In Conversation with C. Anjalendran for ARTRA's Barbara Sansoni Edition

Barbara Sansoni perceived much of the world and its subjects in colour, from its varying degrees of its eclectic hues to its capacity to manipulate space and structure. She is a wondrous colourist who derives inspiration from the altering shades of Sri Lanka's scintillating seas to its scenic sunsets and sunrises, of which its enigmatic tones seep intricately into her work as she draws with exquisite detail. Barbara's drawings featured on the special edition encompasses beautiful drawings of old buildings from aesthetically pleasing homes to exquisitely crafted places of worship across the island. Distressed by the demolition of traditional buildings in the name of progress and development, Barbara Sansoni took the initiative to draw these buildings in an attempt to preserve them, as much as she wanted to admire them herself in the 1960's, some of which accompanied the initial article on the joint work of Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner that featured in the Architectural Review of February 1966.  In our search of these drawings, amongst many others, we met with C. Anjalendran at his home several times, who shares a very close kinship with Barbara Sansoni, for a wider understanding of her journey as an artist. In between going through his dossiers of Barbara's works and enjoying Kumar's famous cheese toasts and sips of cinnamon tea, our exhilarating conversations led to a greater perspective and context to the artist's architectural drawings.

Q | In your opinion, how did Barbara Sansoni bring colour to Sri Lankan architecture?

A | Sri Lankan contemporary architecture followed the pastel shades of temperate countries, and had very little to do with Asian & Sri Lankan culture. As Barbara said, in jam, the fruit is always more expensive than the added sugar. Barbara uses colour scientifically and it's her unique understanding. Three colour companies had to provide the bright colours of yellow, blue and red for her colours for the SOS Youth Village, in Piliyandala. Geoffrey Bawa enjoyed this building, to his merriment.

Q | What do you admire most of Barbara Sansoni, as an artist, who envisioned and pioneered the growth of Sri Lankan art?

A | Since the early 1960s, designing colourful fabrics by distressed women, in weaving centres for the Good Shepherd nuns, she had the added advantage of seeing the "Interaction of Colour", which has led to her unique understanding of colour, particularly the light & distance of Space.

It would be even brutal to say that most other international theorists of colour, have not been able to demonstrate their understanding of colour, except intuitively. This goes for famous architects such as Luis Barragan of Mexico.

Q | As a revered architect & academic, in your opinion, how did Barbara Sansoni's architectural drawings contribute to the celebration of Sri Lankan culture and heritage?

A | I think that Barbara and the famous Australian artist Donald Friend etched on Clay Tiles in the early 1960s.Their collaboration influenced Barbara to include the surroundings in her own drawings, inspired by Donald Friend's style of paintings, that which she included in her column "Collecting Old Buildings" published in the Daily Mirror, during the same period. These in turn influenced Laki Senenayake & Ismeth Rahim to include realistically surrounding trees and landscapes in their architectural presentation drawings for Geoffrey Bawa, which subsequently influenced the Asian & South Asian architectural world.

Gunasena de Soysa House, 1963

Q | Through the years, you have worked closely with many artists and creative personalities in the industry. How have those experiences differed from the experience of working with Barbara Sansoni in the uplifting of art, architecture and culture?

A | Barbara, who is like a second mother to me, is a multi-faceted personality. She is not only an artist, with an exceptional and unique understanding of colour, but more so a story teller. Also most importantly, the love of everyday architecture, which she has recorded for her motherland, is a significant contribution. It is an appreciation of what's simple & good, not pompous, which unfortunately is where most architecture is generally encouraged.

Q | Can you please share some of your personal favourites of Barbara Sansoni's works, and reasons you are drawn to them, or personal stories attached to them?

A | Barbara has painted several of my buildings. In 1989, the SOS Youth Village situated in Piliyandala, of which the portals change from ultramarine to neon green. These are tied together with a bright yellow sunlight beam. The three courtyards are in shades of reds, oranges and yellows. Depending in the direction one walks this "rainbow" hall, expands or contracts. This shows a very clear understanding of colour. I also own her painting of Windows of Batticaloa which gives me great pleasure to see it every waking day.

Q | In your opinion, how does art in any form contribute to architectural heritage and evolution?

A | Art is not Life, but it is a part of Life. Architecture or how we live is an integral part of our lives, preferable without pretence. This I have learned from Geoffrey Bawa, Barbara Sansoni, Ena de Silva and Laki Senenayake, who have all enriched my Life.

C. Anjalendran began as a student of prolific architect Geoffrey Bawa. His works are renowned and celebrated across the nation and internationally for its modernist spirit and the reflection of Sri Lanka's rich vernacular architectural conventions. Anjalendra's refined eye and erudite understanding of the arts is a consequence and result of hours and practice, reading and research. A distinguished and scholarly architect himself, Anjalendran completed his architectural B.Sc in Sri Lanka (1973), and completed his post-graduate diploma (1976) and a research masters (1979) in Spatial Morphology at University College London. Returning to Sri Lanka, he next pursued architecture off his mother's veranda, and was an apprentice to Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka's legendary icon, and Cover Personality for ARTRA Magazine E55, 2020, where he absorbed the manner through which the legend addressed challenges of modern life through inventive and stylistic architecture. “Anjalendran: Architect of Sri Lanka” by David Robson was published by Tuttle (Singapore) in 2009. Anjalendran received the Golden Award for Global contribution to Architecture, in Delhi in October 2011. In 2015, Tailsman (Singapore) published “The Architectural Heritage of Sri Lanka: Measured Drawings from the Anjalendran Studio” by David Robson.   

Are you part of an organization looking to include cultural diversity? Do you want to introduce some of Sri Lanka's finest artists and legacies to enlighten your collective?  ARTRA Services will gladly offer counsel and guidance through talks, presentations and guidance on the local art scene and all it entails. For more details, call us on +94772305054/+94114545355.

31st August, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings