Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'self portrait' 2004 ,collection -gallery Art Koner-Den Hague
Pictures directly speaking to eyes, not mind

An exhibition of paintings by Sanjeewa Kumara will be held at the Gallery Cafe until January 5, 2011
By Rikaza Hassan

Sanjeewa Kumara prefers to refer to his oil on canvas works as “pictures” rather than the run of the mill paintings beause “they directly speak to the eyes and not the mind”. No wonder for they are really a vivid collection of objects. Take for instance the Tree of Life series where a vast collection of objects, material and natural, abound. Whatever your thoughts of them, you most certainly cannot call them dull.He calls his paintings “re-imaginings” — “It’s what I would have named them if at all.” Re-imaginings because post Independence “our art never developed to its potential, due to many factors, compared to Europe and now is the time to rediscover our own art, our own paintings.”“Art within nationalism” is how he puts it. For despite the efforts of the ‘43 Group, Lester James Peries, Martin Wickramasinghe and perhaps a few others, it never really gained ground. Now, with the war over, it is imperative that we begin the discourse on nationalism, opines Sanjeewa. “We’ve played with communism, liberalism, etc., and now we have to come up with our own thing.”
Our systems
Continues Sanjeewa, “Our systems - health, education, transport - worked for a while but are failing now because they are not suited to our culture. Our true culture has come down to us through the ages. We’re used to working hard for a season and resting the rest. The 9-5 continuous work schedule doesn’t suit us. That is why we have a systemic problem of people not working at work. Our culture has to be taken into account in rebuilding our country.”“We must develop our own technique,” adds Sanjeewa, a salient point that few really think about in terms of art culture. “... Like Chinese vases or Arabic calligraphy, so that it is immediately obvious where it came from.” It is but one of the many aspects of his craft that he is in the process of developing. A small matter for a man who believes revolutions within paintings are still a possibility ...Why did Sanjeewa become an artist? “There are many reasons. One, is because, this country needs artistes. Politicians and traders cannot develop a culture,” answered Sanjeewa.Painting also not only lets him express his views, and his politics but also presents him with the chance to read his subconscious. It is also the continuous exploration of his chosen craft -- the struggle to achieve perfection in his art. His own background, Lankan and South Asian art history, determining his identity (a questioning that began during his graduate years in the Netherlands) and his quest for as yet “undiscovered and unexploited dimensions in paintings” is what continues to fuel his work.

Uncanny personality oil on canvas 110 x 150 cm 2009
“Nations are made by artists and poets, not by traders and politicians. Art contains in itself the deepest principles of life, the truest guide to the greatest art - the art of living”..........
Ananda Coomaraswamy

i with i; Conversations with Sanjeewa Kumara is my self interview.

For how many years have you been a working artist?
Nearly 15 years

Which media do you prefer?

In your lifetime what are the changes Sri Lankan visual art practice and what is you involvement for those changes?
In My childhood Night Rider, Rambo, Superman, Terminator type of TV and Film stories are my visual fantasy. When I recall 80s I remember few artist’s exhibitions such as Senaka Senanayake S.H Sarath, George Keyt, H.A Karanarathena at exhibiting the national art gallery and Lionel wented gallery. Most of the times their subjects are metaphysical narratives or placeless universal feeling. Just before entering the Institute of Aesthetic Art Institute I am participated 1 st Kalapola and ‘Young Contemporaries’ organized by George keyt foundation in the beginning of 1990s.That is my first interaction with Sir lankan art audience.
Mid 1990’s arose many new pluralistic visual approaches to Colombo centered art culture. Performance art, installation art, neo- expressionist paintings and other contemporary art practice is showed Heritage Gallery, 706 Barefoot Art Gallery, Paradise Road Gallery, and some other private art Galleries. End of 1990s ‘’X’’ Group publications, actives and ideas give significant help to continue these activities.

This environment I did serious paintings named 'Uncanny Personalities' some of them I showed my Solo exhibition in 1999 at Paradise Road Galleries Colombo. Afterwards I stay few years in the Netherlands. Living in Europe gives me new energy and changed the viewpoint of constructed ideas, specially ‘Who am I?’ And difference between a picture and a painting. Recent six, seven years in my works, mixing various with popular and unpopular historical elements combining them as visual pastiche, I tries to synchronize them into an own, unique visual language. I am preferred to name them ‘non-western western art’.

What are you exploring? What are you responding to?
My works for some years has been within the framework of a self-styled project.
That interest and observe the Sri Lanka-ness. However, my paintings do not exclusively portray exotic, primitive, decorative, modern or metaphysical narratives.

