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Two exhibitions of contemporary Sri Lankan artists open at Breese Little
Jagath Weerasinghe, Untitled XVII, 2014. Mixed media on canvas, 150 x 150cm. Photo: Courtesy Breese Little.

LONDON.- Breese Little London, and Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, present Decorated and Emergency, two exhibitions of contemporary Sri Lankan artists. Decorated is established artist Jagath Weerasinghe’s first UK solo show, accompanied by an exhibition of four emerging and mid-career artists in the first floor gallery, Sujeewa Kumari, Nadia Haji Omar, Prageeth Manohansa and Priyantha Udagedara. The show runs from 29th May – 28th June 2014.

Decorated is a comprehensive overview of Weerasinghe’s recent paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, notes and a new installation. This body of work reveals the artist’s double sided consideration of life in Sri Lanka at present, whether confronting a member of the armed forces or the current prettification of Sri Lanka. Topical themes are presented for open discussion without drawing conclusions. Weerasinghe’s new paintings take inspiration from the Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini’s portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501-2), hanging in London’s National Gallery. Other motifs include monochrome veiled women and anonymous seated men. Bad Archaeology (2014) is a sculptural installation staged on the shelves of a domestic clothing cupboard, exploring the artist’s professional and emotional relationship with archaeology given his post as Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya.

Jagath Weerasinghe (b.1954) is pivotal to the exposure of contemporary Sri Lankan art, and has been a significant driving force in its development since the early 1990s. Recognising the need for a cohesive framework for his peers at this time, Weerasinghe coined the phrase the ‘90s Trend’ to describe artistic activity. He co-founded the Theertha International Artists Collective in 2000, which continues to foster new artists and initiatives. According to his understanding of the 21st century, artists are currently living in an era of ‘para-modernism’ in Sri Lanka. Weerasinghe’s own art, mostly as a painter and draughtsman, is deeply informed by his society’s actions. His work examines and critiques Sri Lankan anxieties, responding to collective attitudes – as he identifies them – and taking themes such as nationhood, religion, identity and confrontation for commentary. The artist’s work reflects his unresolved dialogue with his subjects, as shown through a number of series on recurrent themes.

Weerasinghe was educated in the visual arts at the University of Kelaniya and the American University, Washington D.C. He has exhibited extensively and is presently Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya. Weerasinghe’s contribution as a critical and theoretical voice in the roles of artist, teacher and critic continues to nurture and encourage artistic output in Sri Lanka.

Sujeewa Kumari, Nadia Haji Omar, Prageeth Manohansa and Priyantha Udagedara began their artistic careers during a state of emergency in Sri Lanka. Increasing attention has been paid to contemporary artists in post-war Sri Lanka, with greater opportunities for a new generation of artists that has quickly come into view. Emergency is a focused showcase of watercolour, mixed media on paper, scrap metal sculpture and video work.

Sujeewa Kumari (b. 1971, Colombo, Sri Lanka) focuses on new media and paper work. Finger Dance (2003) is an early work made during the artist’s studies in the Netherlands. Kumari completed her MFA at the Dutch Art Institute, Netherlands (2004) following a Diploma, Aki Academy of Fine Art, Netherlands (2002) and BFA, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka (1998). Kumari has exhibited extensively with solo exhibitions including Saskia Fernando Gallery, Sri Lanka (2014), Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo (2012, 2010), Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK (2010) and Aki Academy of Fine Arts, Netherlands (2002).

Nadia Haji Omar (b. 1985, Melbourne, Australia) is based in New York at the School of Visual Arts where she is completing her MFA, Fine Arts (2014) following a BA in Studio Arts, Bard College, NY (2007). Haji Omar grew up in Sri Lanka and has exhibited her work internationally. Solo shows include XVA Gallery, Dubai (2013), The Warehouse Project, Colombo (2010) and Bard College, New York City (2007, 2008). Recent group exhibitions include Bruce High Quality Foundation, New York City (2014), Leigh Wen Fine Art, New York City (2014), REVERSE SPACE, Brooklyn, NY (2013) and Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo (2011, 2014).

Prageeth Manohansa (b. 1967, Gampaha, Sri Lanka) is among Sri Lanka’s foremost young sculptors. He works primarily with scrap metal and found objects. Manohansa’s largest commission is a 16 foot high sculpture that stands at the entrance to Sri Lanka’s newest airport in the south of the island, an acknowledgement to the artists growing popularity both at home and overseas. Manohansa graduated from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka (2005) and Benares Hindu University, India (2000). Manohansa’s recent solo exhibitions include Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo (201), Gallery Steph, Singapore (2012) and MIVET National Centre for the Arts & National Art Gallery, Maldives (2010). Manohansa participated in Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka 2011, Asia House, London, alongside Weerasinghe and Kumari.

Priyantha Udagedara (b. 1975, Kandy, Sri Lanka) was born and raised in Sri Lanka and left the island to study in the United Kingdom in 2007, where he currently lives and works. He received his BFA from the University of Kelaniya (2003), MA in Contemporary Fine Art Practise, Leeds Metropolitan University (2007) and PhD from Leeds Metropolitan University (2008). Udagedara’s series of work on paper and canvas play with the concepts of beauty and agony in the island; a strong political concept he carried through to an exhibition of Sri Lankan art he was recently invited to curate at Leeds Metropolitan University. Selected solo exhibitions include Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds (2012), Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo (2010) and Barefoot Galleries, Colombo (2004).

BREESE LITTLE and Saskia Fernando Gallery have collaborated since 2009, exhibiting contemporary Sri Lankan art in London and Colombo. Their first curatorial venture, Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka 2011, Asia House, brought 14 artists’ work to London. The exhibition was the first international showcase of Sri Lanka’s leading contemporary artists since the end of the civil war in 2009. As the first of its kind in the UK, the exhibition presented approximately 25 diverse examples of Sri Lankan artwork. The galleries continued the collaboration with DRAWINGS (2012), a dual exhibition of Chandraguptha Thenuwara and Jagath Weerasinghe’s works on paper, staged simultaneously in London and Colombo. As two of Sri Lanka’s foremost artists whose dialogue spans the last three decades, the pairing of these prolific artists considered their current approaches to drawing as a practise. The exhibition was reviewed in Third Text among other periodicals. The gallery directors contribute to various publications on the subject of contemporary Sri Lankan art, writing gallery catalogues and associated texts. They also commission writers in the field to commentate wherever possible and participate in education projects including panel discussions and other public forums.

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