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Lotus The Blue

Issue 12 2018

Arts Magazine

in this issue Interview with Preeta Samarasan Sri Lankan photographer Lionel Wendt Autism and Art Bangladesh artist Maksuda Iqbal Nipa Sri Lanka's 43 Group Nepal Artists' Collaboration Colors of Cambodia Exhibition 1

Lotus The Blue

Arts Magazine

The The Blue Blue Lotus Lotus remains remains aa wholly wholly independent independent magazine, magazine, free free from from favour favour and and faction. faction.


The Blue Lotus Arts Magazine is an entirely free and non-associated publication concerned with bringing Asia to the world, and the world to Asia

photo by Dino Goh


inside.... 6 Editorial Thoughts on the current issue

by the Founding Editor


Interview Author Robert Raymer with author Preeta Samarasan

24 Orientalisme

Jacques Dupuy

32 Cry of the Flying Rhino Excerpt of the book by author Ivy Ngeow

40 Lionel Wendt By Dr. Ellen Dissanayake

autism & art

53 Autism and Art 55 Open By author Eva Wong Nava

56 A Simple Love of Painting Zhe Xuan Pua

66 Sir Woei is Unique not Broken + comic book


Front cover; Reun Lotus in Angkor, Chomreun Lon

Issue 12, 2018

82 Maksuda Iqbal Nipa Essay by Martin Bradley 94 Pain & Gain A Chinese New Year Whimsy by Martin Bradley

100 Sri Lanka's 43 Group A talk by Rohab de Soya

120 Line - The Soul of the Universe A collaboration between artists from Nepal

160 Colors of Cambodia Getting ready to exhibit


Lotus Welcome to

The Blue Lotus Arts Magazine.

Welcome to I am very happy to present such an eclectic,

Blue Lotus Arts Magazine. variedThe selection of artwork to you for this issue. September marks end ofand Summer. The days begin From Sri Lanka,the to Nepal Bangladesh, South

to change, with it our thoughts. Thisyou fresh Asia bringsand some incredible images for to issue gaze ofat. The Blue Lotus reveals spiritual paintings from India, Cambodia offers a chance at seeing some neo-

Pop Art from while Japan,Malaysia fish fromand Singapore andhelp Surrealism Surrealism, Singapore us to from Cambodia. become Autism aware. There are Amazing digital from a young The chance of so many finepaintings images has meant that Indian painter living in Middle East, the 'Food Section' is the delayed until theand nextpaintings issue,

fromwhich one of Malaysia's masters, as well from as buns from will also be featuring artists Bonn, the Chinese diasporaGermany. and an insight into Malaysian food.

The Blue Lotus is a platform for international The Blue Lotus is atoplatform for international cooperation, aiming bring creative Asia to the

cooperation, aiming bring creative world, and the to creative world toAsia the world, and the creative world to Asia. Now read on Now read on Martin Bradley Martin Bradley (Founding Editor) (Founding Editor) bluelotusartsmagazine/

photo by Dino Goh




Preeta Samarasan interviewed by Robert Raymer

Preeta Samarasan

Robert Raymer

Preeta Samarasan grew up in Batu Gajah, Malaysia. In 1992 she moved to the United States to attend the United World College in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  She received her undergraduate education at Hamilton College and her graduate education at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester) and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Her first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009.   Her short fiction has been published in various journals, including Hyphen, Guernica and A Public Space.  She won the Asian American Writers’ Work­shop/Hyphen Short Story award in 2007 and was included in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories in 2010.  She has recent­ly completed a second novel set in Malaysia in the 1970s, 80s and the present day.  She now lives in the Limousin region of France with her husband, their two daughters, and a cat named Milo after her favourite childhood beverage. Praise For Evening Is the Whole Day… “... a surpassingly wise and beautiful debut novel about the tragic consequences of the inability to love.” Booklist, ALA, Starred Review "(a) delicious first novel...Samarasan's fabric is gorgeous. Her ambitious spiralling plot, her richly embroidered prose, her sense of place, and her psychological acuity are stunning. Readers, responding to the setting, will immediately compare her to Kiran Desai. I think Samarasan's dialogue and description are reminiscent of Eudora Welty, another woman who knew how to write about family and race and class and secrets and heat." 9

The New York Times Book Review Robert: Preeta, I loved how you played with time in Evening is the Whole Day, how you flashed forward about Chellam and how you kept going further back in time.  Personally I felt the structure worked, how each succeeding chapter depicts an earlier event and undercuts what we had just learned, often destroying our preconceived ideas as to what we thought had hap­pened based on innuendo and snide comments made by the other characters.  We’re like, oh, so that’s how it began and would feel guilty (at least I did) for jumping to conclusions.  It feels like you’re peeling another layer off that onion to finally get to the core of the truth, to the events that led up to the beginning.  Was this something you wrestled with as opposed to writ­ing the story chrono­logically?  Was this your original intended structure or did you change it while writing the first draft, or immediately afterwards?  (I would think you would need to write the whole story before you could rearrange time lines in the way that you did; either way, great effect!

So pretty early on I realised that I had to alternate between those two time lines. Preeta: I tried out a lot of different structures before hitting upon that one.  Of course the first thing I tried was the most obvious and the most common (for good reason — it works well for many stories!):  a simple linear narrative moving chronologically forward.  But really I had two stories to tell, the Now and the Then, and I wanted them to unfold simultaneously so that they could inform and colour each other.   So pretty early on I realised that I had to alternate between those two time lines.  And then, fairly late into the process of writing the novel, I saw that I would have to tell the Now story backwards, because I really just wanted to show the reader what happens at the end, and I wanted them to keep reading in order to find out why and how. Robert:  I heard it took you nine years to write Evening is the Whole Day.  Of that time, how long did it actually take you to write a complete first draft (no matter how rough that first effort was to get to ‘the end’)?  Other than the structure and the time element, what other diffi­cul­ties did you encounter while telling the story over the subsequent revisions? Preeta:  This is all so long ago now that I am honestly having trouble remembering all the different milestones!  It doesn’t help that I have now, for an equal amount of time, being working on a differ­ent project.  But I think that I did not have a complete first draft of Evening is the Whole Day until the end of my time at the University of Michigan MFA program, so that must mean I didn’t have a full draft until year seven….I think the structure was the most challenging thing to figure out; the voice and the plot were pretty well settled from very early on.  The only 10

other difficulty was trim­ming all the extraneous material from the draft, because the novel was much, much longer in its first incarnation. I had to decide what to keep and what to discard, and for that I was extremely grateful for the feedback of my excellent editor, Anjali Singh (who is now no longer an editor). Robert:  Many beginning writers, who are anxious to rush their work into print, even to self-pub­lish, don’t seem to realize how invaluable a good editor really is.  How they can feel, almost instinctively, what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be expanded, what needs to be cut for various reasons like pacing, plotting…they’re thinking, “yeah inter­esting, even well written, but it’s a digression that de­tracts more than it adds to the arc of the story.”  Or “why is she leading me away from the main story just when it’s getting interest­ing?” And “what does that scene have to do with anything, really?  You could cut it and no one would even miss it!” Painful, at first, for most writers to hear this, but after further consideration…you think, “yeah, maybe she has a point.”  Or, “yeah, I never really liked that bit; don’t know why I left it in.  Thanks for con­­ vincing me to finally get rid of it!” I naturally assume people naturally assumed that you’re writing about your family.  (I got that a lot from my stories, those with a Western character.)  I’m assuming you’re not (based on comments from other interviews), though I’m assuming you can relate really well to these characters perhaps through extended families, friends, neighbours, people in general you’ve had contact with; they all seen believable, this family, their neighbours, as do the trial cases brought up.  I was seeing Malaysia through their eyes, a different side than I was familiar with (mostly Malays in Penang and Perak).  Did you catch any flack from anyone who insisted that you were writing about your family despite your denials?  Any diplomatically way to handle that or did you just ignore them?

why is she leading me away from the main story just when it’s getting interest­ing? Preeta: Actually, the reverse turned out to be true, much to my surprise:   people seemed not to recog­ nise when they were written about.  Either that or they were being extremely polite, ha-ha! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say:  people chose not to come forward and confront me about the recognisable elements of their lives that had made it to the page.  I think it helped that there is no character that is based on a single person from real life.  They are, at most, amalgamations.  In some cases I took incidents from one person’s life and made them happen to a character who is very obviously not based in any way upon that person.  So no, I’ve had no awkwardness of that kind about my fiction, although I have had plenty of it in response to my nonfiction — but that’s another story.  The short answer is that one doesn’t always get the 11

chance to be diplomatic. Sometimes, if you write your truth, people are going to be angry.  That’s just how it is. Robert: I know that anger.  I once had five people convinced that I wrote about them in one of my stories about a woman having an affair with a married man in Penang.  One woman was par­ticu­larly upset since she thought I was writing about her hus­band (he shared the same name with the character, though he wasn’t Chinese).  It started to get ugly until I was able to prove that I had written the story years before I had met them by showing them the original version from Her World.  Needless to say, the wife (and the husband) were quite re­lieved….Then an­other woman I only knew professionally was adamant that I was writing about her!  I wanted to ask, so which married man are you having an affair with here in Penang? I was thinking, not so much your relatives (or friends) recognizing themselves, though I could see them being coy about it if it painted them in a bad light, but reviewers who assumed you were writing about your immediate family….In one of your interviews you spoke about how the chief criticism from America seems to be that your characters are unsympathetic, imply­ing, in a way, that no one wants to read a novel about an unsympathetic character which, I believe, is pure non­sense.  (Two agents made the same comment regarding the protagonist from one of my Penang novels after three chapters.  The novel opens up at a low point in the pro­tagonist’s life but he turns himself around and becomes a hero by saving all of these peo­ple’s lives.)  Or is that just the American reading public?  Did your agent/US publisher bring that up as a con­cern?  (Hey, Preeta, can you make this family a little more likeable?) Preeta:   My thoughts about this have actually evolved immensely since Evening is the Whole Day was first published.  I am in the process of trying to sell a second novel now, and I’ve come to be­lieve that this kind of response — “your characters are unsympathetic” (which, actually, no editor has said about the second novel so far); “we can’t relate to these people”; “we can’t connect with these characters on an emotional level”; “we find this story/these people a little distancing/alien­ating” — is entirely culturally ordained and one hundred percent due to the fact that editors are white Americans and Brits (no, really — there are almost no editors of colour in the mainstream publishing industry) who themselves have white sensibilities and aesthetics (take, for example, the very criteria that decide whether a character is “sympathetic” or “unsympathetic,” or the question of how information is revealed between people — what is said, what is left unsaid.  These are deeply cultural preferences.)   On top of this, these editors are catering first and foremost to a white reader­ship.  This is not the same thing as saying “people of colour don’t read,” obviously.  I am saying that the white read­er­ship comes first for the industry, still, now, in 2017.  When editors talk about “wider appeal” and “the audience,” this is what they mean, whether they know it or not.  And when both editors and readers say things like “I found it hard 12

to relate to these people,” what they really mean — though they don’t know they’re saying it — is “this culture makes me uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a solution other than to radically diversify the gatekeepers of literary culture in the West. Until that happens, Anglophone writers who come from countries without their own extremely profitable, lively publishing industry (by which I mean India) are always going to have to choose between several awful options: 1) write for white people; 2) refuse to write for white people, therefore condemning yourself to an endless struggle with editors not to sacrifice everything you’ve written for your own people; 3) publish at home and give up the dream of a larger, more lucrative career (of course, there are lucky exceptions who’ve published at home and then had significant success abroad, but they are exceptions).

