In conversation with Anusha Gajaweera

The ideology of identifying a nation through symbols allows such emblems to be personified by the character of a nation. Anusha Gajaweera’s works of art then attempt to exist ambiguously yet robustly, unidentifiable yet candid. He does not share the landscape of a nation’s identity yet creates an alternate political space that probes and questions the objectives of pre-existing identities. The works of visual artist Anusha Gajaweera in this edition of ARTRA Magazine, ‘(In)Complete Flowers’, is a series of black and white distorted flowers that attempt to transpire the political context of today’s society. We find Anusha’s works of art presenting a refreshing perspective of political aspects in his subversion of flowers; those intending to present the dark and melancholic rigidity of the sociopolitical environment and its effect on one’s soul. His canvas of distorted and outlandish flowers are symbolic in expressing the idea of human destruction while boldly conveying its association with political contexts. They attempt to confront the societal injustices of a nation while the essence of its underlying message reflect the existing friction between the nation and its capability to progress. In the context of social, political and institutional power, ‘(In)Complete Flowers’ brings forth the power struggle visible in socio-political entity in the country.

Anusha Gajaweera, born in Sri Lanka, graduated in Bachelor of Fine Arts (Special), University of Visual & Performing Arts, Colombo in 2008 and completed his Master of Arts, University of Kelaniya in 2012. In 2017 he received his Master Class in Art certificate from the Theertha School of Art of the Theertha International Artists Collective and completed a certificate course in art history from the same institute in 2019. Since 2009 he has been working as a university lecturer in visual art in some of Sri Lanka’s universities and art institutions. He had lectured in Sri Palee Campus, University of Colombo, Vibhavi Academy of Arts, Theertha Top Studio and currently he is a visiting lecturer in University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo, Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies in Eastern University and the University of Moratuwa. Anusha has participated in art exhibitions, summits and residency programs in Sri Lanka, India, Japan, New York, including the Colombo Art Biennale, the Jaipur Art Summit, ‘Setten’ at the Sojo University, Japan and Rah residency, Iran. As we explore the ideologies and attempts to address larger questions in society through the subversion of flowers, we converse with Anusha to reflect on his practice and application of floral motifs that address the symbolism behind ‘(In)Complete Flowers’.

Q | In your collection ‘(In)Complete Flowers’, there is a significant use of black and white – what is the significance behind this choice of colour palette?

A | I have used the technique of charcoal drawing to create my collection, ‘(In)Complete Flowers’. In employing this technique, I intend to showcase a certain sense of chaos; the charcoal colour and texture is such that when I draw my flowers, I am able to depict the aftermath of destruction from a bomb blast. It implies that the objects were shattered, broken, burnt and ashen. I wanted to show that the figures were the remnants of a destruction caused. And inevitably, the colour white adorns the backdrop of the flowers as they are drawn on paper. This is how I intend the collection to be witnessed, and consequently, through this manner the viewer also sees what is not presented – between the lines of black and the absence of black that take up the rest of the canvas. These figures are not purposefully drawn, yet they can be observed. Incidentally, the colour black represents darkness, so charcoal became my medium of expression in conveying the despair that begets as a consequence of riots, social struggle, social injustices and civil wars that have occurred in this country. I believe, this society that we live in has not been an ideal environment for one’s soul. People are on the extremes of pain and sorrow. The charcoal drawings then represent this melancholic and depressive incidents. And these depictions can be observed as both personal and subjective; it is a societal concern, yet I draw from personal experience.

Q | There is a diverse selection of flowers used; is there a significant meaning behind them/what are they meant to reflect?

A | In the current society that we live in, we hear the name of Lotus in many forms such as lotus tower, structures and lotus ponds. They have been referred to in our history and have been the focus of many conversations. For example, the Nelum Pokuna located in Polonnaruwa is the most recent part of our history, and it is also symbolically represented as a lotus, as per the name. In Buddhist history too, during the early days, ‘Siyapatha’ and ‘Neluma’ were words emblematic of the lotus that referred to Lord Buddha. The flowers and its buds are meant to symbolize divinity and purity and carry significant value in contexts of religion and are often applied in politics. Yet, the flowers I use in my drawings are those that cannot be explained. Although the lotus is politically significant, it’s become a marginalized idea and I have hence, intentionally left out this species. But there are flowers such as the jasmine, pineapple and ‘vetakeya’ flowers, those that are part of historic temples and buildings and although initially I set out to draw these flowers of cultural importance, as I drew, it dawned upon me that I was drawing flowers that were alienated, flowers I was unfamiliar with so as not to associate it with a political subject.

Q | You have utilized an erasing technique across your flowers; what was the intention of this distortion?

A | The sorrows and social injustices that were taking place around the country and the world greatly influenced my work; subconsciously, I began to blur the lines on my canvas to reflect these injustices. Therefore I decided to blur and change the lines and the patterns by erasing them. In my practice I have considered the concept of erasing with the eraser as same as the concept of drawing with the pencil. The ideas of the marginalized often get discarded as they have no voice in society, which is another aspect behind the blurring of the flowers. Though I was conscious about drawing the flowers, I was not conscious about erasing them. It was illustrated with an unconscious mind.

We find that the artist’s works subvert flowers most potently as they demonstrate the corrupt political dissonances through drawing monochrome flowers and distorting their picturesque appeal. Thus, he illustrates unfamiliar flowers, intending to intentionally leave out national symbols such as the lotus to demonstrate the political system’s inadequacy and disregard for society. In subverting his flowers, the artist presents the injustices experienced. The juxtaposition of its solid vibrancy and dark overarching elements, foreign flowers and charcoal drawings spread across the pages this magazine, ‘(In)Complete Flowers’ is a depiction of the artist’s perspective on the justice system and a reflection of the impending social concerns; through his drawings of charcoal flowers to symbolize destruction and chaos, it becomes an abstract representation of disorder and innocence, vulnerability and violence. 

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18th January, 2022 Visual Art | Paintings