Nuwan Nalaka portrays Sansara | Sunday Observer
Painting exhibition

Nuwan Nalaka portrays Sansara

30 August, 2020
Nuwan Nalaka, Sansāra 01, 2020, Watercolour on Fabriano Paper
Nuwan Nalaka, Sansāra 01, 2020, Watercolour on Fabriano Paper

A painting exhibition titled Sansāra by artist Nuwan Nalaka which is now on at the Saskia Fernando Gallery, will conclude on September 17. The exhibition can be viewed online only

Nuwan Nalaka

Nuwan fills his latest series of paintings with raw energy produced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The artist reflects on suffering and despair endured by people around the world. Yet he strives to emphasise the collective strength of humanity that has emerged in this universal experience; the silver linings that will usher the crisis through to its natural end.

Nuwan initially planned a different series of work for this showcase, a selection of which is presented in the Cacti series of paintings, but he was so overwhelmed by the impact of the pandemic that he felt compelled to make this collection.

The dichromatic Cacti series illustrates Nuwan’s exploration of the relationship between social conservatism and sexual nature. Sensuality once had a prominent place in classical South Asian art in the forms of sculpted human figures and carnal, yet religious, Hindu temples. Taking inspiration from how the colonial tradition documented the indigenous lands, Nuwan uses the Cacti as a metaphorical representation of individual resistance to political, emotional and sexual suppression.

Sansāra uses the symbols explored in Nuwan’s previous showcase Sutra at Saskia Fernando Gallery. Buddhism describes a Middle Path set on the road to Enlightenment that sees as much darkness as it does light. It is on this metaphysical journey that one can understand the balance between the forms of order, chaos, life, death, mind and nature. The motif of the white lotus and the pond from which it emerges is an important symbol in many Buddhist cultures. The pure flower blooms from the murkiest of depths. This represents how mind, body and environment influence each other.

Nuwan previously immersed his thoughts within the microcosm of the lotus pond to reflect on the relationship between society and spirituality. He explores these ideas further, but within the context of the global pandemic. The artist presents a stark collection of largely monochromatic paintings, filled with energetic brushstrokes and subtle washes of watercolour paint. There is a relentless focus on the physical nature of his subject matter and the medium of paint. A fearful atmosphere permeates his pictures. However, the impression of emotional turmoil is often held in check with the calm presence of the white lotus flower, both in its open and unopened forms.

An eerie floral template reveals the violent nature of reality and the struggle for survival that lays beneath the surface. The human eyes peering out from behind the plant stems appear indifferent; they signify an ever-present narrative of human population. The open sky seems cold and distant. When reflected in a pool of water, it appears as a void even as it provides an opportunity for breathing space. Nuwan develops these contradictions through the presence of fauna that populate the marshlands. Crystalline snakes slither in and out of sight. Black swans appear as a complex blend of beauty, purity and hope as they seem to consume the light and energy around them. The tough landscapes suggest the swans’ hybridised role as scavenger-like vultures.

White beaks can be mistaken for unopened lotus flowers. Although predatory, the swans retain their symbolic elegance. Despite being a natural part of their frightful surroundings, they reveal a sense of presence, playfulness and ease. Nuwan questions the placement of humanity within this metaphorical landscape through his vibrant formalism. Sansāra highlights the collective experience of man and nature.