In Conversation with Amila De Mel

In creating a historically significant work of art that comprises the art of craft and architecture, there arises a unique relationship between architect and craftsman. The Exhibition of Ena de Silva that was launched on the 23rd of January as part of the Bawa 100 Exhibition presents the friendship that instilled itself in renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa and revered artist, Ena de Silva. Ena de Silva was a pioneer in reviving old craftsmanship and batik design in Sri Lanka. Her life is symbolic to the vivid colours festooned in her works, characteristic of her vibrant and persevering personality. This exhibition celebrates Ena de Silva as a renowned craftsman, for her masterpieces of batik and the relationship she shared with Geoffrey Bawa. Curator of this exhibition, Amila de Mel, an architect herself, who hosted the tour of the Ena de Silva house, worked with Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural practice from 1991 to 1995.

ARTRA conversed with architect Amila de Mel in discovering and discerning the roles of craft and architecture, their relationship with each other while elucidating on the particular friendship between Geoffrey Bawa and Ena de Silva. The exhibition presented works of Ena de Silva and unravelled the elements of Geoffrey Bawa’s vision while disclosing the relevance of each piece to the contemporary society of art.

Q |In your opinion, what is the significance of Ena de Silva’s works and her role as an artist?

A| It is hard to speak of Ena as just an artist. With the work she did, she took on various roles of also being a designer and a social/craft activist in her own sense. With her own artistic desires and sensibilities, she also created creative work opportunities for people in the village. By empowering more than a hundred men and women, she was contributing to developing a rural economy in the region. She constantly improvised and developed her own unique style while also being deeply rooted in traditional sensibilities. She was a socially relevant artist and designer.

Q | Can you talk about the exhibition and what it entails?

A | The exhibition is a small attempt to showcase Ena’s belief in the power of collaborations. The exhibition highlights two important collaborations that define most of Ena’s work. The first is the collaboration between Ena and Geoffrey Bawa. This friendship led to the creation of some exemplary crafted designs. Ena’s crafts came together with Bawa’s spatial design to create an experience that is relevant and appreciated even to this day after three to four decades.

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11th February, 2020 Applied Art