Nalini Jayasuriya
Nalini Jayasuriya

Nalini Jayasuriya the well known multimedia artist, musician and author is back in Sri Lanka. She was a teacher at S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia before she went abroad. Her artistic creativity covers a wide range of painting, sculpture, pottery, enamelling on metal to stained glass.

She is a graduate of Yale University and Luce Moore Professor. She taught at the University of Copenhagen and also at the universities of Geneva, Tokyo, Manila, Thailand, Sweden, Pakistan and Yale. She had the distinction of exhibiting her works in London, Paris, Bonn, Zurich, New York, Kentucky, Washington DC, Tokyo and Jerusalem.

Refines and transforms

“A dress of fire once worn may not be denied; the experience remains", says Nalini Jayasuriya. In its awesome form and mood lire illumines, refines and transforms. Fire translates and symbolizes both the unmeaning reality of impermanence and the numinous elation of renewal.

How would you as a multimedia artist and historian define art?

“I do not think art can be tested or defined by rules of reason. The senses and emotions together with a certain spiritual zeal constitute the most powerful human motive forces providing creative energies for the alert and discerning spirit. The arts are the responses of these forces”, says Nalini.

“Art transcends the particular frame of reference and is really an expression of the consciousness of freedom not contingent but necessary, not relative but absolute. Art is disclosive as it informs inspires idealizes and sanctifies translating and transforming ideas and beliefs and restoring them to a creative understanding of truth. The human race responds from a common universal vocabulary of sensuous experience differing in interpretation but not in meaning, The needs of man are the same; so the icons remain undiminished. The history of art is a history of how the multiform world has been conceived visually.

It is a history of seeing through the mind and heart and of making that seeing real. Over 30,000 years ago the man wrote through pictures, read and spoke through dance and prayed through magical and ritualistic forms. The elements and the inexorable processes of nature that he feared assumed forms and became his gods and he appeased them with an array of creative responses.

Powers beyond

Fear may have been the energy that devised these unique forms of sight, sound, movement and silence. Man feared extinction and sought 'powers beyond himself to meet the caprice of a mysterious uncompromising world and his imagination provided the answers he needed.

The history of art, unlike science and philosophy, is neither progressive nor stable. Emotions, sensations ideas and beliefs dictate new forms with sudden and almost irrational fervour. There is a mercurial and ambiguous quality of art, but then these are the elements that qualify true and serious creative expression. Each period of art history has produced its own distinctive witness and confession and as a movement of continuous resilience and innovative power, the artistic enterprise has exceeded all another human effort.

There is a compelling human need to know beyond knowing. We know of the vision quest of the audacity of Eve, Gilgamesh, Pandora, Faust, Icarus, the Magi and the founders of the world’s great religions. The Biblical Nicodemus, irresolute and faltering finally dares the forbidding night goes out and meets Jesus, And the Prince Siddartha abandons royal privilege and discovers a timeless teaching of unparalleled wisdom and sophistication.

Prof. John Wesley Cook, my Professor at Yale, once said. “Art is perceived through ecstasy whore man’s sensibilities are stretched to the realization of a mystical reality.” Beyond our material seeing is an aesthetic dimension through which we dare and dream. There is no human activity as pervasive as inspiring or as permanent as the artistic enterprise as it translates vision and transforms matter into another reality.

Rational constraints

There is a galaxy within us. an unpredictable mysterious portion of our being beyond the constraints of what is rational, and reasonable that has through thousands of years surprised us with fugitive and enduring expressions of anguish and celebration. Each constituent in the arts, each line, space, colour and form, each sound silence and rhythmic pattern, each gesture and mood is an individual expression from a collective consciousness.

This is the unique talent of art that it is empowered to express through one voice the feelings of the human race. Maya or illusion is the means of art just as religions are a way to the attainment of liberation. Art may be described as an irrational order of reality, a mirror of the constantly changing ethos of the world and its people.

The forms and moods of art penetrate are consciousness offering a rapture beyond are ordered and the limited score of knowledge. One cannot define or describe the transient power of impressions and emotions. One needs to discover them to know their fine. I do believe in the limitless potential of the human spirit How else could we have inherited the world's glorious legacy of artistic adventure that is the product of the restless questing spirit of man?

Some of the greatest artistic expressions have grown out of discontent, and uncertainty, some out of hope and renewal. These are the eternal icons of the human race evidence of its pain and celebration. The artist described as a moderate fanatic lives beyond himself, creating forms that are meaningful entities that have developed into aesthetic systems of ideas expressing personal and social needs, Each historical style creates its particular forms often serving the needs _of religion, politics and power.

Vitality and diversity

In this amazing 20th century the might of protest, denial and the rejection of the hackneyed and familiar have produced a vitality and diversity, that are amazing. We now have a vast range of unfamiliar and extraordinary icons that challenge, both the eye and the spirit. Paul Cezanne, the great genius of this century. has said, “to paint is not merely to copy but to seize a harmony between numerous tensions.”

Imitation, whether crafty or reckless, romantic interpretation or sentimental or intellectual exaggeration. do not constitute value or truth in art and sensation alone as the Impressionists discovered is scattered and confused because a focus and a sense of order are required to create a truthful image from a truthful experience. The ideas, resonances, metaphors and the rhythms of inspired experiences create deathless icons that return ceaselessly to revive and exalt the fragile and uncertain spirit.

Art, of both place and period, survives as a witness to its truth. Art is an act of faith and commission an act of empowerment without alternatives. Wherever it originates or whatever it expresses its real value and purpose as it climbs threads of the imagination is to evolve new strategies and skills and to reveal a new window of eye and ear.

This is an endless and provocative subject but while they are visually vastly different the inner correspondences have the same objective goals. In both East and West, the artist sees what he wants to see so his icons are personal, intentional and cultural manifestations of his time and space.

The west obsessed with progress has undergone complex and manifold changes in creative activity in the last 50 or more years, surprising the world with its new attitudes and vibrant new languages. The earlier tyranny of traditions and formal structures have been replaced by compelling new concepts, emotions and manifestations. It is true to say that the 20th century has made a new judgment of the universe. The East dominated for centuries by Western colonial powers remained resistant to change in its artistic attitudes and expressions, The arts of the East are largely sacred serving with unchanging forms the religious needs of its peoples.

Unquestioning belief

The iconographical rules of eastern sacred art are changeless, the belief is that they have been divinely instructed. There is an unquestioning Tibetan belief that since magic power pervades the earth, it is mandatory that sacred architecture must correspond to the lines and movements of that magic force.

The SADHANAS are strict iconographical rules outside of which no sacred image may be made because the East believes that the sacred image is granted by the numinous world.

In the Temple of Man in Luxor in ancient Egypt, there is a hieroglyph of BA, a Bird. Like all picture writing BA is austerely drawn with a fine economy of line and colour, precise and eloquent in its purpose and intention. The bird is a symbol of varied movement as it walks, runs, swims and flies. BA is not just a Bird but the essence of a bird, BA symbolizes the need to escape from the limiting conditions of life to escape to search for the miraculous and the unknown. This is also the purpose of Art in all its forms.

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