Batik is an ancient precocious craft that hails from the Javanese lands of Indonesia. Its technique brought to the island many centuries ago by the Dutch. The intricate patterns printed onto fabric and textiles are representative characteristics of the nation’s history and culture, it is indicative of the village artists’ skills, those that were passed down by the Javanese and the importing to the Lankan island. Batik is a nuance of cultural significance and in his work, ‘Fabricated Society’, Chamila Gamage attempts to present this multicultural importance through visual motifs and patterns through batik print. His collection of work, created during the period of the pandemic is significant solely for its presentation of cultural elements that the artist has incorporated. His canvases rich with culture symbolically displayed through varying colours and images to convey that of the diverse nationalities and cultural communities of the country. In his work, Chamila Gamage has been insistent in creating conversation of varying subjects of critical importance from societal concerns to religion, race and culture.
Chamila Gamage was born in Beliatta, Sri Lanka in 1978. He obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo where he studied painting and sculpture. He would then go on to attain his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Kelaniya. His first solo exhibition MONOLOGUE,' was held at the Lionel Wendt Gallery in 2005 and since then he has taken part in both local and international exhibitions. Some highlights include the 17th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka in 2017, the Chinese Art Exchange Exhibition in Shanghai in 2018 and ‘Human Nature’, Group Exhibition of Visual Arts, Gallery Basement16 in Germany 2020. Chamila is the recipient of a series of awards; winning the award for 'Best Television Set Designer' at the Sri Lanka State Television Award Festival in 2012, and the first prize for Painting at the State Art Festival in 2005. Chamila is currently employed as an Art Director & Set Designer at Sri Lanka Rupavahini (TV) Corporation and is a visiting lecturer at the University of Visual and Performing Arts. Chamila’s most recent exhibition took place at the Barefoot Gallery; the artist uses contemporary batik art to present the nuanced cultural diversities of Sri Lanka in ‘Fabricated Society’. In conversation with the artist, we discussed his latest body of work ‘Fabricated Society’, batik print and the cultural significances behind it.
Q | Can you elaborate on the concept behind ‘Fabricated Society’?
A | ‘Fabricated Society’ means multicultural identities. Each and every country is enriched with various cultural identities from various social groups. Woven fabrics consist of various threads and different colours. Our society also consists of different races and religions, social groups, castes and more. Furthermore, our society is beautified with different gender identities, different customs and different styles of architecture, festivals and food. I’ve used batik medium to visualize these multicultural concepts and cultural identities. I have studied cultural diversity and various lifestyles which existed among various indigenous groups that belonged to different time periods and symbolically established it in visual art. This series of paintings effuse the beauty which exist in cultural diversity and organic lifestyles, and its difference. Establishing various cultural identities in one space was the main purpose. I personally believe we can break cultural barriers and go onward through this visual representation rather than linguistic forms.
Q | What elements have you used in your work to present the idea of cultural diversity?
A | Each society has their unique identity with their different lifestyles, customs, and rituals which are inherent to them. It includes the style of clothing they use, the accessories they wear, and the customs that they belong to. In that era, they used to have unique identities of the respective period by wearing their clothing, accessories, through the customs they follow, as well as their architectural designs, places of worship, nature and animals. Through my art I’ve tried to create a cultural repercussion “echo” of the period mentioned according to their region and their unique identities by recreating the intellectual depth of the elements they used in their clothing, accessories, customs, as well as their architecture, religious elements, nature and animals. Primarily, in this concept I’ve tried to recreate their cultural antiquities and composed it on the canvas surface by using the new media of Batik. As I create it, I make certain that these characteristics and cultural identities are blended with their cultural patterns and that it is based on their intellectual platform.
Q | What is the significance of Batik in ‘Fabricated Society’?
A | Batik is a powerful medium and it is culturally symbolic, therefore, I believe using Batik as the medium for this collection was the most appropriate choice as ‘Fabricated Society’ was more about cultural diversity. The woven fabrics consist of different threads and colours, to represent the diverse social and religious and racial groups. ‘Fabricated Society’ is an experimental collection which I’ve done with my family during the pandemic. Through ‘Fabricated Society’, I symbolize cultural diversity and various racial and regional identities of the country. We know our world is full of rich diversities of various cultures so I’ve presented in a way that the world can be likened to a colourful cloth. As the cloth get its beauty form various colours, our world is beautified with many cultural forms. So I did various experiments to bring this diverse beauty to the canvas and ultimately I found success with the Batik fabric techniques. Batik technique art is a very popular and pragmatic, commercial art form and is rarely used for sophisticated works so I attempted to change this tradition and added new value to batik art.
Q | In your opinion, how does art help break cultural barriers?
A | The distinct feature of visual art is that it analyses the cultural issues that language cannot do. Visual representations of different cultural identities are ways of bridging the barriers between different cultures, and it creates an understanding of cultural diversity in the viewer. Although language is a barrier in the culture, visual art is a good form that can be used to address any cultural difference. Cultural diversity is represented through various visual forms such as costumes, architecture, customs, festivals, colours and shapes. In today’s world almost every second, information technology and the internet bring different cultures together, creating a multicultural mix. It is my opinion that visual art will greatly help to break tribal barriers of society and create multicultural diversity that integrates various cultures. Through his work, Chamila has explored varying ideologies and themes, investigating our collective memory, attempting to explore universal subjects. In 2020, we conversed with the artist on his collection ‘Melting Humans’ where he used the medium of ice sculpting with materials of waste.
‘Melting Humans’ by artist Chamila Gamage explored today’s consumerist society, which has contributed largely to the downfall of the condition, of which the pandemic is an inevitable result. The collection is one that understands society in its actuality, a visible demonstration of activities and mindsets in the modern consumerist society and the psychological process that define human relationships. From history, war, sexuality, gender roles, religion Chamila provides an examination into contemporary society. His work, ‘Fabricated Society’ is an intriguing body of work that allows the viewer to interpret and perceive the rich diverse landscape that is inherent to the island of Sri Lanka and the significance of each community while appreciating the ingenious technique of batik print he has expertly utilized.
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