I hear those voices that will not be drowned a video work featuring Venuri Perera
SLDF 2021, billed as Sri Lanka’s first ever virtual design festival to showcase and highlight ‘Designed and Made in Sri Lanka’ will take place from 15th -17th January 2021. This event will see the participation of respected genre leaders such as artist Anoma Wijewardene who has been selected as the Artist Spotlight of SLDF 2021. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, in London, Anoma has exhibited in many international cities, including Venice, London, New Delhi, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney. She also holds the distinction of possibly being the only Sri Lankan whose work has graced the cover of Vogue magazine. In 2019 Anoma showcased her work at the European Cultural Centre at the Palazzo Bembo during the 58th Venice Biennale.
Q What does it feel like to be selected as the Artist Spotlight of SLDF 2021?
I am very grateful and honoured indeed to be included due to the theme of impact and sustainability particularly because making an impact on these issues through my art is so vital to my process. Discussing transformation and personal journeys, our stewardship of the natural world and the planet’s dwindling resources and embracing tolerance and inclusivity are all burning issues which I have explored through my paintings, installations and videos for several decades.
This dystopian moment in our lives makes these concerns ever more apposite and I am thankful to have the opportunity to share these thoughts with a wider audience.
Q The theme of SLDF 2021 is ‘impACT’, how does your work reflect this theme?
Every painting is figurative and is almost still and muted and expresses our collective pain and journey of reflection. They underline the necessity of critically examining our own souls and reframing our thinking and our interactions with each other to embrace the universality of man.
It’s a series about what isolation has required of us; to reframe and recalibrate so that we can find a new way of making a positive impact on each other and the earth. To perhaps let go of the epicurean past of greed and consumption to reach a more stoic streamlined minimal life of conscious caring. The works are about the stillness we need to deep dive to find new and lasting solutions that can heal and reignite.
Arundhati Roy writes of this moment that ‘it is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or, we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it’
Anoma Wijewardene at work
Q What salient message do you hope to convey to the next generation of Sri Lankan artists?
I don’t feel I can or should give messages to any generation except to share that perhaps we each try to follow our passion, whatever that may be, with truth, integrity and perseverance. We are always struggling to improve, and to never get complacent? Perhaps it’s really not about the achievement and arrival but about the process and the journey?
If I was specifically asked to mentor someone I would perhaps say be deeply attentive not only to your inner voice but to the burning issues of today’s world and to use the powerful language of art to share ideas which can reach hearts to inspire change, harmony and healing.
Q Being in virtual isolation during lockdown, did it feed your creativity or stymie it?
I was initially in quarantine, and then lockdown and I was quite traumatised by the experience and it certainly completely and scarily stymied any expression or creativity. The block was made much worse by people calling to say you must be painting and creating now that it is all quiet. Which was even more confusing since those who create on a daily basis do so while the world is buzzing insanely around them.
I was rapidly beginning to unravel when my friend the poet said she was also unable to write anything, and was feeling equally awful.
So we made a pact that we would write or draw any old rubbish and that if we wished we would share it with the other…. on the basis that it would be rubbish we would be sharing!!! So this is what I did starting on the 4th of April. I shared some of the rubbish and she loved it ….. I really couldn’t tell if it was ok or not, since my critical skills were gone at that point. Her encouragement was hugely affirming and so the series was born and continued until the 6th of December. By the way it is quite interesting what this exchange, this deal, set her off to do, and that is her story to tell but I am very very excited by it!
QHow has your work evolved over the years?
As an artist my oeuvre has evolved over several decades in the form of paintings, installations and videos, which examine self – revelation, transformation and renewal. The work reflects on our compunction to grow and seek compassion for our inner child and the extension of this humanity to the outsider, the alien.
Q What are the key messages your art conveys to the public?
The art in several shows across the years also strives to impact the viewer to reach across the divide, with tolerance and acceptance of our fellow beings whether they be from a different species, race, colour, religion or belief system. Inclusivity, embracing diversity and human rights for all is paramount to a sustainable future. Several exhibitions have included collaborations with writers, poets, performers, scientists and activists inviting interaction and dialogue, inspiring the viewer to move beyond judgement, born of ignorance and fear, to seek reconciliation and harmony.
