SUJEEWA KUMARI — her paintings talk of hope

by Maya Vikrantha
Sri Lanka is fast gathering an international reputation of being the wellspring of some brilliant contemporary artists. No more are artists afraid to branch out into their own specialised field, no more do they feel the need to paint for art’s sake, instead, their canvasses reverberate with the resonance of brush, paint and aesthetics. Udayshanth Fernando stands tall as many of these artists’ mentor and guiding light. Believing that art and style go hand in hand, Shanth has made his Paradise Road stores a runaway success. Oozing with up-market sophistication and urban chic, Paradise Road Galleries hosts an exhibition of young Sujeewa Kumari’s paintings from October 25th to November 15th.

She is a classic Sri Lankan beauty. Just as Sinhala legend described feminine beauty as"eyes as enchanting as a doe, or lips that resembled na-tree shoots" Sujeewa Kumari is endowed with a serene, calm beauty. Typical of the mountain-country woman that she is, Sujeewa is soft spoken to the point of almost being inaudible. But she sparkles when she talks about her art. She is filled with fire and passion when she explains what her concept of life is and why she paints what she does. Sujeewa is a young, contemporary artist who has made giant strides in her field and who has a fierce determination to write her name across the skies.

Born in the salubrious climes of Bandarawela, 29 year-old Sujeewa says her childhood had a lot to do with the path she chose in life. "We lived in Bandarawela, in a beautiful, scenic area. I grew up with a lot of beauty, both in my surroundings and in my peaceful existence as a child" she says, her eyes pensive. "My mother was always drawing or painting’ and as a child, I remember her always dabbling in art, I know I was influenced by this situation, she added.

Joining the Kelaniya University’s Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Sujeewa, not unlike a lot of her contemporaries, was encouraged to set her artistic spirit free. She realized then, that despite the disciplines associated with traditional art, she would much rather be an uninhibited, contemporary artist and paint from the inner depths of her soul. She had no illusions about the skeptical attitude that abstract artists were confronted with at the time she realized she was meant to be a contemporary artist, but was confident that her paintings were her own feelings spoken through canvas, pigments and brushes. Today, thanks to supportive personalities like Shanth Fernando, contemporary artworks are much-sought after and artists like Sujeewa find the confidence to go after their dreams. Sujeewa’s dreams are many. But she never loses sight of her main one, which is "Hope". "Life revolves around hope" she says. "All my paintings talk of hope. Hope in the form of flowers blooming through shackles, a sun rising through storm clouds, it is hoped that is the language of my paintings."

Sujeewa’s paintings have an extraordinary magnetism. They spring out at you, startling, gripping, and suddenly, the viewer is captivated. Her use of colour is superb because she has managed to paint with a vividness that is not jarring. The paintings echo with a vibrancy and vigour seldom seen. She uses shades like madder, carmine, buff and ultramarine with amazing dexterity. All her paintings are on the theme of hope, and she is particularly enamoured with the human head which she says is the "harbringer of hope". Some of her paintings have a brooding feel to it but very quickly the viewer’s eyes turn to the bright spot, a flower, a ray of sunshine "that is the element of hope I paint" she says. "My trademark is large blocks of primary colour with very strong brush strokes. It has a startling effect" Sujeewa says. True. She has managed to do so with admirable ease. Sujeewa is married to fellow contemporary artist Sanjeewa Kumara. The couple now live in Enschede, Holland, where they both attend the Aki Academy of Contemporary Art. They are funding their own degrees in contemporary art from this University. "Holland is such a pulsating centre for art" Sujeewa enthuses. "In Sri Lanka, much of our art is book-learned, but in Holland, progressive and liberal as they are, art students are encouraged to go out to galleries, museums, churches and derive inspiration. They are encouraged to find their own niche and express themselves freely."

Sujeewa has taken part in many exhibitions both nationally and internationally and has won many international prizes. Her paintings have been exhibited in the Netherlands on many occasions and she has received many state awards for her brilliance. A true artist, her one dream is to be a full-time painter and devote her entire life to art.

This showing promises to be an unique experience for the contemporary art lover, who is most certainly going to want to be the proud owner of more than one of Sujeewa’s enchanting works. It is sure to grip anybody and even be powerful enough to initiate others into contemporary art. Her paintings are powerful, magnetic and mesmerizing, and the show is definitely an experience not to be missed.