Renowned Sri Lankan artist Prof. Chardaguptha Thenuwara launched his latest exhibition titled “Atmosphere | At/Most/Fear” virtually on 23 July through the Saskia Fernando Gallery Viewing Room platform. Atmosphere | At/Most/Fear is Prof. Thenuwara’s exhibition to commemorate the July 1983 riots for 2020.
“Since 1997, I have held annual exhibitions on 23 of July to mark the ‘un-commemorative’ pogrom against the Tamil people of July 1983. My exhibition each year also focuses on contemporary political issues. Most of my work relates to ‘ísms’ that I introduced as Barrelism (1997-2006), Neo Barrelism (2007-2009), and Post-Barrelism (2009). While the ethnic war ended in 2009, I find it difficult to contend that the country has moved to a period of post-Barrelism since there are many unresolved issues stemming from the long years of protracted conflict and continuing to manifest in day-to-day political, social, and cultural practice.”
Speaking on the exhibition, Prof. Theuwara commented that this is the first time he has held an exhibition exclusively online, choosing to do so partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year through this commemorative exhibition, Prof. Thenuwara looks to portray a critical issue in Sri Lanka’s political landscape, whether it is the dangers of extremism, the effect of political wrongdoings, or other critical issues affecting political and national growth.
This year, through Atmosphere | At/Most/Fear, Prof. Thenuwara noted that the issues coming through in his art are similar to the issues faced in 2014 and 2015, with controversial political appointments and military involvement coming back into play in the civil space as well as the potential for freedom of expression and living to be impacted. Prof. Thenuwara feels a shadow forming, something which comes through in his work and which is why he chose to invoke the sound of “atmosphere” and link it to how Sri Lankans are in a state of “at most fear”.
Atmosphere | At/Most/Fear continues Prof. Thenuawara’s style of “Barrelism”, which for him is his form of anti-war art expression. “The 30-year war and the 1983 riots happened in front of my eyes; I saw how Colombo transformed overnight because of the war, with barrels coming to Colombo for use in checkpoints. The barrels were for security, stopping people from moving freely and creating lots of division. They were camouflaged, to hide something, but in my work, it’s about showing yourself as well.”
Through his art, Prof. Thenuwara hopes to erase camouflage and remove war-oriented thinking, moving away from that mindset and healing the longtime scars brought on by war. Prof. Thenuwara’s work features various kinds of barrels, as well as 2D expressions and installations with various experimental techniques and applications, creating a “barrelscape”, using barrels in his own specific context to highlight Sri Lankan ethnic issues.
Prof. Thenuwara is one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent artists; he holds a Master in Philosophy of the Institute of Archeology of the University of Kelaniya as well as a Master of Fine Arts with Honours from the Moscow State Art Institute, where he studied painting between 1985-1992.
He also serves as the President of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka and founded the artist-run art school and exhibition space Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA) in 1993. His work has been exhibited internationally, from his native Sri Lanka to Australia, Asia, and Europe.
The exhibition Atmosphere | At/Most/Fear may be viewed through the Saskia Fernando Gallery virtual Viewing Room experience until 16 August.