Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah

Art and remedial practices have been a duality that has often been explored throughout time for its capacity to provide liberation in creative expression and thereby, freeing the mind of its illness. The landscapes that P. Rupaneethan creates are those that explore these notions; exploring the space between the black and white, the spaces of violence and dismantling hierarchies that empower these narratives. It is through these conceptions that Rupaneethan creates for the Cancerfind-Galle Exhibition. Initiated by Pakistani artist and writer Mariah Lookman, the first segment of the initiative will host upto twenty-four artists from across the globe as they contribute to the cause that combats the hindrances and limitations that cancer allows. In documenting this initiative, we conversed with the artist, he discusses the idea of his works of art providing this space of solace and identification of body and mind.

Born in 1991 in Batticaloa, Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah is a visual artist and a teacher of Sculpture and Drawing at the Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies of the Eastern University in Sri Lanka. Specializing in sculpture, he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Design at the University of Jaffna in 2016, going on to participate in the “9th Episode of URONTO Residential Art Exchange Programme” in Bangladesh. P. Rupaneethan’s most recent solo exhibition, ‘A Search for Connectivity’ was held at esteemed gallery, Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo in 2021; the artist has also showcased at several group exhibitions including ‘An Exhibition of Sri Lankan Contemporary Art in Aid of The Sunera Foundation’ where he exhibited ‘Landscape’ 2014 at Paradise Road Galleries in 2020 and ‘My Inner Land’ at ‘A Timeless Heritage’ in the United Kingdom in 2019.  

Q | In your opinion, how does art play a role in the process of healing/catharsis?

A | I am keen on drawing portraits, objects, and landscapes. I first turned to soft rubber materials during my university studies, when in the midst of severe mental and physical ragging (hazing), I began to focus on my own identity and skin. Ragging encouraged aggressive and toxic masculinity patterns and power hierarchies, and in one violent incident, it expressed its corrosive impact against my own male body. Through rubber and other materials, I found a way to explore my own pain and the shaping of my experiences through the construction of another masculine power, very different from the hegemonic presence in patriarchal structures. Using various materials and manipulating different scales that represent the skin’s inside and outside. I create possibilities to think about boundaries between the negative and the positive space, and between the notion of the masculine and the feminine. By extension, and in acknowledging the interconnectedness between all things and beings, my work has led to reflect on how the natural environment moulds human existence, and the violence we unleash against it and against each other.  It is my belief that we can use art to dismantle the power hierarchies that have hurt me so much personally and continue to destroy both society and nature.

Q | Hailing from Jaffna, to what extent do you believe art has recorded and archived the grievances of individuals from the consequences of the civil war? And do you find a resonance between those works of art to ones that deal with healing/catharsis differently?

A | I was born in Batticaloa and completed my Bachelor’s Degree at University of Jaffna. My early experiments with rubber were included in my final show at the university in 2016 titled ‘My Soft Skin.’ While I was a student in Jaffna, I witnessed transformations in the landscape caused by decades of war and the individuals trying to dominate the land. I saw first-hand how the land bears the effects of these struggles. I also witness the scars of the conflict in my own colleagues and friends’ bodies, minds and skin. Through my work and chosen medium, and in making portraits of myself and the landscapes surrounding me, I found I could blur boundaries between “body” and “land,” between the “moulder” and that which is moulded, so as to think about the liminality between the two. With my experiences in Batticaloa and Jaffna, I have been learning different issues and reflect on them using visual language. I have displayed my artworks in many group exhibitions and also, I have recently done a solo show titled “A Search for Connectivity” at Paradise Galleries, Colombo. Recently, I participated in a Tandem Residency organized by the Colomboscope team in Jaffna, which was a great chance to explore many things there. Not only art-making process heals us, but also meeting different audiences and having a conversation about the visual experience makes me feel a kind of motivation in spirituality.

Q | What inspired you to engage with art, and chose art as a means of expressing yourself?

A | In my childhood, I had no idea about what being an ‘artist’ was, but I was inspired by my elder brother, who was a teacher at a school in Batticaloa. In our family, he was the one who first started to draw portraits, landscapes, and designed banners for school events. Then, my other brothers and sister were inspired by him and started drawing in their free time so, I learned to draw from and alongside my siblings. At University, when I was in my first year, Dr. T. Sanathanan, who is a prominent artist and Art Historian, was the coordinator of the department. He was able to invite and bring senior artists from other areas in Sri Lanka as visiting lecturers there. That was a great opportunity for me to learn art from practicing artists such as Muhanned Cader, Mariah Lookman, Pradeep Thalawatta, and many others. I also learned art history from Dr. Sanathanan and Mr. P. Ahilan. All of these people have deeply inspired me and influenced my art. On what and how my art is concerned about, I take inspiration from the landscapes surrounding me. I investigate the community-based identity, my own and the role of nature in shaping identity, with the hope of uncovering flexible or permeable spaces capable of connecting both lands and peoples. It is important for me to work with and through different materials; this helps me to answer the questions I face and express my thoughts and feelings.

Q | What are you working on/worked on for ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ and how do you perceive it playing a role in contributing to the framework set?

A | I will be sharing my drawings for this project. They take on landscapes and land-based conflicts alongside the construction of identity in Sri Lanka. The displayed work will be the next phase of this personal and professional ongoing exploration. As an artist I feel, on the one hand, displaying this work in public can raise  awareness about this issue to the audience of this exhibition as well as on the other hand, contributing to this show by donating works for saving human lives I feel is one of my duties as a human being.

Q | What do you hope this exhibition ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ will achieve?

A | I hope this exhibition will be very successful with some of the amazing, emerging and prominent artists’ works from Sri Lanka and other countries, at the same time, it can be a great chance to learn many things through the group display. Also, I hope people will contribute to this show in a more effective way, by absorbing the meaning of the art shared and support the fundraising. Artist Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah employs the methodology and techniques of moulding narratives through art in the pursuit to create a space that serves one’s identity and allows the liberation of this identity. P. Rupaneethan utilizes this space of liberation as a means of catharsis and healing. Through the visualization of landscapes, P. Rupaneethan acknowledges the intertwined threads between trauma and peace and allows his spaces to provide a sense of catharsis.

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20th July, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings