Thursday, 10 March 2011



The Quintet of the Unseen video by Bill Viola I found a few hundred steps south of Oxford Street – this picture is a few hundred metres north. It’s in Asia House, New Cavendish Street, a splendid Grade II* listed building, originally planned by Robert and James Adam in the 1770s but in 1775 the neo-classical architect John Johnson took over the site. It's magnificent, with a breathtaking spiral staircase, filigree plasterwork, classical paintings and elaborate marble chimney pieces.

On the lower ground floor is the gallery, presently showing Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka 2011, with work from 15 well-established or emerging artists, women and men who may well have spent their teenage years living in a highly chaotic political and social environment. The civil war which tore their country apart for 30 years only ended in 2009. A new generation has grown up with an understanding of the artist as political commentator, determined to engage with contemporary problems.

Kumara sees this work as outside the Western canon, dismissing conventions like pictorial balance, perspective and spatial depth. He describes his practice as ‘predominantly an art of surprises’. It’s a work in which I find his unconventional use of colour exhilarating and I like to be puzzled and challenged and disturbed by Surrealism. I do not understand why there is a musical instrument in the bottom right hand corner and a gun in the left.  What is that open-palmed hand doing top left? Why is that beautiful sinuous figure upside down – and still, it seems to me, on top of things?

I think I chose it because here is a rarity: a picture with a strong sense of colour, design and pleasure, which refuses to be merely decorative.

P.S. The two other 'political' works on the blog are the first - Fiona Banner's huge jets hanging from the ceiling of Tate Britain (18.9.10), and the ninth - Jeremy Dellar's crushed tank in the Imperial War Museum (12.10.10). Intriguingly different from Kumara's delicate allusive work.

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