Asymmetry a reflection of humanity... | Sunday Observer

Asymmetry a reflection of humanity...

Asymmetry is the debut art exhibition of artist Pavithra Perera where she is on a mission to voice the asymmetries of our society through her expression of art. Pavithra’s drawings are not mere strokes of charcoal that come to life on canvas; it is charcoal on canvas with an underlying purpose. Her art is a social intervention that calls for urgent action to help those who have been traumatized by political violence in the North as well as the South.

It is said that almost all great Art comes from pain and there are ample examples in the world to prove this. World-renowned artists such as, Vincent Van Gogh, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Edvard Munch chose not to recoil in their unreceptive suffering in life but turned their sorrow into something that the world would cherish forever.

Asymmetry by Pavithra Perera is one such artistic attempt you could experience if you stepped into the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery. Pavithra’s medium is charcoal, and human faces seem to be her muse. Although she is still an amateur artist, her every stroke of charcoal is a reflection of humanity. Pavithra believes humanity’s greatest virtue is its ability to overcome any hardship in life and, “why shouldn’t that same hardship inspire our greatest art?” she questioned.

Being a self-taught artist who struggled with anxiety and severe depression at a very young age, painting and drawing was her therapy rather than her medication, to overcome the misery in her life.

“For me, painting is always a therapy to get away from the day to day chaos, and I actually started painting as a medication to overcome my depression. My medium is charcoal and I love to draw human faces.

Human faces are different from one to another. However, as I have realised, although we are all born with a similar symmetric shape of face, when we grow up it changes according to life experiences and the sufferings we undergo, so that most grown up faces are asymmetric in shape.

This fact itself is quite interesting to me, and for the past four years I’ve been engrossed in this project. Before I started painting, I used to photograph human faces. However, through photographs you only capture a particular moment which has its own limitations. I felt I could eliminate this through painting, whereby I could get more time and space to express one’s emotion.”

“This is not just a one-off art exhibition. I aspire to create sustainable awareness, especially, among the youth, on the importance of mental health care since it is the key factor in every human’s life,” Pavithra said.

Born and bred in Colombo and a past pupil of Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya, Pavithra is a Lawyer by profession, specialised in Human Rights. She completed her Master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights at the Maastricht University and has been a journalist at the BBC world service. She now lives in the Netherlands and has been working on the ‘Hope House of Ceylon’ for almost four years to build a strong awareness program among youth on the importance of mental health care, and support and empower the youth in Sri Lanka following years of poverty, civil war and conflict.

Pavithra’s art is a social intervention that calls for urgent action to help those who have been traumatised by political violence in the North and the South. Her drawings are a getaway to reflect on our surroundings that have been marred by the ugly scars of politically motivated violence. The inner feelings of the victims suffering in silence are depicted with lines, shades and patches of colour in the work of the artist.

“Have you ever observed how many angry, depressed faces we pass by every day? People are so stressed out and angry all the time. This mental stress is directly linked with our entire body, and 90 percent of the people have developed gastritis today. Many people eat too much, mostly junk food. When we are mentally stressed and ill, our body tends to think that we are in danger. As a result, all hormones start working as a reaction to that danger. The wrong signals created by mental illnesses are the main reason for most of the illnesses today.

“I don’t think changing political regimes from time to time would solve this issue. However, I strongly believe that art can cure a majority of the mental illnesses that occurred due to stress and anxiety,” Pavithra said.

The sole intention of ‘Hope House of Ceylon’ is to provide mental health care and career training to youth. Pavithra believes youth is the hope of any society although their presence has been neglected continuously, especially, in a country like Sri Lanka.

She is surprised at the amount of effort the other countries of the world put in to produce a mentally strong human being, and yet here in Sri Lanka mental health is largely ignored. Almost all her drawings are dark and rough.

“It comes with my passion for the medium. Charcoal is my medium and sometimes I use acrylic. I love everything about charcoal. The sound of a piece of charcoal hitting a hard surface is beautiful and I really like the gloomy, mysterious mood it creates on the canvas and a touch of acrylic on a canvas gives a completely different reading to a painting,” she explained.

Asymmetry portrays the inner streams of thought of those struggling to come to terms with their lives after being afflicted with pain and sorrow. Her most recent drawings depict the pain of those who suffered as a result of the Easter Sunday bombing.

‘Hope House of Ceylon’ focuses on the affected youth, especially, the victims of the Easter Sunday attack, and they began to organize mental health care programs through various activities, such as, educational programs, creative activities and community-related vocational training with their families and friends.

“The collection of portraits of ‘Asymmetry came to light after I spent time with the victims of the Easter Sunday attack and the violence that took place thereafter. As a ‘bottom to top approach’ our team decided that we should listen to their side of the story and understand their genuine need for a social intervention like this project before we approach them through a cookie-cutter, ready-made project. It’s vital to let them voice their issues because I strongly believe that through a genuine effort to listen to someone’s problems with empathy would solve 50 percent of it. In this journey of ‘Asymmetry’ I tried my best to listen to the victims of the brutal attack on Easter Sunday and did my best to voice their feelings through rough charcoal lines which happen to be my medium of expression,” Pavithra added.

Each and every portrait at Asymmetry has been named ‘Untitled’. However, on the side of some portraits Pavithra has written a poem or two. “I didn’t want to name the emotion of my painting. I ended up framing and limiting the viewer’s imagination.

In some paintings I wrote poems because I felt I hadn’t expressed them enough through charcoal lines,” she said.

Vincent Van Gogh is her favourite artist and she’s fortunate to live in the Netherlands where she gets the chance to visit museums in Amsterdam with her husband and enjoy Van Gogh’s lively paintings. She identifies herself with Van Gogh as he’s a man who didn’t know he can draw, when he was alive.

- Pix: Sudam Gunasinghe

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