Art, Poetry & Science
Anoma Wijeywardene On Her Upcoming Exhibition, Deliverance
By Maryam Azwer
“Art is useless, that’s its power. Who needs it? Everyone does. You don’t need to buy it. You need to see it. Like nature. You don’t need to own it. You don’t need to rape the world, the way we’re doing right now.”
Anoma Wijewardene claims that she isn’t much of a writer, but one can easily see that her art is poetry itself – expressing a range of ideas and emotions in colour. We are supposed to be discussing her upcoming exhibition, Deliverance, but get easily carried away, especially when my eyes are drawn to a large sheet of glass leaning against one side of her garden wall. “The glass was from a previous exhibition on peace and reconciliation,” Anoma explained, and graffiti written on it by a number of people who had attended.
We ended up talking about her previous works, nature, her days as a college student in London, ancient Sri Lankan irrigation methods, the war, poetry, and nature again.
An alumna of Central St. Martin’s College, University of the Arts, London, Anoma has held solo exhibitions in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Maldives and Sri Lanka, and has also exhibited in group shows in Singapore, Brisbane, New Delhi, Dubai and London.
Having completed her secondary schooling at a Catholic convent in India, moving straight on to an arts college in London was a dramatic and thrilling change for Anoma. “The first term, I was dead scared. It was a really wild atmosphere, but also quite a learning curve. Art college in the 1970s… it was a very exciting time to be a student. We had the best time ever.”
Apart from the people she met and the places she travelled to, the times themselves posed interesting experiences for Anoma. She recalled one incident, in Soviet Russia in 1972, when she and the group of art students she was with were stranded in the Moscow airport when their flight was delayed six hours. “To amuse ourselves, the guys got into our clothes, we got into their clothes, and put on a bit of a performance. Then, my best friend… she just decided to do some cleaning, and the cleaning lady gave her mop and broom! This was during the red soviet rush. I thought we would any minute be taken away to the Gulag… but amazingly, nobody said anything. The whole place was a riot, and they had never seen anything like it, so they gave us their mops and brooms, the customs officers gave us their caps, and they loved it, we were just playing hell!”
The following years brought other experiences too, all of which have evidently contributed to Anoma’s personality as an artist. Having listened to her stories, and having seen some of her works, one does understand that this is an artist with a lifetime of kaleidoscopic experiences from which to draw inspiration from – and from which she has drawn inspiration from. Highly influenced by German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, Anoma has combined poetry at previous exhibitions of her creations – paintings, digital installations, mixed media works – this time, however, she has added science to the mix, an initiative which again has sprung from her engagement with nature.
“I’ve always been interested in nature, and all my paintings, if you look at them, may be about something else – about faiths, for instance – but the content, structure, or form, of the paintings, is very much to do with nature.” For Deliverance, Anoma has for the first time teamed up with an environmental scientist, Karin Fernando of the Centre for Poverty Analysis, and poet Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe, who, apart from writing two poems for the exhibition, has also written the titles for all of Anoma’s works on exhibit from the 13th of this month.
Deliverance, as much as it is about art itself, is about climate change, with particular focus on water, Anoma explains. Timed to coincide with the Rio+20 Earth Summit, this exhibition is also of personal significance to Anoma, because it is dedicated to her father, Ray Wijewardene, well-known engineer and inventor.
“My father was someone who was very keen on sustainability and alternate energy, so I suppose we kind of grew up with that,” said Anoma, who herself has participated in a number of environmental initiatives, including International Whaling Commission marches, while she was a college student.
She has also in recent times been influenced by environmental writer and journalist, Fred Pearce, whose writings include discussions on a looming water crisis, and the importance of water even in a Sri Lankan context, and it’s place in our culture and heritage.
Anoma’s works have explored diverse topics; they have made statements, they have asked questions. When I commented on her various themes – nature and faith, man and space, transformation and reconciliation – Anoma explained that “The thing is they’re not themes as such – what engages me is what I paint. It’s what I feel passionately about, what I can’t understand, what I’m trying to explore, or the questions I’m asking in my head, that actually emerge in the paintings. It is very hard to dissect how paintings happen.” When Anoma gives me a sneak peek at the works she has lined up for Deliverance I have mixed feelings. One part of me is thrilled. The other part of me, I admit, is half wishing I was seeing the artwork for the first time, in its real form, and not just pictures of her captivating creations.
She laughed when I told her this, and said she understood, and agreed – there really is nothing to beat the real deal. Deliverance is sponsored by HSBC, and will be open to the public daily from June 13 to July 18, with digital installations, a glass sculpture, iPad art and paintings on exhibit at the Saskia Fernando gallery, as well as mixed media works and a digital installation at the Paradise Road Galleries.
A later exhibition, to be held in a public space from June 22 to July 18, is to showcase more art work in a trilingual, interactive setting, with more focus on climate change.