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Bawa Art Industry: Lunuganga, and Chandrajeewa Atelier: Wennappuwa

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Geoffrey Bawa, Sarath Chandrajeewa and Anjalendran at the exhibition, "100 Impressions on Bronze", 1994, Sri Lanka National Art Gallery.

By Dr. Laleen Jayamanne

Art history annedotally

The pioneering Viennese Art Historian Alois Riegl wrote a book that was not very popular among traditional Anglo-American art historians but some of us film theorists poured over it, the prose a bit dry in translation, but with some powerful ideas. The book is The Late Roman Art Industry, an examination of the industrialisation of production in late antiquity (during the last stages of the Roman Empire), of previously handmade craft-work. Because film is an industrial artifact, this book provided some lateral ideas to us to think of the deep history of industrialisation of goods as commodities, including film and idea of legal contracts. But more urgently, it helped us to begin to understand the industrialisation of thinking in the Neo-Liberal globalised University. In Australia, we were ordered to produce more and more, faster and faster. No one spoke about quality. Hardly anyone had time to read each other’s work anymore and most tragically, students just speed-read bits and pieces without reading arguments carefully and thoughtfully. The globalised art industry of Biennales and Triennials, and mushrooming film festivals, are also products of this same dynamic of Neo-liberal capitalism where the market rules, after the dissolution of the Soviet Republics in 1991.

Within this savage market economy, talented artists become hyper competitive and are in danger of developing a repetitive formula. And curators may unwittingly encourage narcissistic mirror games, conforming to their perception of what matters. This creates weak art over time, deskilling artists and also cliques who operate through exclusionary tactics, where artists who do not fit in are shut out of the art and film history narratives and collections. In the fractious small art world of Sri Lanka this situation needs to be discussed openly, calmly and with rational rigour. This is my aim here as a Lankan who lives in Australia but who is engaged to some extent with the contemporary Lankan film culture, as a scholar of the Lankan cinema for over 50 years.

Riegl, was a founding figure of the discipline of art history, working in Vienna at the peak of its intellectual, artistic and political power in Europe just before the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with World War One. He was also the curator of Islamic Art at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Vienna and the famous exhibition of Islamic fabric and carpets he curated just before his untimely death in 1905, was also visited by Henri Matisse. So an ancient Islamic civilizational crafted material and European high Modernism came into a generative contact in an imperial Art Museum. (Art history was invented by Winkleman at the Vatican museum, after he converted to Roman Catholicism. He studied Greek art there without ever going to Greece!). Riegel also lectured at the University of Vienna. There, Klimt’s famous allegorical murals caused a controversy and rejected, therefore an art historian defended them by giving a lecture titled, ‘What is Ugly?’, considering it seriously as an aesthetic category of Viennese modernism and of avant-garde art. And his far ranging books, on the Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, and on ornament in particular, still provide vital ideas on ornament as a mode of thinking, a power of connectivity, rather than just prettified, picturesque, vegetal motifs. He starts with Egypt and arabesques his way through epochs of great cross-cultural exchange in trade and ideas and also wars.

Lankan Scholar/Artists

I am writing about this stuff now hoping that Lankan art historians and curators might just be tempted to consider seriously the work of two Lankan artists working in different art forms but both of whom are also scholars in their own right and are University Professors. Doing so would, I expect, considerably strengthen the intellectual discourses on art, connecting them to wider political and cultural ideas across social class, caste, ethnicity, languages and genre boundaries in Sri Lankan cultural production.

According to my brief non-specialist research, (being a film scholar and critic), Sarath Chandrajeewa is considered, by some, to be Sri Lanka’s preeminent contemporary sculptor working in Bronze and Terra Cotta (rathu mati), for well over 30 years. He was the star pupil of Tissa Ranasingha, with whom he studied bronze casting on a government scholarship, at the Royal College of Art, London. Ranasingha is considered the pioneering Lankan sculptor (monumental, portrait, and other), of the modern era after independence. Chandrajeewa also paints, and has produced large clay figurative relief murals of ‘the people’, and abstract tiled murals in a pedestrian tunnel, and has had a scholarly publishing project of significance for Lankan art history, and cultural theory more broadly, in my non-specialist opinion. But, I have been schooled by working in a Department of Art History and Film at the University of Sydney for a few decades, because ours was an interdisciplinary department. Chandrajeewa also founded with his patron, Harold Peiris, the Contemporary Art and Crafts Association of Sri Lanka (CACA) in 1990, to organise exhibitions and it still functions as a research institution. Like Riegl, he has published work off the beaten track of the art history protocol of specialising on one period, digging the same strata in delicious detail and not treading on jealously guarded intellectual ‘private’ territory. This approach of art historians, I think made rigid by the American academy, was a source of amazement to us film scholars because our discipline was organised differently, a bit unruly, with a much shorter history than art has and was inter-disciplinary in its very formation as film is a popular technological commodity, made for entertainment and making profit, first and foremost, with aspirations to become Art.