Books in Malaysia are ridiculously expensive, a luxury that far too many Ma­ lay­­ sians can’t afford, a real shame, something I’ve heard repeated over and over but nothing is done about it. Robert:  I agree there tends to be a “white” or “Western” bias, maybe because they are the ones who are perceived to be buying the most books, having grown up in cultures that support the reading habit.  Books in Malaysia are ridiculously expensive, a luxury that far too many Ma­ lay­­sians can’t afford, a real shame, something I’ve heard repeated over and over but nothing is done about it.  Blame the booksellers, or the tariffs imposed on foreign books, but even the locally produced books for local writers are damn expensive….A huge example of that excep­ tion, of a writer writing in his home market, even in his native language, is Brazilian author Paulo Coelho publishing locally in Portu­guese.  It wasn’t until a fellow Brazilian living in the US offered to translate The Alchemist into English and was given per­mission to find a US pub­ lisher (in essence making him Coelho’s US agent) that his career took off.  Books published here in Malaysia/Singapore rarely if ever break out onto the larger market.  Like yourself, Shamini Flint published her popular Inspec­tor Singh Investigates series overseas, proving it can be done, that a local writer can find a much larger audience at least for genre fiction which has a different market, of course, than literary fiction.  Still it gives local writers hope.  You guys, including Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng, are paving the way…keep it up! Contrary to some reviews, I didn’t see your novel as anyone’s particular story (any more than the other family members); I saw it as a composite of all of their stories as a dysfunction­al family, whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its individual charac­ters.  You would weave into everyone’s mind, we would get their thoughts, their comments, their different per­spectives as to what was going on even with the same scene 13

while it was hap­pening; you made the important moments so much bigger, which resonated with me because when I met US writer Bharati Mukherjee in Penang, she told me that I needed to do that, make the moment bigger at the end for my story “Sister’s Room” (about child prostitu­tion). But it wasn’t until I read your book, that I thought, ah, this is what she meant.  You had a masterful way of mak­ing your moments bigger by adding all of these different view­points so we got far more out of that scene than if it had been limited to one point of view.  Was that something you had devel­oped on your own or something you had picked up as part of your MFA program? Preeta:  I suppose I developed it on my own.  I don’t see it as a very American aesthetic, and al­ though it certainly wasn’t discouraged in my MFA program, it was uncommon in that program, and I suspect would have been uncommon in other MFA programs too.   I think what you are talking about has first of all to do with the choice of an omniscient narrator.  There is a higher power be­hind the novel, a voice with omniscience and a power of judgment that is almost divine.   It’s that omniscience that drives the novel; that, in fact, tells us what to think about each character.  

But that omniscient voice I used in Evening is the Whole Day came from my lifelong love for Victorian novels. It’s in­teresting to think about that choice now because I made a very different one for the second novel — I made, in fact, the opposite choice, an unreliable narrator, a person who doesn’t even know every­thing there is to know about himself, let alone about others. But that omniscient voice I used in Evening is the Whole Day came from my lifelong love for Victorian novels.  It’s a very 19th-cen­tury voice, and some people have actually argued that it fell out of fashion because human­ity lost its faith in absolute omniscience.   I don’t know if that’s true, but I grew up reading Dickens and Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot; omniscience was my first literary diet, if you like.  Virginia Woolf, of course, takes omnis­cience to a new level, and in some ways what she does should be the highest goal of every writer, if not every human being, to be able to slip into another person’s skin like that.  It is the very defini­tion of empathy.  But I think the narrator of Evening is the Whole Day is modelled more on the bom­bastic, masculine omniscient narrators of those big 19th-century novels than on Woolf ’s technique in To the Lighthouse.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever write another novel in that exact voice, but the deep commitment to dissecting every character’s motivations is something that has stayed with me, and I think always will. Robert:  Looking back at your MFA program in the US — the 14

insights you gained from it and the connections that you made with other writers through the program — would you have done anything differently? Also, would you recommend a MFA program for young Malaysian writers (or any writer) just starting out, or do you think they could spend their limited income more wisely by just reading and writing a ton and finding their own natural voice (like Golda Mowe writing about Ibans in Sarawak)? Preeta:   If, on a limited income, you can manage to spend all your time reading and writing, then good for you!  Then you could certainly do that.  But I think it’s actually very difficult to find time to read and write as much as an aspiring writer should on a limited income.   You will have a day job, and the reading and writing will both have to be squeezed in after work (when you will be tired) or at the weekends (when you will want to relax).  It’s possible, of course; it’s certainly been done before.  But it’s very, very difficult, and that’s where MFA programs save a lot of young writers.   You should never attend an MFA program if you’re paying for it out of your own pocket. But the best MFA programs basically pay you to read and write for two years.   They buy you time, and that is an enormous, magical gift for an aspiring writer.  It is the number one reason to attend a writing program:  your actual job, for those two years, is to read and write.  Of course, all the icing on the cake is lovely too:  being part of a community that loves words above anything else, that thinks about language and storytelling constantly and rigorously; being able to talk about books and how they work (or don’t) all the time; having willing readers for your work for the rest of your life; getting to meet visiting writers, who are often among the world’s best living writers; learning about the business of publishing. Robert:  That’s a great argument.  I like what you said, “It is the number one reason to attend a writing program:  your actual job, for those two years, is to read and write.”  In­cidentally, about meeting writers in Ann Arbor, I was in Borders in 1987 and met a guy who had just published an article that very week about meeting Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) at the same book­store.  A steady diet of that would be good for the writing soul. The Writer, as do other writing publications, periodically runs a feature on the pros and cons of MFA programs; for me, a road not taken.  I was on the road so much with Kinko’s man­aging and setting up stores (I set up ten in three states).  I had to decide, become a part­ner, which was on the table, or buy myself time to read and write by moving to Malaysia.  But it’s not the same by any means — a regret, too.  You made the right decision.  Hopefully, other Malaysian writers will be inspired to make that decision, too. Did you feel there was any distinct differences on how your novel was received/re­viewed local­­ly (Malaysia/Singapore) versus US/UK?  If it was published locally, they might dismiss it as inferior in some way, a general 15

