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Anoma : Inner peace the way to sustain national peace

Visitors looking at ‘Through a Glass, darkly’ (inset) Anoma looking at ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned’


By Michael Hardy

Anoma Wijewardene’s new exhibition Phoenix, now on display at the Colombo Art Biennale, represents the artist’s personal response to the Biennale’s theme of "Peace." Drawing upon digital photographs she took during a trip to Jaffna in 2002 during the last cease-fire, Anoma has created a multi-media gallery show that invites viewers to find inner peace as the way to sustain national peace.

"I saw unbelievable devastation during my trip to the north," Anoma said. "There was a lot of pain, but also a lot of hope and happiness because people thought the war was over."

Although she felt hopeful about the future in 2002, by the time she exhibited art inspired by the trip in 2006 at the National Art Gallery the country was again at war. Now that the war is truly over, Anoma felt it was time for another exhibition. Like the 2006 show, in which Anoma exhibited her first works of digital art, Phoenix presents some of Anoma’s most experimental work to date, including her first works of sculpture and interactive art.

On the floor by the entrance to the gallery is spiral of stones in the shape of Sri Lanka, each stone inscribed with a quote about peace from people like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The quotes are written in each of Sri Lanka’s three languages, and visitors are invited to walk around the spiral to meditate on peace in the Zen Buddhist manner. In another corner of the gallery Anoma has built a reflecting pool in the shape of Sri Lanka which reflects the words "Hear the Cry of a Broken Pearl." When the water is disturbed, the words vanish—a symbol of the country’s fragile peace. One wall of the gallery is partially covered by floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Inspired by Sigiriya, Arundathi Roy, and Michael Jackson, the work asks viewers to examine their own hearts. Then, they are encouraged to write messages of peace in multi-colored markers on the mirror.

"We are all responsible for this war, and we are all responsible for maintaining a stable peace," Anoma said. "Everyone is excited about the peace, but do we have peace in our hearts? The guns are now silent, but have we silenced the gun in our hearts?"

In yet another interactive artwork, the viewer can walk between seven human-sized, semi-transparent photographs suspended from the ceiling. The photographs of refugees returning to their homes, taken by Anoma during her 2002 trip to Jaffna, are meant to prompt reflection about our relationship to the victims of the war, as wells as the IDPs. Anoma believes that only by thinking seriously about the last war can we avoid another war.

"There’s a lot of denial out there, a lot of avoidance—slipping things under the carpet," she said. "Of course, when you slip things under the carpet they come back. By not confronting issues you keep them around."

An actual confrontation is acted out in Anoma’s video installation Phoenix, which plays in a separate gallery at the Biennale. In the video, five actors silently pantomime a narrative about conflict and forgiveness over a soundtrack of brooding electronic music. The actors are enveloped in washes of kaleidoscopic colors, giving the video an ethereal, dream-like feel. Still photographs taken from the video, which possess an eerie beauty of their own, are on display in the main gallery and represent some of the most interesting work on display. Anoma chose the title Phoenix—the mythical bird that burns up, and then rises from the ashes to live again—to represent the country’s emergence from decades of armed conflict.

"I wanted to focus on the idea of the Phoenix," she said. We can rise out of the ashes. It’s very easy to see ourselves as outside of this war. ‘It’s terrorism,’ ‘it’s the politicians,’ ‘it’s other people,’ rather than, ‘it’s us.’ I mean, if the country has been in conflict for 30 years we do need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves what’s wrong with our daily interactions. What about us being a Buddhist, so-called peace-loving country?"

In addition to the more experimental pieces, the show features paintings reminiscent of her earlier work—expertly-modeled human figures partly masked by clouded glass. Most the exhibition, however, is given over to Anoma’s curiosity about new media and new ideas.

