music. Sad eyes. Hopeful gazes. Riveting images of war and
destruction. Careful smiles, whispering tears. Life and death.
Anoma Wijewardene’s latest work of art took me
back. Away from our worsening crisis to those early days of the
cease-fire when men and women laughed with the sheer joy of
being released from worry. It made me yearn again.
‘Quest’ is an exhibition that defies
description. A must-see. It is not art or photography. It’s a
harmonious blend of both -- a multimedia installation that opens
the soul and awakens the senses in the gentlest possible way.
Glimpses of Sri Lankan life are captured on
film, deconstructed, layered and manipulated to create works
that range from stark reality to the abstract, expressionist and
the surreal. As Anoma herself explains, the images are of Sri
Lanka but they could also be of anywhere, everywhere. They are
not titled. The exhibition includes visuals that are disturbing,
simply because reality is, but alongside are images of hope and
tranquillity and images of devastation which have been
transposed into images of harmony.
"Just let yourself go with it," Anoma advised,
before loading on the DVD and darkening the room. Melodies
filled the room and colours undulated slowly on the television
screen. Slowly they turned into pictures -- sometimes
distinctive, sometimes illusory. Men and women from different
corners of the country faded into each other, uniting in a
common grief, a universal joy and a familiar hope.
The snapshots are gripping. A distraught woman
searching urgently among the ruins of her tsunami-ravaged house,
trying to salvage a few household items. The shell of an empty,
bombed church on the road to Jaffna. A gate. A security fence. A
memorial for an assassinated president. Everything and nothing.
The display ended and I tried to shake off the
aching feeling. The longing for those days of peace when the
barriers between human beings had been dismantled and those on
the roads put into cold storage. I was struck by the relevance
of Anoma’s work. At a moment when mistrust is eating into human
relations on all sides, she speaks convincingly of peace and
Intermingling with the images are evocative
quotes from personalities like Nelson Mandela, A T Ariyaratne,
Mahatma Gandhi and Jayantha Dhanapala. Some of the most
beautiful lines are from Arundhati Roy, uttered on the first
anniversary of 9/11: "Loss and losing. Grief, failure,
brokenness, numbness, uncertainty, fear, the death of feeling,
the death of dreaming. The absolute, relentless, endless,
habitual unfairness of the world. What does loss means to
individuals? What does it means to whole cultures, whole peoples
who have learned to live with it as a constant companion?"
It is not easy to describe ‘Quest’. It isn’t
conventional. It isn’t a painting that can be dissected into
layers and analysed. It isn’t a photography exhibition either.
It is digital art and video. It is sound and sight. Silent,
powerful portraits speak a thousand words, telling us much about
ourselves that we had forgotten. ‘Quest’ awakens us to the
futility of returning to where we had been. To the sound of
wailing ambulances and daily war funerals.
In Anoma’s own words: "This is a collection
inspired by and dedicated to those women and children who
through disaster, manmade or natural, are left without their
loved ones, their homes, their hopes, their future.
"We yearn for a way to mourn but, even more, we
yearn for a way to heal. As a painter, I turn to art for both.
Art can offer us that new perspective, that glimpse of the
Anoma explains that the images in her collection
are digital photographs which she has altered either minimally
or drastically. "The form varies from vastly manipulated images
which are abstract, expressionist, impressionistic and beyond
recognition, to hardly re-touched photo-realism," she
What she isn’t making, she stressed, is a
documentary or reportage. Instead, it is an artist’s response
that isn’t focused on casting blame. Neither is it a political
"It is about taking personal and collective
responsibility," she says. "It is about questioning why we are
still so far from reconciliation despite the longing for healing
and renewal that we as a people and nation share."
Anoma pays credit to the talented team that
helped put her exhibition together. For three years, she worked
with Kirby de Lanerolle, graphic designer and teacher. And
during the last ten months, she was joined by a group of
individuals whose skills and commitment helped her through.
"They include a political analyst, a banker, a social
anthropologist, a writer, lawyers, multimedia experts, a
composer and a student," she counts.
‘Quest’ is open to the public from 2-4 June 2006 at the
National Art Gallery at Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha. It starts
each day at 10 am and ends at 6 pm. The exhibition will be
displayed in Sinhala, Tamil and English.