructing loose narratives that invite viewers to explore the intricacies of human nature. With a preference for fragmented and ambiguous forms, she skillfully connects them in unexpected ways, inviting audiences to discover new layers of meaning. Using oil paint as her medium, Shanika Wijesignhe masterfully manipulates colors to drive the form, resulting in a captivating portrayal of the complexities and vulnerabilities that define the human experience.

Her intuitive and expressive approach to art invites audiences to immerse themselves in the universal language of emotions, provoking deep reflections on the human spirit and its enduring resilience in the face of life’s complexities.

Expressing resilience through art

Sabrina Zarook, a talented visual artist hailing from Kandy, draws poignant inspiration from the tragic events of the Sri Lankan anti-Muslim riots in March 2018 for her compelling artworks. Specializing in painting and drawing, Sabrina’s artistic journey has been fueled by her deep connection to her home and the harrowing experiences endured during the riots.

After completing a BVA special degree in History and Art Theory from the University of Visual and Performing Art, Colombo, she furthered her artistic knowledge through an internship in the conservation of Mural Painting at Trinity College, Kandy, with ConsArt Conservation Studio.

Currently working as an art teacher at St. Clements’ College in Kandy, Sabrina’s passion for art serves as a medium to express the profound impact of the anti-Muslim riots on her personal life and community.

In her powerful artist statement in the ongoing exhibition ‘Fragile’, Sabrina candidly recounts the devastating consequences of the riots, which saw her home and shop in 4th Milepost, Katugastota, come under attack by a large mob.

As a symbol of her artwork, she uses the broken window from her home’s kitchen, a haunting reminder of the tragic events that unfolded during the Digana riots. Through her art, Sabrina aims to share the heart-wrenching experiences her family endured, unable to stay in their own home due to the violence and arson.

Her broken window model serves as a window into the past, allowing the audience to feel the depth of the tragic situation that befell her household during those tumultuous days.

‘Fragile’ will run until July 31.