"I get bored very easily," she said. "I have a low boredom threshold. So why would I bore myself by repeating myself? My paintings are my adventure, so I don’t need to leave my house to travel. But I need to be travelling somewhere really exciting. And I never know if I’ll get there—until very late last night I really didn’t know if this show was going to work. I have never done anything like this before, and I don’t know what people will respond to."

Well Mudaliyar… How!

A scene from the play

By Sanoja

The Creative Arts Foundation staged Well Mudaliyar...How, at the Bishop’s College Auditorium recently directed by Jith Pieris. This particular play which has been staged many times prior to this was able to not merely bring in humour and satire at its best but also demonstrate that the former does not in fact change over time. Although the various mannerisms and characteristics portrayed by the cast maybe different to what theatergoers witnessed earlier human behaviour does not change much with time.

As Pieris says " this play was written in colonial times when the walauwas’ existed and it satirises this particular way of life. The Notary (played by Anuruddha Fernando) is as one would call in today’s context ‘new rich’ whilst the Mudaliyar (Hans Billimoria) has no money."

Notoris Ralahamy insists on speaking in English which apart from having prestige is the language used by the ruling classes of all communities. However, he directly translates Sinhala idioms into English often resulting in the use of the most hilarious Singlish, and no doubt keeping the crowd in fits of laughter…especially when he announces that he is writing a ‘unanimous’ letter to the Mudaliyar.

The play was written when Ceylon was going through one of its most interesting times in the country’s history. The feudal system of the old kings of Ceylon has been adopted by the British.

As the play unfolds it is evident that the Mudaliyar becomes very dependent on the Notary – to the extent that the latter with his crafty ways is able to weave himself into every aspect of the former’s family. Pieris adds that Well Mudaliyar...How’ is a part of a series of plays which has stood the test of time – well over seven decades. He believes that comedies such as these capture a large section of theatre goers enabling them to relax.

Whilst thanking Sita de Saram for giving him permission to stage the production, Pieris adds that the response they received from all who were involved in the play was overwhelming. "Anuruddha lifted the play and he was very good as were all the other members of the cast. Hans was ably supported by his wife who was played by Sashi Mendis who brought in a lot of experience into the play." In fact, she acted in this same role over a decade ago along with people such as Arun Dias Bandaranaike.

Speaking about his role Hans says: "It was interesting to work with Jith and the group and despite being a ‘historic role’ it went off well. Sashi says that she enjoyed playing her role which was very typical of the era in which it was written and she had to uphold the traditional values at that time such as the walauwa system, a family, dowry etc.

Anuruddha meanwhile adds that he was honoured to play the role he did and it was a lot of fun. It was also the first time that he took part in one of Pieris’ productions and he was therefore able to make a lot of new friends. "I interpreted the role in my own way and the humour was different to what it was in Pusswedilla as it was in a sense more witty and refined."

Another character who made the audience roar with laughter practically from the very moment he stepped on the stage was the suitor to the Mudaliayar’s daughter Phylis played by Bandara ( Dhanu Innasithamby.) He played the role of a rich planter who despite his wealth has no class. The Mudaliyar tries to literally ‘palm off’ his daughter on him. He does not know that the Notary’s son is in love with Phyllis.

Secretly, the Notary is overjoyed when he finds this out but is also disturbed that the suitor’s affair may go through and attempts to break it up…whilst he also tries to encourage a match between Freddy and his daughter.

Eventually the notary’s crafty schemes work out …and alls well that ends well.

The other members in the cast included Alwis (Liyanamahattaya) played by Pasan Ranaweera. Brandon Ingram acts as Freddy or the Mudaliyar’s son whilst Ashini Fernando plays the role of Phyllis who is the Mudaliyar’s daughter. Sajith Amendra was Chandra (the Notary’s son ) and Dila Weerasinghe was Emily, the Notary’s daughter.

The sets and costumes were handled by Mano Chanmugam and Kirthi Sri Karunaratne respectively.

What did the audience say?