bias against local publishers, perhaps, as opposed to those like yourself being published overseas with well-known publishers­ Preeta: I wrote this novel (and I hope to write every novel) for Malaysians.   I fought very hard not to sell out, not to have to change things for a Western audience, not to explain, not to compromise.  And I did all that not to be difficult, but because I truly believe that it’s impossible to write equally for both audiences.  Every step taken towards that Western audience is a step away from my own audience.  The ex­ plain­ing is not anodyne:  in that effort to alienate white people less, you do actual­ly alienate Malay­sians more.  The explanations you put in for white people are distancing to your original intended audience.  Nothing anyone ever says about being able to do both will ever change what I truly think about this.   That said, I had decided to publish that book abroad.  That wasn’t be­cause I wanted money and fame and glory, but because I want the West to be reading about Malay­sia, but more than that, I want them to be reading about us ‘on our terms.’  I want them to be read­ing the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves when no one is listening, except I want them to be listening. Robert:  I like that, the way you put that: “the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves when no one is listening…”  That was what I had felt while reading your novel, as if I were eaves­drop­ping on various snide comments and asides not meant for my ears and saw this family in an unflatter­ing, though, natural light.  They were being as they are for no one else’s sake but their own. Preeta:  That, after all, is the purpose of literature:   for all of us, including white people, to be reading about those who are not like us, and to discover even in that not-likeness a shared humanity that underlies every­thing.  If we only read about people who are like us in the important ways — by which I mean that their skin colour may be different, but they still don’t ever make us uneasy; we still feel com­fortable in their presence — then the existing balances of power will never be chal­lenged by what we’re reading.  I can’t get the West to listen if I don’t publish abroad, so I have to negotiate this minefield each time.  Each time, I have to wonder afresh if I will be able to pull it off, if I’ll be able to refuse to address my work to white people, or to hold their hands as I gently guide them through my world, and yet get them to read me. Robert:  It is a minefield, but it all comes down to the characters and story that demands to be told, demands to be read, not so much where the novel is set, but what resonates with the readers, what they can take away from it, what they can learn about themselves even from a totally different culture, for example, in a Nigerian-set story like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I recently re-read, whether you are white or nonwhite, whether you are Western or Asian, whether you have an interest in Africa or not...the story stays with you. By the way, were Malaysians or the Indian community, receptive to you 16

writing about the May 1969 riots? Hey, this is between the Malays and the Chinese, you Indians stay out of it!  I was here during the October 1987 crackdown which prevented another racial riot — for months we could feel the pres­sure mounting all the way in Penang; then came the clampdown of the press and all those arrests under ISA.  My ex-wife was a reporter for NST and they were given new strict guide­lines what they could or could not report on — anything remotely racial was a huge nono.  We had close friends who wrote for The Star when it got shut down; a scary time, but nothing close to what happened in 1969! Preeta:  For the most part, yes, people were very receptive.  Of course I’m not the first writer to cover May 13th in fiction; most famous, Lloyd Fernando wrote a whole novel about the riots.  I can’t claim to have a clear idea of what readers in general thought of my treatment of May 13th, but the few who spoke to me about it were very positive, with one exception (but that person was Malay, not Indian).  It’s interesting that you mention Operation Lalang, because the novel I’ve just finished deals with that incident.

The explanations you put in for white people are distancing to your original intended audience. Nothing anyone ever says about being able to do both will ever change what I truly think about this. Robert:  I must’ve been reading your mind.  After hearing that you had been working on a sec­ond novel for a number of years, I’m glad to learn it’s finished.   Does the long gap between your first novel and a second worry you as it often does many writers; this fear that, this may be it, that I’m a one-book writer.  (Of course, there are tens of thousands of writers who have writ­ten a novel or even several but have yet to reach that one published novel stage — I know one gentleman who has nine unpublished novels fully written....Personally I would love to see a novel about Uma in America, heavily burdened with guilt knowing that despite Aasha’s assertion, she may have been the one to have killed Paati; guilt for Uncle Ballroom’s falling out with her father; guilt for allowing herself to be manipulated by her grandmother against her mother; guilt for abandoning Aasha…with plenty of flashbacks, further illumin­ating events that took place in the first book, plus her reaction when she learns of Chellam’s brutal death at the hands of her father… Preeta:  Yes, I finished the book earlier this year and it’s in the long process of (I hope) being sold.  Of course the long gap worried me, even as I continued to slog through the writing; I worried I wouldn’t or couldn’t finish it, I worried everyone would have forgotten who I was by the time the second novel made it out (and perhaps they have!), I worried that 17

the second novel would be too differ­ent from the first, so that those few readers who ‘hadn’t’ forgotten me would be disappointed. But in the end you have to set those worries aside and keep working, or risk devoting your life to worry­ing instead of writing.  In response to your speculation, I do have to say:   this novel is not a sequel to Evening is the Whole Day.  It isn’t about an Indian family; it is different in possibly every way (style, struc­ture, tone, voice, point of view as I previously mentioned). Robert:  Perhaps in the future, after enough time has passed, you’ll consider the idea….Just curious, do you prefer being called a novelist, an author, or a writer?  Since we’re on the subject of identify, after having lived overseas so long, do you consider yourself as an ex pat writer, or a Malaysian writer, or part of the larger India Diaspora of writers?  Why? Preeta:  I can’t say that I have any strong preference!  I refer to myself as a writer, because I also write short stories and essays.   But I’m not offended or annoyed to find myself referred to as a novel­ist or an author by others.  As for identity:  I consider myself a Malaysian writer.  I realise that my living overseas means some people will contest this identity, arguing that I can’t be an “authen­tic” Malaysian writer if I haven’t lived in Malaysia for a quarter of a century.   But Malaysia contin­ues to be the only place I write about and the only place I want to write about in my fiction.  To me, living overseas makes it easier for me to see and to articulate some things about the country that I don’t think I’d be able to if I were living there.  I’m speaking only for myself here, and not claiming that Malaysian writers who live in Malaysia are less able to see what I see or write what I write.  I only mean that for me, personally, distance is crucial.  As for the Indian Diaspora question:  I ad­mire many Indian writers, but I don’t consider myself one of them because Malaysian culture is dis­tinct from Indian culture on the subcontinent; South Asia and Southeast Asia are two quite different regions.