My paintings reveal the radical ambiguity of fantasy. In sort term my art is predominantly an art of surprises. The uncanny—the fantastic—the marvelous—the hesitation—the supernatural- the Uncertainty is very important to my work. The Language of my ‘pictures’ is where [y] our desire is placed.
I prefer to call my works ‘pictures’ rather than paintings. An abstract painting or abstract expressionistic painting is rarely a picture; an abstract painting is a painting because it dwells primarily on the material and surface. But ‘picture’ implies a space one goes into.

Are you truely aware and consious for your [art] work ?
I'd have to think a lot about that. I'd like to see art become so much more important, and by that I don't mean paintings or drawings, but just the art of everything.
1989 Berlin wall is broken, after few years later Soviet Union is collapsed. Also it is turning point world art and art criticism; in 1990s visual arts have become a global phenomenon. The notion of visual arts as “a peculiarly Western activity” is no longer the only acceptable standard. In today’s our global art world, artistic centers are not limited to certain Western capitals but are instead dispersed in a multiplicity of centers around the world.
Art critics in Europe/north America were largely unaware that new visual art practice could be produced outside the West. Because of that No serious art historian would have explored what was going on in the so-called “Third World “and countries like Sri-lanka. Artists from non-Western countries were shown only in ethnographic/anthropological /ethic museums or exhibitions. Irony is non-Western countries some artist/groups only busy with social and political issues because it fit with these anthropological museums agendas.

Take the example of Geoge keyt who also busy with cubism same time era with Picaaso and G. Braque. He had some connection with France and He was an important member of the historically important movement of modernism. So Why Geoge keyt works not exhibiting modern art museums in Europe/north America?

Many challenges facing postcolonial artists are the attempt both to resurrect their culture and to combat preconceptions about their culture. Edward Said, for example, uses the word Orientalism to describe the discourse about the East constructed by the West.
Art is also about thinking. I think the duty of art is to try to integrate all of these things. I just wanted to be free. But it is not easy for me.

What is your heritage, and how does it influence your work?
Sri Lanka is an island civilization with long, rich history. it is my heritage. Its pivotal position in the ancient Silk Road, that functioned as a cultural highway between the East and West. Mercantile and industrial capitalism times Sri Lanka is the Gateway to the South Asia.. For example Colombo was probably known to Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders more than 2,000 years ago. Muslims settled there in the 8th century and controlled much of the trade between Sinhalese kingdoms and the outside world. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and built a fort to protect their spice trade. The Dutch captured the city in the 17th century. The British made the city the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon in 1802.
So significantly, Colonialism and post-colonialism raises questions about how notions of 'self ' and 'identity' have undergone deep and permanent changes because of the complex impact of Imperial cultures on native civilizations.

I interested this hybridity it always influence to my work.

What have been important moments in your career?
Participating for the Triangle Artist Workshop in New York in 2004

How do you connect western art history with your work?
I don’t think I have a direct connection with a modern art history.

Anyway While Rembrant was commissioned to paint 'The Night Watch' Devaragampola Silwathenna, court painter for King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha at the Kandy in Sri Lanka developed a new style of Buddhist temple mural paintings.'' This new style started to take influence from foreign architecture and art as well as with the native art and culture. In Victorian times pictures of the Buddha, Queen Mary and King George was painted in a unified style and placed over the doorways of private homes on the south coast of Sri Lanka. These images are influenced to my work.

What do you think about today’s Colombo visual art culture?
I and many Sri Lankan contemporary artists not use to participate sri lankan cultural ministry art programs because of their narrow traditional views about the art.
Because of this reason In 90’s Former President Chandrika kumaranathuna regime gives opportunity to start some NGOs as a alternative.
In the beginning those anti-establishment organizations more open minded but after 2,3 years later I feel their transparency is not clear and all the time run by few people.
So I did not directly participate both [Government and NGO] art activities.

And last ten years my art mainly exhibit in the Paradise Road gallery or the Barefoot gallery because I feel they create more Independent Platform for the visual artists.

What you think about 90’s trend in visual art?
90’s Colombo centered pluralistic visual art activities referred as '90's trend' by Prof. Jagath Weerasinghe. This might be his personal interest and he is Counter signature person for some artists. I feel these ‘90’s trend artists are not critical about the modern Art and western philosophy. Mostly they imitate modern and post-modern art without thinking. And not give attention to the cultural landscape of sri lanka. In general I noticed '90's trend’ artist is in a constant struggle to catch up with whatever is happening in the West and whatever west interest.