" I saw the play many years ago with some of the best known names in theatre taking part…therefore to be honest I was to an extent disappointed that the play did not live up to what I expected. Overall, it was an extremely entertaining evening full of witty sarcasm which I love. The Notary in particular stood out from the rest of the cast." — Shiana Fernando.

"I was in fits of laughter throughout the play and it brought back the good old colonial times. It was a lovely evening and the Notary and Mudaliyar were very excellent. I feel that there should be more plays of this nature that are also affordable to a wider section of the population. " — Anomal de Soysa.

"I am not a critic on plays but I loved it. The Notary was fantastic as was everything about the play...the sets, costumes etc." — Goolbai Gunesekara.

"I liked the play immensely. The humour was very good and the entire production was very well handled." — A member of the audience.

Seneka’s exhibition at Musée de l’Etang de Thau

Seneka with his friends and visitors

I returned to Australia recently after a memorable stay in Languedoc, a famous region of Southern France known for its beautiful architecture and stunning landscapes, not to mention its top-quality wines.

On August 9th Shanta Perera and his wife Anna, who live in England and have a lovely holiday home in Languedoc, and I visited the Musée de l’Etang de Thau in Bouzigues – a suburb of Montpelier fondly known as the oyster capital of France – to see Seneka Abeyratne’s solo digital art exhibition, titled Images Of Bouzigues Through The Eyes Of A Sri Lankan Artist.

I understand that several organisations had helped him to hold this exhibition, including the French Embassy, the French Foreign Ministry, SriLankan Airlines, the Bouzigues Town Hall, and the Communauté de Communes Nord du Bassin de Thau (CCNBT). Incidentally, Seneka, Shanta and I were classmates at Royal College and our reunion in Languedoc made this trip very special.

Seneka, who lives in a village in Piliyandala and leads a somewhat other-worldly existence, has a keen eye for colour and composition, and I could see that he has been influenced by several artists from the last two centuries, including Monet, Van Gogh, Seraut, and Matisse. There are hints of impressionism, post-impressionism, pointillism and fauvism in his work. His paintings are very French and the way he breathes new life into places and scenes by using the photo as his canvas to add an unexpected new dimension is pretty remarkable.

Seneka’s exhibition (August 3 to 28,) introduced me to the wonders of digital art and I am truly happy I made it to the South of France to see it. I asked the artist, "How did you create those impressionistic effects?" And he replied, "With a mouse."

Seneka has done Sri Lanka proud by holding this exhibition in Languedoc, where at one time famous artists like Van Gogh and Gaugin used to hang out. Some of Van Gogh’s most celebrated paintings were done in Arles, another historic city in Languedoc not too far from Bouzigues.

— Mahinda Perera

Fremantle, Western Australia

Deepal writes on Nepal

Deepal presents his book to
Sri Lanka’s Nepal Ambasador

A copy of Deviyan Divaman Budun Upan Rata (The Land Where Gods Live And Where Buddha Was Born) the latest book by Deepal Sooriyaarachchi was presented to Sri Lanka’s Nepal Ambassador, Durga P. Bhattarai recently at the Embassy of Nepal. Mrs. Sooriyaarachchi was also present.

Nepal is known among most Sri Lankans because of Lumbini, the birth place of Gauthama Buddha. This book attempts to introduce other places of interest in this colorful country. The book is written as a simple guide cum travel log. The book has 96 pages with 15 small chapters and 95 photos and it is a Sarasavi publication.

The book covers important historical, religious and cultural monuments in the Kathmandu valley, an introduction to Hinduism, its practices and examples of Hindu iconography. While most Sri Lankans have visited Lumbini and Kapilawastu thru India, this book covers the journey to those two places from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.

The book also describes places of tourist interest such as Phokra from where the magnificent Fish Tail peak can be seen and Chitwan National Park where rhinos and tigers can be found. A detailed description of a trek to a remote village up in the Himalayan foot hills introduces a novel experience to the local reader.









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