The writer I am, the person I am, is the person who had all these experiences, and although I don’t analyse the effect of those experiences on my writing, I can’t help but believe that they exert their influence on my writing in some way. Robert: Distancing is a way that allows you to see things up close… .I keep finding myself writing about America even though with each passing year as an ex pat I know it less and less, but it is still home; it is where I am from; it is what I am still trying to make sense of even more so in this age of Trump with its dis­turbing undercurrent of half truths, blatant lies and white su­prem­acy. 18

When you gave up your music dissertation to write your novel that must’ve been a major turning point in your life. Looking back, do you wish you had made that decision a few months (years) sooner?  Or even later?  Any regrets?  (For me, I had serious second thoughts about the timing when I left my career in the US to come to Malaysia to teach myself how to write; another year or two would’ve made a huge difference financially, but then, I may never have left or had the experiences that I had that led me to write LSR…) Preeta:  Yes, I do sometimes I wish I’d made the decision several years sooner, but then again, I don’t think I would have been quite the same person if I’d followed a different trajectory, and a different person would be a different writer.  So in many ways, it’s pointless to speculate about these things.  The writer I am, the person I am, is the person who had all these experiences, and although I don’t analyse the effect of those experiences on my writing, I can’t help but believe that they exert their influence on my writing in some way.  Not at all in the most obvious way that peo­ple always ask about:  do you think your musical training plays a role in the way you use language?  Because my answer to that question is a fairly certain no.  The way I use language comes much more from the writers I read as a child and as a young woman than from anything else.  But I think that my years as an academic did give me a certain kind of rigour in my approach to history, mem­ory, and language that I didn’t have before. Robert:  If you were interviewing yourself, what one question would you ask and how would you answer it? Preeta:  I’m terrible at answering questions like this!  Every so often I read an interview in which a writer is asked a question I really wish someone would ask me, and then I promptly forget it.  I sup­pose I’ll just offer something that’s on my mind right now:  lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of positive reviews or blurbs of books that say “This book made me miss my subway stop!” There’s nothing wrong with a good, gripping page-turner, but it bothers me that this has become our one criterion for judging literature.  So I think I would ask myself, in this hypothetical interview, what other kinds of pleasurable or important or even lifechanging reading experiences there are, and what some examples might be of books that would never have made me miss my subway stop, but changed my life and the way I think.  I think that in my long reading history, I’ve found that the book that is a challenge, even an ordeal, to read — the book I have to put aside for days, weeks at a time, the book I have to take a break from every hour or so, the book that is dense and slow and un­welcoming, forbidding, at first — can sometimes be the most rewarding book of all. Or the book that doesn’t grip and suck you in with great force, but instead invites the reader to di­gress in his or her mind, to launch into many enriching reveries of his or her own between the para­graphs.  In 19

that first category — the dense, challenging book that reshapes my brain — I would put the fantastic novel Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk; Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities; Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake (in what strange universe would Finnegan’s Wake make someone miss their sub­way stop? Would that novel even be published today?)  In the second category — the book that invites languid internal digressions — I would put most of Tove Jansson’s novels for adults; To the Lighthouse (you probably won’t miss your subway stop when there’s no plot to speak of!); In Search of Lost Time; Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.  Of course this is all highly subjective, but these are books that I think are fairly unlikely to make anyone miss their sub­way stop.  And yet: where would literature be today without them?  I was listening to Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech yesterday, in which he says, towards the end:

But how can we do any of this if the only thing we’re all looking for is a book that will make well-meaning middle-class New Yorkers miss their subway stop? “We must widen our common literary world to include many more voices from beyond our comfort zones of the elite first world cultures. We must search more energetically to discover the gems from what remain today unknown literary cultures, whether the writers live in far away countries or within our own communities.  Second: we must take great care not to set too narrowly or conserva­tively our definitions of what constitutes good literature.  The next generation will come with all sorts of new, sometimes bewildering ways to tell important and wonderful stories.  We must keep our minds open to them, especially regarding genre and form, so that we can nurture and celebrate the best of them.  In a time of dangerously increasing division, we must listen.  Good writing and good reading will break down barriers.  We may even find a new idea, a great humane vision, around which to rally.” But how can we do any of this if the only thing we’re all looking for is a book that will make well-meaning middle-class New Yorkers miss their subway stop? Robert:  Nicely said.  I’m glad you answered that very apt question! What one advice would you give yourself (and others) if you were just starting out to write a novel? Preeta:  Write the kind of novel you yourself would want to read.  Write for a person who already knows and understands the things you know and understand (about the place you’re writing about; about history; about human nature).  Don’t explain yourself.  Don’t give in to the temptation 20

to take your reader by the hand and make them comfortable. The best books don’t try to be everyone’s best friend.  The best books unsettle people, push them out of their comfort zones.  Trust your read­ers to do some work.  The ones who aren’t willing to are not worth it anyway. Robert:  Sorry, I have to disagree with you on that last point, though I know where you’re coming from.  All readers are worth it.  If a reader has invested his or her money and invested their time they are worth it.  Some just need to read the book or certain parts more than once.  Most books, after a second reading, are richer.  Stuff you may have missed or didn’t feel was significant the first time around suddenly made sense in light of what comes later, plus under­lying themes that may have been missed while caught up in the plot can resonate in unex­pected ways… .I’ve experienced this many times, especi­al­ly rereading short stories.  But I do agree with what you said about writing the kind of novel you want to read.  I could add, write the story that only you can tell; if you don’t, it’ll never get writ­ten, a loss for all of us. Robert Raymer (2017) (Robert Raymer is a freelance editor, writing consultant, and author who has taught creative writing at two Malaysian universities.) Links to order Preeta’ Samarasan's book.


one woman

Every so often a book appears that reveals and illuminates a project that might otherwise remain largely unknown by the outside world: ‘Colors of Cambodia’ is such a book. This is a highly personal and passionate account written by Martin Bradley and illustrated by Pei Yeou Bradley of her encounter with a remarkable art-based project in and around Siem Reap in Cambodia, and how she was drawn into practical involvement with the children for whom the project exists. The book shows how a small NGO run by William Gentry in Siem Reap has been able to reach out to children in local schools, some in areas of great poverty, through the medium of art, and to give them hope for the future in a country that has suffered so much. The children and their families who are drawn into the project prove how art can cross all borders of language and culture. The book also tells of how Malaysian children and their parents have been encouraged to support the project and to become involved with the children and their work.

