On 9 June 2011 three Sri Lankan women came together to show their work at the Saskia Fernando Gallery on Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo. Anoma Wijewardene, Sujeewa Kumari and Nadia Haji Omar are three women whose series of work on paper present the strength of women artists in the Sri Lankan contemporary art scene today. In a male dominated art market, locally and worldwide, women artists are beginning to emerge from behind the scenes to present what some would refer to as ‘post-feminist' works. Feminist conceptualism is becoming increasingly passé and as a curator, gallerist and woman I noticed a strong tie between these artists who are from three generations and nevertheless have powerful individualism.
This exhibition presents the future of women artists in the country and a local snapshot of what women artists are emerging with worldwide.
Anoma Wijewardene has been going strong ever since her return to Sri Lanka 15 years ago. This established artist carries a strong portfolio that boasts features on the cover of Vogue, reviews by world-renowned critiques and exhibitions staged in London, Sydney, Colombo, Delhi, New York and Kuala Lumpur. In her city centre studio Wijewardene works with paper, canvas and photography producing ethereal works based on worlds inspired by her never-ending journey of spiritual discovery. Her works present a world that is surreal, figures hidden within floating doorways and intensely textured cliffs. Wijewardene's works grow on you, they transform over time and absorb and repel whoever comprehends their very being.
Sujeewa Kumari is a silent force in local contemporary art. She was educated at the University of Kelaniya and then completed her MFA at the Dutch Art Institute in the Netherlands. Kumari has held solo shows in the UK, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. Kumari paints, draws and performs her art as and when she feels like it. There is something incredibly free about Kumari's work, they exaggerate the presence of texture in objects, transforming them into tactile representations of femininity. The subject of her work is based on the artist's personal experiences of motherhood, her research into post colonial costumes of Sri Lanka and contrasting techniques which emphasize each concept. Kumari continues to have a nonchalant attitude to describing her work. There is something that occurs between the work and it's viewer that she refuses to allow an explanation to destroy, this in itself is the essence of her work; mystery.
Nadia Haji Omar made her first mark on the local art scene in 2010 with an exhibition at The Warehouse Project titled ‘you animal'. Soon after she left to New York where she now lives and works. In 2007, Haji Omar completed her Bachelor of Arts at Bard College in New York and has since participated in exhibitions in New York and Colombo. Haji Omar's works are refreshingly direct, no-nonsense personal depictions of experiences, thoughts and emotions. There is nothing light or heavy about these abstract works on paper, on the contrary the works have a visual appeal to which the artist's explanation creates a kind of ‘aha' moment. The ‘artist's struggle' is perhaps more evident in Haji Omar's work, yet the transparency of her self is the strength with which we hope to see many more young women artists progress in their expression. Nadia Haji Omar is definitely one to keep an eye on!