Interlude in Sri Lanka

In the winter of 2002, ten artists and two writers undertook an informal voyage to India's scenic neighboring country Sri Lanka courtesy the Guild Art Gallery. The emergent paintings, poetry and writings have been assembled in a show, titled 'Interlude in Sri Lanka'. Amit Ambalal, Anju Dodiya, Atul Dodiya, Baiju Parthan, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jehangir Sabavala, Jitish Kallat, Nilima Sheikh, and Reena Saini Kallat along with Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania after their sojourn to Sri Lanka have mulled over their experiences and have come up with an exhibit.

The stay in Sri Lanka served as a stimulus for these visual artists and writers, who soaked in surroundings of sculpture, architecture, painting and literature even as they entered a new territory. Introductory note to the exhibit by Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania mentions: "Our responses were not expressed immediately, which is appropriate. Instead, each of us has had the leisure to reflect on our Sri Lanka experience, over a year, and to process the intriguing provocations to the senses, the invitations to the intellect that we encountered during our stay in the island-country."

During a demanding but rewarding seven-day trip to Sri Lanka, the artists visited Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy, Negombo and Colombo. The common binding thread was their concern and love for art and architecture cutting across boundaries and cultures. After the trip, the artists responded to this nation of tranquility seized by blood spells, with oblique reflections on 'the field of the Buddha.' Most artists chose to explore the dual forces of peace and violence that exist in the strife-torn country. Jitish Kallat's Buddha is a distorted pixilated image, shot through with five bullets that bear the colors of Buddhism, symbolic of fragile peace. Reena Saini uses the Buddhist wheel of life revolves around a concentric-ringed lotus that symbolizes purity and truth (disrupted with images of daggers, canon balls and bullets) in her work.

Amit Ambalal and Anju Dodiya paint two different takes on the reclining Buddha. Anju Dodiya's Buddhist self-portrait exudes calmness; her 'real' self is caught in the jaws of a large fish. Is the sickly yellow glow on the self-as-Buddha portrait a post-partum look, or is it the look of a country that has been swallowed and disgorged by history; the viewer is left pondering. "Violence is a memory we all carry within us and it manifests itself in many ways and is a disruption of calm," she explains.

Atul Dodiya's dramatic black-and-gold triptych is abstract in nature. One of Baiju Parthan's works painted after the trip draws from similarities between landscape of Sri Lanka and Kerala. On visiting the spice garden at Matale, Parthan recounted his days as a student of botany. His memories resurface here. Nilima Sheikh's The Undying Brother emerges from washes of khaki green tempera, 'the fatally silent landscape vanishes even before we can gather it under our gaze, much like the country that yields no answers. Whose dying head does the brother hold, his own, his twin's?' as the accompanying note mentions.

Gulammohammed Sheikh's gouache on digital collage, in the midst of the stylized billowing clouds of pixellated fire are inserted the icons of Buddha. The artist cleverly uses the icon-form both as a metaphor of the reclining and the preaching Buddha, as well as a digital tool: the icon that clicks open into a hypertext of possibilities. Jehangir Sabavala's watercolor resembles a peeling apricot and green fresco (a chromatic homage to the celebrated fresco gallery of apsaras in Sigiriya).

A brief note on the participating artists: Amit Ambalal has held solo exhibitions of his paintings in India and internationally and is the author of 'Krishna as Shrinathji', an authoritative exposition on the art of the temple-town of Nathdvara. Anju Dodiya has exhibited with Gallery Chemould, Mumbai, and the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi. She has participated in various group exhibitions as well.

Atul Dodiya has held solo exhibitions at the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, the Walsh Gallery, Chicago, as well as participating in major group exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London, and the First Yokohama Triennial (both 2001) and the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2002). Gulammohammed Sheikh has taught art history and was professor of painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda. He has lectured on Indian art in Europe and the USA. Jehangir Sabavala studied painting in Mumbai, London and Paris, and has had numerous solo exhibitions and participated in prestigious such group exhibitions.

Jitish Kallat and Nilima Sheikh have held solo exhibitions with Gallery Chemould, apart from participations in group shows in India and internationally. Reena Saini Kallat too has had solo exhibitions with Gallery Chemould Mumbai and Sakshi Gallery, Bangalore.

Nancy Adajania is an art critic and cultural theorist. She has written and lectured extensively on contemporary new-media art and its political and cultural contexts. Ranjit Hoskote is a cultural theorist and poet. Among his six books are three collections of poetry (most recently The Sleepwalker's Archive, 2001), a critical biography of Jehangir Sabavala (Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer, 1998), and an anthology (Reasons for Belonging: Fourteen Contemporary Indian Poets, 2002).

Baiju Parthan was trained initially as a botanist and was midway through a graduate program in engineering when he decided to switch to the visual arts. He also holds a diploma in comparative mythology and is a trained Web-designer. Parthan works both as a painter and as an inter-media artist, and writes on the relationship between art and virtual reality.

The collection titled 'Interlude in Sri Lanka' is on display, at the Guild Art Gallery Colaba, till January 31, 2004.

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