This is a highly personal and passionate account written by Martin B remarkable art-based project in and around Siem Reap in Cambodia, for whom the 22

n’s journey

And there is the additional touch of magic as Pei Yeou and Martin tell of their meeting and of how he too was drawn into the story, and contributes to it, and of how it changed his life. His sensitive words and poetry add another colour to this unique book In a world in which the news is bad more often than not, this inspirational book tells a story of optimism and success, and of how dreams can become true. Richard Noyce, Artist and Writer, Wales, July 2012 contact

Bradley and illustrated by Pei Yeou Bradley of her encounter with a , and how she was drawn into practical involvement with the children project exists. 23

u d s e u q jac



y u up Attitudes


e m s i l a t n e i r o



Dao Maman

Halong Bay











1 Benjie 2005

Until I crashed my BMW into a rubber tree, I had not

woken up. My gripped fingers tingled on the steering wheel. Thoughts crawled in my head like awakening insects. I shook them off abruptly. The sensation, like worn-off anaesthesia, made my skin burn with realisation and rage. I had made my mind up. I didn’t want to be like my forefathers, living their shadowy deferential lives fearing authority, quietly banking their fistful sums so that their children could go to Uni abroad. I wasn’t an immigrant. I was second generation Chinese. I took orders from no one, least of all Talisa, the employee pregnant with my child, and Ian, her father. They were the immigrants. I had to make that call. I had to get my message across tonight. The headlights dazzled the tree and the windscreen wipers still danced madly, unaware of the car having stalled. This was not just any tree in Segamat, but a rubber tree on one of the many plantations owned by Ian MacFarlane, the town’s richest, most dreaded man. I was on my way to the Gagak Country Club to meet him, but nature took hold of the steering. The evening was blood black and the monsoon rain came down heavily. I skidded.... It was no accident. It started with a seedling called the Hevea brasiliensis, brought by the British from the Amazon. Since that day a hundred and twenty-eight years ago, acres and acres of plantations had replaced wilderness to bring money in, which now was taken out to bring in sophisticated German cars instead. Nature just smashed mine up. The rubber ball had bounced back to me. Vorsprung.... I looked out of the car, my heart pounding from the collision, my ears whistling from the impact noise. Traum was dream, in German. I was in my own trauma, but I came to my senses. The cruelty of my own random misgivings astonished me. I was in pain. Uninjured, but nevertheless in pain. My car would not start. I tried a few times but the engine would not turn over. I’d have to abandon it. The bonnet looked crushed but I couldn’t tell the full extent of the damage from 33

sitting inside. There was no signal on my phone, so I would have to run to the timber shack bus-stop and try again there. Earlier today, at lunchtime when there were no patients, Talisa urinated on a stick. When two blue lines came up, I was speechless. I had shares in rubber. How could Ian, who tapped our natural resources, who represented the infallibility of condoms, have let me down? The Year of the Rooster, supposedly the most romantic of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, was beginning horribly wrong for me. ‘I don’t understand,’ I said finally, shaking my head, still staring at the two blue lines. She made a cursory shoulder movement. Not even bothering to say, ‘nor I’, she completed her shoulder movement and just shrugged. She shrugged. She yawned like a cat and scratched her neck, as though she’d had enough of this boredom. Then she pouted and smiled. I resisted climbing out of the wreckage of my car when I remembered that face. I stared at the steamed up windscreen and allowed myself the full memory of our exchange today, the biting pleasure of my misery. ‘You’ll just have to tell me Dah,’ she said, at which I crumpled. Not only him, I thought, but Ming Jen, my girlfriend who was safely 200 miles away in the city of Johor Baru. Talisa’s Scottish accent and temperament distressed me each time she spoke because she was of the Iban race of Borneo, formerly known as the Sea Dayaks. She left ten years ago, but provincial life in Segamat had not changed her. She was adopted by Ian eight years ago when her mother, Ian’s housekeeper, died. Living in Ian’s eccentric household only made Talisa more alien. She had a primordial strangeness about her, a freedom, that made her a predator, and I, her prey. I mentioned that with a little assistance from the patient herself, I could perform a termination. Visions of Johnny Depp in From Hell sprang to mind, except I would do a better job than the Ripper. At my suggestion, she threw her lunch at me. I asked if she perhaps wanted another doctor to carry out the task rather than myself? “No!” she screamed. There were rice and chicken bits everywhere, even in the paper clip tray. I had to remind her who the boss was. She then told Shue Ling the doctor had made a total mess of his lunch. Shue Ling, being full-time staff, should pick up the pieces. Part time staff like herself didn’t do ‘heavy cleaning’. I knew it was 34

too late. I had glimpsed the real Talisa only today. What I didn’t see was the real me – how could I, a twenty six year-old GP, a pillar of the community, have made this crazy mistake? Pillock of the community, more like. Ming Jen, a fellow doctor, my long-distance girlfriend whom I met in Uni, would ask the same question. It would crush me to tell her because I knew she would not blame me but herself, and that was so much worse. She had already forgiven me over another indiscretion during a medical conference in Bali two years ago. She must have known then it was the beginning of the end. Now Ming Jen would be totally broken. But already she had faded. It had happened well before the two blue lines. It had happened five weeks ago in fact. Once the vision of Ming Jen’s expression was completely replaced from my wet windscreen with the post-tantrum image of Talisa calling Ian from my surgery telephone, I got out of the car. I was drenched as soon as the car door opened. I ran to the bus stop. Under the tin roof, I checked my phone. There was no signal. My shoes felt like sinking boats. It was not far, perhaps a fifteen minute sprint, if I cut through the banana groves rather than take the route through the rubber estate. I could not walk along the highway when visibility was this low. I ran past the tapioca shrubs. I skidded on the mud. Banana trees which looked like fans, their flowers dangling like red genitalia, appeared leering and mocking. Underneath me, the ground slithered from moss, dead leaves, fallen trees, reptiles and amphibians. The earth sank from the weight of the monsoon. A monkey shrieked. WHEN I GOT TO the familiar tiled verandahs of the GCC, I hoped no one would see me. I looked like an asylum escapee, the living dead or a complete and utter mug. ‘I… had… a… car… accident,’ I said to the doorman, who of course, let me in once he saw who I was. I’d been a member since I graduated three years ago. I sneezed twice. I went straight into the Bar where Ian was, naturally, perched. I burst in sodden in mud and leaves. I shivered in the air-conditioning, my clothes sticking to me like cling film. My shoes squelched great torrents of floodwater even as I advanced towards the Bar, a monster. ‘You look terrible,’ said Ian. ‘Thanks,’ I said. I didn’t just luke it. ‘Get yourself a fucken drink for chrissakes. You deserve it.’ ‘Why do I de…’ I sneezed again, ‘deserve it?’ 35