Who and what is your biggest influence?
Non western artists and their’s nationalism are my biggest influence.
However some of Pre-Renaissance artists and artists like Pieter Brueghel are influenced to my works.

Daily News
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Arrival of a little Prince
Prasad Abu Bakr

Sanjeewa Kumara's recent exhibition at Paradise Road Galleries did not fall short of entertaining his viewers as usual but this time around there was more than notes of whimsical verse in his work. A narration of a joyous journey and there was a reason for it too.

It is stated that Artist Sanjeewa Kumara has painted ever since he had the knowledge of how to hold a brush steady. His work proves this point if one looks close at the different techniques of brushwork which has been used by him in each of his paintings.

The artist who has paced through in obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts (painting) Degree from The Institute of Aesthetic Studies of The University of Kelaniya in 1999 furthered his studies on the subject later at The Dutch Art Institute in Enschede, Netherlands obtaining a masters of Fine Arts title. He has exhibited extensively and can be said is a one of the most successful contemporary artistes Sri Lanka has produced in recent times.

While busy working on his exhibitions Sanjeewa is also involved in a project since 2004 titled "Given Pepper Got Ginger' which is due to be completed this year, his other projects include 'Candy Cousins' works that was exhibited at Paradise Road Galleries in 2003 and later at Den Hague, Ensehede in the Netherlands a year later.

'Enjoy! Enjoy' a mural commissioned by the Theater Zwembad De Regents, Den Hague in the Netherlands in 2004 was another project which the artist enjoyed working on and earned him much recognition at the same time.

His playful style of unexplainable tales depicting dream like situations probably makes many of his viewers enjoy being a part of his work at any given time.

As one walks through the gallery viewing Sanjeewa's work the feeling of wanting to come back around again and again to view them becomes an unavoidable feeling.

It may be because the many decorative details that keep the viewer occupied throughout the trail tends to naturally disappear from one's mind as one proceeds, but the need to refresh one's mind and memorise his images becomes almost an obsession, that is if you are a lover of art who cherish pleasant recollections to be engraved in your mind.
Sanjeewa Kumara who has been exhibiting his work since 1996, years before he actually qualified through university here and totals up to almost 12 years has actually grown with his work. Even though it has always remained whimsical and canny they have not fallen short of conveying the artist's inner feelings at times.

Though sometimes his work has raised the point whether they were in fact a facade to a much painful introvert which the artist is concealing from the outside world? ‘Can’t love you unless I give you up’.
Whatever observations and conclusions one may be entitled to come to the fact that Sanjeewa Camera's work haven't seized to entertain from day one and has the ability to continue to do so is an praiseworthy fact.
However this time around the artist seems to reflect more joyous suggestions in his work. Some of the details seem more playful and almost as if it was all meant to entertain an outsider rather than the artist himself, which usually is the case.

"My son is two and a half years now" I heard him explaining to a visitor at the preview. What a wonderful feeling he was exclaiming through his work by enjoying the company of the 'Little Prince' (Don't forget he is Sanjeewa CAMERA!) in his family.
That unbeatable feeling of a father of his son.

'' CANDY COUSINS '' ; 'Enjoy!Dutch arches in the seventeenth century Malwathe Buddhist temple in Kandy'

Sujeewa KumariDaily News. 22 October 2003

In 1998 the Sri Lankan art audience specially recognizes him from the painting of the 'Great Emperor', which was exhibited Moods and Modes, 50 Years of Sri Lankan Painting exhibition in Sri Lanka organised by the George Keyt Foundation. The ‘Uncanny Personalities' paintings serious in his solo exhibition in 1999 at paradise Road Galleries Colombo seemed to be a turning point. Living in the Netherlands during the last few years, added integral substance to the current practice of his art. The colonial and postcolonial social and political issues in his country stimulate the contest of his recent paintings. Mixing various with popular and unpopular his torical elements combining them as visual pastiche, he tries to synchronize them into an own, unique visual style. His art world reflects trans-cultural hybrid images

'In the South Asian post-colonial cosmopolitan Colombo cityscape new modern buildings and sky scrapers arise in between historical colonial space such as Dutch, Victorian architecture. Contrast is evident…..You can decide to eat at a Tamil restaurant, Sinhalese restaurant, Chinese, Korean, Mc Donald western eatery……The traditional osariei, sariei, sarom, kurtha, salwari, frock, jeans, western style blouses, Indian style or nationalistic style clothing…… No matter young or old, people are watching t.v., attending cricket matches, window-shopping..... Ox-carts and new modem vehicles together in traffic…. The mix of huge advertisements, thousands of prints, various media posters, publications, images about political posters contrast with still visible signs from the civil war. The mix of old and new life unite”.

