OF DISTRESS AND DESPAIR
Feelings of trauma and anguish are widespread amidst the current pandemic. Illness, suffering and desolation seem to occupy the minds of people, and in this period of despair, art provides solace. The ongoing fight against COVID-19 has drawn renewed attention to Artist Pushpakanthan Pakkiyarajah in not only expressing his feelings, but also that of society. Currently serving as a lecturer at the Eastern University of Batticaloa, artist Pushpakanthan Pakkiyarajah, represented by Saskia Fernando Gallery has participated in multiple art festivals in Sri Lanka and overseas, including the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, India, Conceiving Space - Colombo Art Biennale, and Colomboscope, Sri Lanka to name a few. As he converses with ARTRA, Pushpakanthan elucidates on navigating feelings of trauma.
Q | Tell us about the work you engaged in during this pandemic.
A | Most of my creations depict experiences and discourses that have tragedy as the all-consuming theme. Rather than pleasant events in life, incidents of intense pain and physical or mental suffering compel me to explore the nature of these deep seated feelings as they resonate with the prolonged agony my country is emerging from. My works express themselves as the psychological analyses of the reactions that such suffering evokes in me. Nevertheless, I am trying to observe the everpresent trauma from a certain distance and embed my artistic approach in a globalized context by exploring ideas relating to agency, identity and gender.
When the curfew started in Sri Lanka and the quarantine began, several questions came to my mind like how people were going to deal with the lack of income and therefore the lack of resources, mental stress, the stigmatization based on the mere suspicions of being infected, or the general feeling of panic experienced within a closed space. Consequently, I felt paralyzed for the whole first week and then I started to draw. I think of myself primarily as a studio artist and I love to bring the surrounding nature to my studio. Indeed, solitude is essential to me since I become more inspired to work on my own and try to transform all the pain and trauma I have experienced in art since, to me, it is a therapeutic, healing but also an individual process.
Q | How would you like your art to be approached?
A | I would hope that people are struck by my work; that they find it thought-provoking, rather than merely beautiful. If they only contemplate the aesthetics of the work, no doubt they will forget about it very quickly afterwards. But if they are impacted by my paintings, they will not forget the depictions, as they will be provoked to think deeper. Artists, in my view, have a social role. They are conscience-shakers who have the capacity to open people’s eyes and make them think. The artist should also cultivate their role as audience and not only as creator, since it’s the only way in which can they understand the extent to which their art is received.
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