‘You’re getting married! Wa-hey! Talisa’s told me the good news. You’re in the family now.’ Oh, the good noose. In the family way now. ‘I don’t want the child and we’re not getting married,’ I said. That was the one phone call I had to make, the one message I had to deliver, and now I had delivered it. ‘What? Why not?’ ‘Because we’re not. I’m too young to be tied down. Besides, I have a girlfriend, and she’s...’ ‘Let me put it to you clearly. And this is like man to man, you hear.’ He leant closer like he was my dad or something, trying to share a homegrown piece of heartwarming advice. ‘Uh. Huh.’ I listened, convulsing, confused and shivering. ‘There is no such thing as the right person.’ He delivered each word with such emphasis that their collective weight alternated between my eyes like flashing lights. ‘Every person could be the right person. But there is such a thing as the right thing. You need to do the right thing, young man.’ What pairson pairson? I was seething. The berk was only a landowner because he came here decades ago and beat some poor old Ceylonese farmer to a pulp before the toddy-soaked chap signed over the land. Being white here meant being a figure of authority. He addressed me the same way as he spoke to his employees whom he had to rise above. If he was civil, they could revolt. He would not be able to run his plantations with order and strict discipline. ‘Don’t be too soft on them,’ I overheard him saying to another white man once in the bar. I didn’t need to be told who “them” meant. Ian was only in the little railway town of Segamat, the Swindon of Malaysia, so that he could continue to lord it over everyone. I was London-educated, I knew all my pastas and all my Chardonnays; Ian subsisted on boiled offal and he was telling me what to do? In London he would not be sipping Tiger and practising his golf swing. He would be some jobbing builder picking re-usable radiators out of other people’s skips. ‘I’m not getting married,’ I replayed my message to him and turned around. I walked out of the bar. The next thing I knew I was on the floor of the verandah. I pictured myself as the Ceylonese farmer signing away life and land on some literally bloody dotted line, carefully avoiding one or two knocked-out incisors on the piece of paper. Thankfully, it was a quiet night because of the bad weather. Even the doorman had stepped inside his cabin to watch telly. 36

No one could see that Dr Lee was sprawled on the floor, gasping, groaning, wet as a flapping bleeding carp. Another punch flew out at my stomach. I could see Ian’s shadow above me, his beery breath stank like a bin. Bastard. He dared to lay his cartoon uncouthness on me. This was what he and his ancestors had done to my people for over a hundred years: here, have a school, have a hospital and a main road, have a slap. I was not some piece of junk like him. I was not going to hit back. But as soon as I was on my legs, my right fist sailed towards his mandibles. Pointless, all that energy which had gone into it. Ian dodged and I missed his jawline completely. ‘Listen to me, you scum,’ he hissed while he grabbed my shoulders, tearing my Ben Sherman shirt. ‘This is not London, OK mate? You do not fuck up and fuck off. And don’t even think for a minute that you’re going to fight a Scotsman.’ I thought he spat at me. Perhaps it was the rain spitting. It hurt me to stand up for myself but I did. I growled with pain, less with pride. ‘I got married. Best thing I ever did. Loved it so much I did it twice,’ he chuckled. ‘Do the right thing, for fuck’s sake. Have a fucken family. You’re bloody old enough. What you waiting for? You weren’t going to marry that lass either, were you?’ I saw and felt his shadow but everything was out of focus. The man was hideous and insane, and his rubber plantations which covered Segamat, would be a constant reminder of my idiocy. ‘Were you?’ He shouted, reminding me that in fact he had asked a question. He nagged me and now he was hugging me, welcoming me into the family. ‘We’re going back to the bar, aye, we’re going to make sure you understand everything about family life.’ I was still groaning and panting. I sneezed again, and my snot was bloody. Seeing my speechlessness seemed to excite him even more. ‘If you do not do the right thing, I’ll make sure everyone in this town knows what kind of doctor you are. Don’t you forget I’ve been in rubber long before you were born. I know everybody and everybody knows me. You won’t escape. If you do, I’ll break your legs, I swear.’ He laughed at the breaking ye legs bit. Was child...going to swear like this man? The question throbbed in my mind as I trudged back to the bar. I saw my reflection in the bar mirror – I had panda eyes and a goatee of blood, my nose 37

swollen like a giant strawberry. ‘Quick,’ barked Ian to the barman. ‘Large scotch please for the gentleman, he’s had a car accident, ain’t you, poor lad, and I think he’s in shock.’ He propped me on the stool like I was a puppet. He shook me by the shoulders every few seconds to make sure I was compos mentis, that I wasn’t going to conk out and that I understood every word he said. My drink poured, the barman went off to the pool bar and retrieved a large white towel. Ian covered my head like a tent and rubbed his puppet’s head and shoulders all over with the towel. I was relieved at the warm, dry, darkness. Ian was more than one person’s father. Even the evil were kind to their own. Ian must have already considered me family. Something about the intimacy of being thoroughly dried weakened me yet made me trust him. After swimming, my dad used to do the same to me when I was a boy. I peeped through my towel tent. In the corner of my panda eye, I could see Talisa sitting calmly in the sofa area of the bar, in her dreamy way, sucking a bile-yellow drink from a straw, probably pineapple juice. She was reading a fashion magazine, I could not care to notice which. The memory of us having sex, with our clothes on, pierced my mind momentarily. I thought of her slim muscular body, her slight legs, her round, high breasts that you’d see on ancient tomb carvings. I felt sick. She looked over at me. Her eyes shone with the urban innocence of a child mugger. ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to drive you home tonight,’ Ian slurred, ‘Make sure you get some rest! You’re not going to get much sleep when the baby comes.’ Now I had to trust this man’s drunk driving too. The roller coaster ride had just begun. Wa-hey