Seven exhibitions commencing from 2005 have examined the crisis of climate change and mans indivisibility from earth. The art, in all its layered and complex forms, extols the rights of nature and urges the nurturing and protection of the fragile planet which sustains us.
Q At SLDF you will be unveiling your latest work Vivikta : the new extraordinary’. How would you describe it?
‘Vivikta : the new extraordinary’, the series was birthed out of lockdown and shares my lone journey, and the impact of lockdown through weeks in quarantine and months of curfew. The Sanskrit word Vivikta embraces isolation, solitude, separation and purity; and the works are intensely intimate evocations of our collective experience of isolation, contemplation and eventual recalibration towards a new extraordinary life. The works are minimal and embrace the bare directness of the pencil and paint with a focus on the body and the expression of deep emotions. They explore the essence of what is essential in life. They hark back to exhibitions on Transformation that the artist has pursued since 2002, although in a very different form and approach.
In these bleak times we truly have had to turn to our personal resources for our sustenance in both heart, mind and body to find ways to transform our viewpoint, as examined in the mirror installation ‘reflect, reframe, renew’ , to find a new extraordinary life. This work will be unveiled online and I will be joined by collector and muse Sunethra Bandaranayake who will explore the new collection alongside me.
Q In this, you collaborate with award winning wordsmith Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe. What did you she bring to complement your work?
The titles are from Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s poetry which is often embedded in the paintings. They clarify and elucidate thoughts on reframing our thinking and actions towards a more caring and conscious stewardship of our fellow man and our planet. As Ramya herself says” This is a series about our days that have been made stark and bare by nature forcing us to retreat inwards, to turn to our personal resources for sustenance. Resources essential to our survival – compassion and love. Qualities of being that we must first offer ourselves and then have the generosity to give and receive from others.”
Q 2019 saw you publish your monograph Anoma. This has raised many questions on how we face and reckon with seminal moments in history. Tell us about your planned discussion with Ashok Ferrey which will address these concerns.
I will address the questions raised through Monograph Anoma. Questions such as ‘How do we face and reckon with this seminal moment in history? How do we react? How do we dig deep to recalibrate, and how do we renew?’ The book covers 50 years of my work on sustainability, diversity, unity, and transformation, During the discourse I will share my thoughts on my art, during this unprecedented time and the impact this dystopian moment will have in our lives.
Q Another of your segments at SLDF is the screening of your video ART Collection. What can we expect from this segment?
I will be presenting three art videos which were created and directed by me. They each explore the passions of the artist in collaboration with musicians, dancers, writers and poets. The first titled ‘Deliverance’, embraces the protection and celebration of nature and our fragile planet and the paintings are underscored with sounds of nature combined with the haunting poetry, written specifically for the exhibitions Deliverance and EarthLines, by Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe. They are read by Mokshini Jayamanne and Ashok Ferrey. The artwork incorporates words from lovers of nature and inspires us to protect and nurture the fragile planet which is our only home.
The second is ‘Mi Casa Es tu Casa – (my home is your home)’ which showed at the Venice Biennale. Here, thoughts on harmony, inclusivity, diversity and migration are encompassed in Mi Casa Es Tu Casa. The trilingual installation combines quotes on inclusivity with abstract references to nature with maps and contours of Sri Lanka as it’s backdrop. A single crystal globe twirls over a bowl of water as words by Arundhati Roy lilt through the air. The entire installation is mirrored, evoking the fragility of space, time and manmade borders that divide us. Venuri Perera performs within the installation to the score by Ranga Dissanayake.
The final piece titled ‘Hear those Voices that will not be Drowned’ contains an installation of mirrors and floating, swirling panels of images of people on the move provides the dynamic space for an intimate performance by Venuri Perera which evokes feelings of loss, memory and displacement; and embraces our longing for truth and love. It bears witness to our constant hope for healing and renewal.
Participation is open to the public for free, but requires prior registration via https://www.srilankadesignfestival.lk/artist-spotlight
Anoma’s Programme Segments:
Artist Spotlight: Video Art Collection
16 Jan, 11:00 – 11:30 GMT+5:30
Artist Spotlight: Gallery Walkthrough with Sunethra Bandaranaike
16 Jan, 16:00 – 11:30 GMT+5:30
Artist Spotlight: In Conversation with Ashok Ferrey
17 Jan, 11:00 – 11:30 GMT+5:30