***

Professor Sumathy Sivamohan is the only independent woman filmmaker who has produced a significant body of films, exploring the muti-ethnic polity of Sri Lanka from the point of view of minority communities. While her body of work is still growing, she has a clear project of examining Lankan Nationalisms from the point of view of minority communities. Her Sons and Fathers is in Sinhala exploring the multi-ethnic formation of the Lankan film industry from its very inception. The civil war and its aftermath is the background to her research. As a professor of English, she is also a literary theorist who also teaches film and producers scholarly work. I am hoping that the few observations I make here may arouse a curiosity at the very least, to create opportunities to engage with her work seriously. Interdisciplinary dialogue has been essential for a long while now in any serious progressive public sphere of culture and without deep scholarship, what you often get is mere ‘art-speak’ one hears on Youtube, sometimes lively and generous and fun but often lacking the intellectual bite of complex ideas that one can take up and wrestle with and further explore by reading widely and debating, discussing and then use to further our understanding by writing. Sivamohan’s and Chandrajeewa’s work also happily converged in the book of poetry called Frames edited by the latter, forthcoming in late 2022, if there is no paper shortage! The name derives from the large stacks of door and window frames which have lost their functional utility after bomb blasts in Jaffna during the civil war.

The images of these blasted buildings, and their intact solid door and window frames share a space with the poetry and movingly enframe them. The book is an attempt to speak to that void across the linguistic barriers. Among the poems there is one by Sivamohan and also by her sister Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, her sister, who taught Anatomy at the Jaffna University and was assassinated by a LTTE gunman as she was riding home after teaching, within ear-shot of her home. Her photo is the only human face in the book. And I believe Sarath and Sumathy have not met each other as yet, except for a chance brief encounter at a meeting of artists, with the then President Maithripala Sirisena. Sumathy was the only artist there who spoke in Tamil, with a translator. And what better place to launch Frames than at MMCA that uses all three languages with a very long term record of engagement with promoting art making in the time of the civil war, especially in Jaffna and unusually have poetry readings there, too.

***

I gather the field of Sinhala film culture is highly evolved, robust, with heated debates, cult groups, brilliant theorists, a quarterly film journal, Chitrapata Magazine and numerous blogs and newspapers and so on. In the more polite middle class art world the surface is smooth and inviting, tri-lingual now in important institutions, though there is an undercurrent of violence and hostility camouflaged in specific instants, I am discovering, as I do my research. These appear to be of a professional nature. I am all too familiar with this mode of behavior, having taught in several Australian Universities for over 30 odd years and having fought tooth and nail, successfully, an effort to sack me on false charges about my teaching or lack thereof, in a provincial University. Professional rivalries and cruelty are quite well developed in Universities and the tactics and strategy familiar but what’s unique to Sri Lanka is the direct connections academics and some artists have to political power that appear limitless. It is shocking to hear an academic/artist boast of his direct access to people in power and even to the president of the country to deal with one’s conflicts.

Both Tissa Ranasingha and Sarath Chandrajeewa were also academics, the latter a VC of the University of Visual and Performing Art, as well, who tried to fundamentally transform a moribund feudal fine arts curriculum and ethos into a modern one that would educate the students according the best standards of fine arts education practice in the world and to become informed, responsible global citizens. They were both forced to resign due to actions authorised at highest levels of government. This story is public knowledge and I learnt of it only recently from information mostly available on the internet and some passing comments in an art book published in Australia edited by the Human Rights curator and architect of the Asia Pacific Triennale, of the Queensland Art Gallery, Caroline Turner.

***

The Geoffrey Bawa Lunuganga Trust, established after the celebrated architect’s death, has become a visionary educational institution, under the Lunuganga Trust. And the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, directed by Senior curator Sharmini Pereira, aims to make it an inclusive centre of art education in this country and build its collection accordingly. And it is to these institutions that I address a call for an experimental move, of opening an exchange with these two senior scholar/artists. Might the launch of Frames at one of these institutions be the occasion to start this belated encounter? (The concluding part of this article will appear in the Midweek Review of 06 April)



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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