M.O.B: An expression of a ‘glitch’ by Chandraguptha Thenuwara | Sunday Observer

M.O.B: An expression of a ‘glitch’ by Chandraguptha Thenuwara

28 July, 2019

Chandraguptha Thenuwara is an iconic, multidisciplinary contemporary artist, known for his highly political art practice which is often the dark side of the socio-political landscape of Sri Lanka. He is renowned primarily for his concept of ‘Barrelism’ in 1997 which can be identified as his masterpiece that made him ‘literally’ baptised as the revolutionary artist in the contemporary art scene in the country.

His latest exhibition ‘M.O.B.’ – Maliciously Organized Bastards, is now open to the public at the Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo 7. The theme itself is quite interesting and two paintings, ‘Sworn in Properly/ Improperly’ have stolen the limelight at the inauguration ceremony and reminded us of his sharpness as an artist in picking up the absolutely right moment which turned the entire socio-political landscape of the country upside down and led to a serious power conflict thereafter.

According to Thenuwara, M.O.B., came to light with the support of the so-called Sinhala-Buddhist ideology led by power hungry politicians, individuals and organizations who were among these mobs.

“What is happening around us? Soon after the end of the nearly three decades long war, instead of establishing a peace building process by returning occupied land and removing military camps, there are individuals and groups looking for a new enemy. The June 2014 riots in Dharga Town were a clear incident of this attempt. It was orchestrated. The previously hidden Islamaphobia became visible. Yellow robes were seen during these anti-Muslim activities but they were not preaching Buddha’s words. Hate speech, hate campaigns, hate without an end. On May 13, 2019 burning of buildings and looting took place in Hettipola, Kuliyapitiya, Kurunegala and Minuwangoda. It reminded me of the 1983 Black July, and it was indeed unacceptable in a government which we voted in to secure good governance,” Thenuwara said.

For the past four years, glitch format has become the key expression of most of Thenuwara’s art pieces. The erroneous, misleading effect has created an ambiguity in the expression of the art pieces which Thenuwara believes is quite apt in the present socio-political context. “The prevailing socio-political scene is like a mirage. It appears at one moment and disappears the very next moment. You cannot predict what would happen. So we are all living in a ‘glitch’ moment and that’s why I have used that effect on most of my paintings,” Thenuwara added.

For the past 21 years, Thenuwara has been continuously engaged with the theme of reconciliation and all of his art pieces are to commemorate the abandoned in society. His paintings, drawings and installations are generally considered as visual media that intermingle with living truths of socio-political conflicts in the society we live in.

His work has been exhibited internationally, from Sri Lanka through Australia, Asia, and Europe, with notable permanent installations in Colombo and Japan. Thenuwara is the director of the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts in Colombo, a not-for-profit art school which he founded in 1993 as an independent alternative to state-run art institutions, with the aim of teaching young and marginalized artists the basic tenets of fine art practice under the guidance of practising artists. Thenuwara has also participated in several international artists’ camps and workshops in Southeast Asia, and was an artist in residence at John Moore’s University in 2002.

His art pieces are symbolic reflections of his own experiences and social criticisms, growing fears and instabilities of the ‘politically conscious’ civilians of the country.

“I’m a trained artist in the study of human figures. Now I see these corrupted, polluted human figures. I may get the chance to revisit the beauty of human figures only if we could change the socio-political context into more democratic and fair means. Because I’m a ‘political’ human being and that has its effects on my expression, surely,” he concluded.