Art born from the Aragalaya | One year on
by: Hi Magazine
Celebrated artist Anoma Wijeywardene like countless others was deeply moved by the uprising of the people – the Aragalaya. Inspired by the people’s struggle and the predicament of the nation, Anoma created a series of paintings which convey her deep thoughts on a movement which came about due to people’s power. Creating a 360 degree angle to her art, Anoma invited political analysts, human rights activists and media personnel to title her paintings as they saw fit, adding a collaborative element to her collection.
What is the rationale behind this collection of paintings?
I do not ever begin with rationale. I seem to be driven by my emotions to create and it is only during the long and complex process of painting that the meaning and rationale emerges. While it is always feeling and emotion driven, my work is mostly about issues of existential concern; it’s about unity, diversity and reconciliation and about the environment and transformation. So these works were fuelled by my memories of a year ago, sadness for all that was hoped for and not achieved, and yet the ever present hope that freedom and prosperity is possible for all our peoples.
How did you keep your sanity while painting this collection when all around you there was mayhem and bloodshed?
To be honest, none of them were done knowingly during the mayhem and bloodshed. There are four paintings that are precursors to this collection which were painted on the actual day of the 9th of May 2022 while I had no idea whatsoever regarding the events taking place in my city. I find it impossible to work unless I am alone in my studio, undisturbed and cut off from communication and social media; I only knew about any of the chaos and mayhem after the curfew was announced in the afternoon.
After I had stopped painting and left the studio. I was devastated by the ensuing chaos and had no intention of sharing the work until a friend insisted it needed to be seen and so I shared them and it resonated strongly.
This new current collection of nine plus one works was done in the last few months while thinking about and reliving those times and specially that day while also being acutely aware of the suffering that continues for so many. These works are all in memoriam and an evocation of the thoughts and feelings about that shocking day, but also very much cognizant of our ever present, ever renewed hopes and longing for peace and prosperity in our beloved country.
Why did you select this particular posse of people to title your paintings?
I was titling them and kept changing the titles as I was not satisfied with them. As always, my titles are seminal to the work, therefore a friend suggested that I ask someone else who is better with words than I am. I then invited human rights activists, political analysts and media personnel to create a one sentence title for the unseen works. I asked them to share their thoughts on what they felt, what was achieved and where we stand now and where we hope to be. I am so thankful that they all responded immediately, without question and without seeing the artwork. Unconditionally. That trust in my work means a great deal to me and I am so touched and full of gratitude.
Do you think, in Sri Lanka, especially art can help to bring about peace?
I have to believe that all of us working each in our own way, however limited, however tangential, can help, might help. It is not activism in the obvious sense of the word but art activism is a great part of democracy. I believe, or rather, I hope that soft diplomacy and subtle suggestion; and reaching for the heart to concentrate the mind is possibly as powerful and effective. It cannot replace the justice of the law or direct intervention but I hope it has a soft and subtle power….which can often be more effective.
But of course, I really don’t know, and I can only hope for a sustainable peace and prosperity for our future generations.
What impact has the political and economic situation in Sri Lanka had on your creative process?
It has been tough as I can only create when I isolate myself. But when the situation is so invasive and destructive, it is hard to concentrate in a studio and create ‘the ivory tower’. At some point I have to say to myself that it is more productive for me and more useful to the world if I actually do not engage in all of it, instead I should contemplate, feel and emote the energy of the situation I and others are in.
Although your paintings evoke feelings of anger and sadness, there is an element of calmness to it. Is that intentional?
I am so thrilled that you feel that they do. I just simply cannot control or order my work in that way. It just happens I think. It’s sort of from the heart, without much thought or intention. These are just my feelings and it seems to reach the viewers heart. Or reach some at least!
Do you subscribe to the notion that the simplest of paintings can project a powerful message as your paintings have done?
Thank you for feeling that these do. Some paintings speak to some and not to others, but sometimes it is universal and from the reaction to these it seems they are speaking to many. However, it is interesting because while we may each look at the same painting and even from the same angle, we each see something different because we see from our own particular viewpoint, angle, desire, pain, hope, need, hate and love; and from our past.
Do you think this collection will resonate more with the masses who were the backbone of the Aragalaya or the Colombo elite?
I have no idea as it is just a day since they have been shared, but a cross section of people have commented very positively, shared and liked it on social media; and some of the paintings have already left the studio gallery to go to their forever homes.
I hope they are seen by many more.
It has been a year since the Aragalaya. Is this your way of paying homage to those who initiated the struggle?
Again, I have to admit that this was not my intention but it comes from a place that was deeply affected by the struggle, and for where we are at this point. Or rather where we are not. I am still concerned.
So it is I suppose a homage, it is also a reminder, it is also protest but mostly it is hope that even at this late hour of our independence we can find justice, pace and prosperity for all our people and for our future generations .