A weaver of inimitable intricacy | Sunday Observer
Thujiba Vijayalan

A weaver of inimitable intricacy

Thujiba Vijayalan was given a stick of charcoal to draw when she was three years old by her mother. That was the beginning of an unending passion. Her art is made up of intricate lines reminiscent of filigree work twirling and dancing on sombre coloured backgrounds. You could follow the lines, locate a hidden world and feel as if you have gone down a rabbit hole to discover Alice’s Wonderland. You find exotic and beautiful, yet frightening and mysterious fauna and flora. It is a world which fascinates and tempts exploration. Fascinated, I speak to the artist.

Thujiba hails from Chunnakam in Jaffna. Her mother had always been supportive of her art. Once she entered Uduvil Girls College, Thujiba had found more inspiration from the beautiful environment of the school. Art had been her favourite subject which she had pursued till her undergraduate studies at the University of Jaffna where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Ramanadan Academy. Soon after her undergraduate studies she had had the opportunity to work as an instructor for one year before taking up a position as an art teacher in a stated school.

Thujiba describes the beginning of her journey as a career artist. ‘I come from a community which could appreciate only classical, realistic art. They are not attuned to contemporary art and as such it was difficult for me to find recognition as an artist in Jaffna. In 2014, I had the opportunity to exhibit at the Theertha Red Dot Gallery at an exhibition which was curated by Sanathanan Thamotharampillai. That was the first time I felt that my work was truly recognised. Thereafter I exhibited at Colomboscope and Artspace Sri Lanka.’

I probe more about Thujiba’s unique style and realise her work could be condensed to the portrayal of power dynamics. She says her art is her outlet in expressing how she feels about gender inequality and other social dynamics which prevails in her community. ‘This is how I talk about the problems and difficulties women face, especially, in my Tamil community. I use symbolism derived from the natural world to depict power dynamics. My work contains how animals fight each other for survival and how the strong suppresses the weak. I don’t see much of a difference between the animal world and the human world’

She further describes her style by saying that she expresses best in charcoal on paper and that she also works with collage, water colours and mixed media. It is not just power dynamics which she wishes to bring forth through her art. ‘I want to discuss environmental issues as well. It is not just the humans we need to portray; I am concerned about all other non human beings as well and as such give much prominence to their existence in my work.’

Her indication of power dynamics compels me to inquire about her experience during the thirty year war. She displays grace, strength and perseverance when answering. Thujiba and her family had been displaced due to the war in 1995. They have had to leave their homes and spend their lives in displacement camps. I ask whether that experience affected her art. ‘That time was difficult for us but we were given food and the basic necessities. We didn’t have many facilities and there was no space, materials or the mind set for me to pursue my art

Now, I meet people in Kilinochchi who are much more affected than we are. They are still displaced, their family members missing or dead and they are still engulfed by poverty. I feel saddened by what they have had to go through. I think my sombre, dull colour palette reflects my sadness.’

I ask her whether she finds solace through art and she affirms by saying that in art she finds a channel to set her emotions free by drawing and painting. She says that she could also gain an additional income by selling her art. Most importantly, she feels that she is playing a significant role in changing the perceptions people have about taking up art as a career. ‘Most people in my community have no clue as to how one could make a career out of art. Their sole ambition is to get into a government position. I teach art as a state sector teacher, but at the same time I paint and draw regularly.’

Thujiba is not the kind of woman who complains or is complacent. She challenges all odds and ensures that she is setting up an example to her students as well. Thujiba Vijayalan is a rebel with a cause. Yet she does not attempt to stamp her feet, beat her chest and grandstand her cause. Her rebellion is quiet, intricate, complex and beautiful. Just like her art.