The current contemporary Sri Lanka art movement really got started in the mid-1990s. Most private galleries and some foundations emerged with a significant role, such as Paradise Roads Galleries, and Bare Foot Gallery, opening up spaces for the young artists to present their artwork .
In the contemporary Sri Lanka art history, there are two major art trends. From 1940 - 1950 the new anti-colonial group of artists established a movement called the 43 Group, which became active during this period. Sri Lanka is derived from the pre-independent era under British patronage and the European all traditions that were introduced by the British in the latter part of the 19th century.

“The 43 Group artists evolved as a reaction to the prevailing ideology of painting which promoted restrictive academic imagery, pseudo-oriental impersonations, and imitations of the Victorian Natural ism from 'Western art. They based their concepts on the metaphysical and the spiritual elements of modern art. Contexts such as mythical, religious, spiritual and meditative practices influenced the basic structure of aesthetics of Sri Lankan modernism, and this attitude was linked to the ‘nation building' project of the time. After the 1980s the Sri Lankan contemporary art scene experienced a dynamic change, emerging from the influence the new open economic policies that were introduced in 1977.

Trends from 1990s included another significant movement, which began primarily in Colombo. These groups of young artists have made their way and are energizing the contemporary art scene in a highly dynamic manner. ‘The aspect that would recognizably describe this trend is the conscious efforts to define art as an expression of 'now' and 'right here'; art and the art-making process as an expression of being contemporary. In other words, a majority of the contemporary artists show a common conviction in their artistic efforts by necessarily placing themselves and their creative energies within the 'current cultural moment' and its immediate and less frequently, in distant antecedents. This necessity to he in the 'current cultural moment' states a common idea, consciously or unconsciously held by most of the contemporary artists; that is the refusal of a metaphysical narrative that couches a wish to be universal in a theological and trans-cultural sense. Currently the most prevalent subject matter among this type of art making is the representation of urban environments, consumer culture, or chaotic social and Political environments contrasted with rural villages and hometowns.

sanjeewa Kumara's work is directed towards a new dimension, and is not connected very directly with defining the 'present'. However, they do not exclusively portray exotic, primitive, decorative or metaphysical narratives. He finds the motifs from colonialism and post-colonialism, the period between 1555-1977 Which, contrasts the ‘Western’ visual aesthetic with South Indian traditional art, craft and spiritual art. Colonial expansion in a story of the meeting between European and Asian peoples. The mercantile and industrial capitalism of Portuguese, Spanish, British, Dutch, Belgian etc. reflects the South Indian Ocean trade developments. Over 450 years of colonization and 30 years of independence communicate this trans-cultural conversation. Most significantly, Colonialism and post-colonialism raises questions about how notions of 'self' and 'identity' have undergone deep and permanent changes because of the complex impact of Imperial cultures on native civilizations. His works establish a forum to discuss these crucial issues.
His discipline includes painting and drawing. Kumara works by combining historically popular and unpopular elements from different genres, different periods, and recontexualizes the culturally nomadic images who live in hybrid' society. The recent years he has spent in Europe have given new energy to his work and have changed the viewpoint of constructed ideas, allowing him to reflect, objectively on the perspective of 'self'.

He says: “While Rembrant was commissioned to paint 'The Night Watch’ Devaragampola Silwathenna, courts painter for King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha in Kandy developed a new style of Buddhist temple mural paintings”. This new style started to take influence from foreign architecture and art as well as with the native art and culture.

In Victorian times pictures of the Buddha, Queen Mary and King George were painted in a unified style and placed over the doorways of private homes on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Dutch architecture was also used for major Buddhist temples the Malwatte Buddhist temple in Kandy, and the Gateway of the Buddhist temple at Kalanlya in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is an island civilization with long, rich history. Its pivotal position in the ancient Silk Road, that functioned as a cultural highway between the East and West. In mercantile and industrial capitalism times Sri Lanka is the Gateway to the South Asia.

In his works he removes ethnicity and authenticity as value criteria. As agency replaces dated essentialzing of geography and locality, peoples and cultures, art and styles, discourse opens and how things', (art) change, or how' Candy Cousins emerge “in-between” space. The works give different definitions of the self as and when relevant, that Western philosophical and South Asian tradition have constructed.

Kumara's new artwork clearly has youthful energy’; whether socially conscious or simply aesthetically intriguing these works manage to be both patriotic and global-minded.

Sujeewa KumariDaily News. 22 October 2003