Sri Lanka art for Singapore Wesak



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by Professor Chandima Wijebandara


"The highest art is always the most religious; and the greatest artist is always a devout person" said Abraham Lincoln. In fact, art and religion are two human achievements that have given mankind highly enjoyable experiences across all cultures and civilizations. Painting, the most popular art form, was invented by our ancestors long before they thought of writing. Art history predates painting by about 26,500 years. The caves all over the world cherish evidence for this. (The earliest known cave paintings were done 30,000 BC.) The cave paintings of early men were mainly line drawings they created to reveal their aspirations, inspirations, spirituality, dreams, hopes and fears. And religion had created delightful aesthetic imageries in human mind for paintings to endeavour communicating them through lines and colours.


Kalasuri Dr. Jayasiri Semage has established his image as Sri Lanka’s cultural ambassador to the Buddhist world by holding many solo exhibitions and even publishing a couple of coffee table books with religio-cultural themes. His style, though it has roots in Ajanta-Sigiri tradition, is unique to him with his own improvised rhythmic eloquence. He has absorbed subtle inspirations from every visual aesthetic imagery visualized by his predecessors, both eastern and western, yet has kept to a unique identity of his own, so, we could identify his paintings even without a signature. His infusion of spiritual values to otherwise sensual beauty has made him acceptable to even strictly restricted aesthetic contexts like Oman. He does not duplicate nature or reality. He presents his version of reality. Creative artists, as John Keats has said, "complete what nature leaves incomplete. They do not copy or duplicate reality. They make it supremely beautiful and make us happy, more happy and only happy". Owing to his long time relations with Buddhists in Singapore and Malaysia he was given several assignments and exhibition opportunities there during the last four decades. In this Wesak week also he will be showcasing some of his latest paintings on Sri Lankan and Buddhist culture in Singapore.


His first Malaysian exhibition was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1974. After that he was assigned to paint the shrine hall of Penang Buddhist Maha Vihara. His association with Singapore’s chief Sanghanayaka Most Venerable Dr. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Nayaka Thero has provided him various opportunities of displaying his talents in Singapore many times. Once he made a 30 feet high replica of Borobudur at the Buddhist Library. And his painting depicting the Kwan Yin Bodhisattva (Goddess of Compassion) attracted much appreciation from the Singapore Buddhists. In 1999 when the Buddha relics from Saranath, India were brought to the Singapore Buddhist Library for exhibition the ornamental stage for the sacred relics was designed and erected by Dr. Semage. The Buddhist Library sponsored a solo exhibition of his paintings in 2015 which was attended by many art lovers of Singapore.


In 1995 Semage was assigned the prestigious task of painting Buddhist murals at the three story grand shrine hall of Mangala Vihara, Singapore which he took about 9 months to complete. The ceiling of the shrine was decorated with traditional Sinhala motifs while the walls were painted with the life of the Buddha and important events from the history of Buddhism. His paintings at Mangala Vihara keep inspiring thousands of Buddhists making them interested in learning the evergreen teachings of the Buddha.


Being impressed by Sewage’s aesthetic genius, Nimal Weerarathne, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Singapore, has arranged with Mr. Lim Ah Swan, Chairman of the administrative committee of Mangala Vihara to hold an exhibition of paintings of Dr Jayasiri Semage on this year’s Wesak season. The exhibition is scheduled to be held on 21st and 22nd May. The opening ceremony will be held on the 20th May 2016 at 5.30 pm at Mangala Vihara. The Sri Lanakan High Commissioner in Singapore will be the Chief Guest while Mr. Lim Ah Swan, Chairman of Mangala Vihara Administrative Committee will be the Guest of Honour.


"The exhibition will showcase" says Dr Semage, "about 30 paintings of oil or acrylic on canvas and 50 water colour Paintings, depicting different postures of Buddha and also scenes of Sri Lankan Life. Paintings on the life of Buddha depict, the renunciation of Bodhisattva, Buddha’s encounter Mara the Evil One, the enlightenment, Sujatha’s offering of milk rice, spending of seven weeks after the Enlightenment and the first sermon. The Temple, Mother’s Love, Maternal Feeling, Kindness, Gossip, Blooming Youth, and Village Love are some of the paintings depicting village life."


Thus the exhibition will provide an occasion for Singaporeans not only to think of the Buddha and his times but also to revisit vicariously the Sri Lankan country life the artist Semage once enjoyed and still lingering in his mind. Mooing of cows, songs of birds and the fragrance of flowers added to the chuckle of village beauties will rekindle in the minds of senior Singaporeans some romantic memories of their kampong (village) days.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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