Ideologically motivated brush strokes strike easel in Priyantha Udagedara’s new series ‘Orientalism,’ with layer upon layer from an almost hypnotic palette of hues for only the true enthusiast to unravel – exposing the paradox that is beautiful horror. Udagedara challenges the orientalist’s notion of foreign beauty and invites the viewer to unearth -and concurrently interpret- what is beneath the deception of the exoticism in brazen display.
Tell us about your newest series, ‘Orientalism.’
‘Orientalism’ is, as you will see, a continuation of my previous two series ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘The Herbal Garden’ exhibited in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In addition to the blatant stylistic similarities, this too follows the theme of external beauty as a façade for the hideousness that is embedded within.
From a distance the paintings are all alluring with the imagery of expansive and beautiful gardens replete with flora in mesmerising colour tones. When lured to look closer, the appreciator is exposed to frightful creatures -yet, one might say, still beautiful- almost gone unnoticed.
This is my perception of Orientalism. The beautiful deception oft overlooked when one chooses not to delve beyond the exoticism associated with Asia and the Middle East.
My choice of employing a mixed medium of collage and painting is in itself a tangible embodiment of the many layers that lead to discovery.
As with your other collections, flora and fauna features prominently in Orientalism as well. Why this emblematic consistency?
As I mentioned earlier, Orientalism is a continuation of my previous series. Digression in the most prominent feature is going to be gradual I suppose, but for now, there is so much more I feel that can be expressed in employing blooms and brute creations. The menagerie of mystical beasts (fanged, winged creatures and wolf-like beings) omnipresent across the different pieces in this collection represent the many flaws and blights of beautiful countries of the East such as ours. The mythical Chinese dragon for example, is almost a self-explanatory representation of the Far East.
So yes, for now I would like to exploit this consistency for all the messaging it has to offer.
You have always openly expressed your political inclinations through your paintings. With the civil war having ended, and even the post-war hangover almost receding, do you find the need for expressing your ideological views growing less acute?
I have always been politically driven, especially in matters related to Sri Lanka.
To continue our conversation on my perception of Orientalism and why I choose to highlight it here, we can take our very own island as the perfect example. Sri Lanka is a notably beautiful country. But that is about all that is acknowledged about our nation beyond these borders. This Paradise was once gripped with a bloody civil war. Soon after, post-war repercussions began to defeat us internally, and even now, despite being freed from the shackles of colonialism and western domination, we are still at the mercy of our very own political despots with their own agendas.
It is my social responsibility I feel, to use my art to start a conversation beyond just what the eyes can appreciate. Art and politics are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and I would rather be much more than just an image maker.
Having said that, I don’t believe that every artist should be compelled to assert a cause through their works. The art scene would be quite grim if we all just focused on what is wrong with the world – we do need to see the beauty in living too.
There has been much academic discourse about the topic of Orientalism. Was there much research involved for you to be able to produce this anthology?
This series of eleven paintings took roughly ten months for me to complete; and this does include the research I had to do myself, yes.
From an informative stand point, it goes without saying that Edward Said’s book of the same name were key influencers. To aid my art and my decision to employ mixed-media, I drew inspiration from Geoffrey Bawa’s conception of hybrid design and architecture.
Not specific to this collection, I have always been roused by the artworks of 15th century surrealist, Hieronymus Bosch. Christopher Ofili is a contemporary whom I have much admiration for as well.
All of my collections are well-researched. If I am going to take on the responsibility of relaying a message, I need to be well-informed myself.
You have a PhD in Contemporary Fine Art Practice, and have always consistently applied your credentials into your art. Do you see yourself experimenting with other artistic notions, or is there much more for the Sri Lankan art scene yet to see in this regard?
There is much left unseen within the Sri Lankan art scene in the first place. Lack of funding and a deficiency in well-developed curators have most artists relying solely on individual galleries to display their works with sparse or no opportunity at all to exhibit and gain recognition overseas.
I do acknowledge however, that there has been considerable progress in the past few years and that any change does take its time.
With regards to my niche yes, there is much more to be explored and too much left unsaid.
Orientalism, by Priyantha Udagedara will be free and open to the public from the 8 December 2017 until 6 January 2018 at the Saskia Fernando Gallery.
– Article by Shaahima Raashid