Lionel Wendt by Ellen Dissanayake

THERE are many people who can impress a listener with their brilliance and discernment, but only a rare few who make those with whom they converse feel that their own ideas are interesting and worthwhile as well. Such a person is excellent and desired company anywhere, and all the more invaluable in places where the time has come for new directions and new ideas and – most essentially – a climate in which to develop these. Such a place was pre-independence Ceylon in the 1930's and 1940's, and such a person was Lionel Wendt. Today in Colombo everyone knows the name, through the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Art Gallery, but only a few Sri Lankans, those of his generation (he was born in 1900), are aware of the notable achievements and personality of the man himself. A first-rate photographer, pianist, writer, raconteur and wit, teacher, patron of the arts, and of friends, Lionel Wendt was one of those remarkable people that occasionally turn up in times of need. He seems to have impressed everyone who met him – from Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel Prize winner who in the 1920's was a diplomat in Colombo, to Basil Wright, the brilliant British film director whose Song of Ceylon (1934) is one of the landmarks in documentary film history. Certainly the Ceylonese who had the good fortune to know him, now speak of him only in superlatives. “He was like champagne to his friends,” said one recently, when I asked him to tell me about Lionel Wendt. “If he had lived somewhere else he would have been a world figure – like Oscar Wilde, perhaps,” said another, with unmistakable adulation. “I love to talk about him. It brings it all back.” 40



Ceylon 1

Ceylon 2


TEMPLE OFFERINGS Wendt was of Dutch burgher background. That is, his parents were descendants of Ceylonese-Dutch intermarriage during the period of Netherlands dominion (mid-17th to early 19th century). The influence of the Dutch in Sri Lanka remains today in architecture, gastronomy, the legal system, a number of words in the Sinhalese language, and in the distinctive personalities and accomplishments of many of their descendants. (The recent Booker Prize recipient, novelist Michael Ondaatje, is one of these.) In the British colonial period the Dutch burghers, with their Western and Christian background, were often chosen and groomed by the British civil service and commercial establishment to assume responsible posts in government and business. On the whole they were better educated (many of them in England) and more prosperous than other Ceylonese of the time – perhaps as archetypically “bourgeois” as their forebears in 17th century Holland and certainly as Victorian as their contemporaries in fin-de-siècle Britain. To learn about Lionel Wendt and his times is to become acquainted with a world that is fascinatingly different from post-independence Sri Lanka. Lionel Wendt's father was a judge in the Supreme Court, and his mother the daughter of the district judge in Kandy. It is not surprising that at the age of 19 he was sent to London to study law for the bar. Already at that time an accomplished pianist, he also studied piano in London with Oscar Beringer at the Royal Academy of Music, although it was understood that music could be only a sideline to a “recognized profession”. Wendt qualified at the Inner Temple as a barrister and practised at the bar in Colombo for a short time. According to one informant his “large and tender heart” made him constitutionally unsuited for the profession and so, having obliged his family's expectations, he gave up practising law and returned to practising the piano. From his mid-twenties he devoted himself seriously to music. He became a conspicuous figure in what was undeniably the only genuinely “arty” circle of the period, and with his friends – including the painter, George Keyt – sported unconventional clothes (wide hats and floppy bows) and long hair. They read Swinburne, Beardsley and Wilde, as well as more modern Western authors: Shaw, Wells, Bennett. In his autobiography, Memoirs, Pablo Neruda wrote that:


Still life with mask and statue



“Lionel Wendt, who owned an extensive library and received all the latest books from England, got into the extravagant and generous habit of every week sending to my house, which was a good distance from the city, a cyclist loaded down with a sack of books. Thus, for some time, I read kilometres of English novels, among them the first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover, published privately in Florence.” Yet Neruda also noted that Wendt “was the central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon.” It has been suggested that Wendt's increasing interest in photography during the 1930's was a response to his growing desire to articulate and express the values and life of Ceylonese people. L C van Geyzel in his 1950 introduction to the posthumously published collection of Wendt's photographs, wrote: “The values of Western culture, dominant for centuries, seemed to need revitalising. Here to hand in Ceylon was a way of life that was very old, but which retained in spite of poverty, squalor, and apathy, a vital sense that was lacking in more progressive countries. Man, living in traditional ways, had not become alienated from his environment. It is this which [Wendt's work] so richly illustrates.” Along with the affected pre-Raphaelite poses and bicycle-loads of modern European literature, Wendt and his friends were trying to find – or make – a new national identity or national consciousness. The old Wine of Western civilization need not be thrown away, but should be imbibed from the clay jugs of rural Ceylon, acquiring an authenticity and relevance to the traditional situation. To Wendt and his contemporaries in Colombo, rural Ceylon was about as foreign and exotic as Tahiti had been forty years earlier to Gauguin. Yet they seemed to feel in their bones that their future, and the country's future, lay neither in ignoring the ancient heritage nor repudiating Western ways, but in absorbing and responding to what they could of both and somehow amalgamating them. This recognition was almost unconscious and for a time they seemed to be simply using Ceylonese subject matter in styles appropriated from the contemporary West. Always, however, the beauty and power of rural Ceylonese life was made manifest and in the best work of the period (for example in Wendt's photographs and Keyt's paintings) the Western adaptations were always those which echoed or reinforced the older Indo-Ceylonese tradition. Wendt's contribution to modern painting in Sri Lanka cannot be overstressed. It was he who made available to aspiring artists prints of contemporary European artists, along with new books, from England. He bought paintings by the young W J G Beling, George Keyt, and others, organized exhibitions, and defended these publicly in the newspapers with witty and incisive replies to hostile critics and suspicious, uncomprehending viewers.



Buddha head and wine goblet

The '43 Group which essentially introduced and maintained modern art in pre- and post-independence Ceylon was the creation of Wendt, whose organizational skills brought to actual realization the half-intentions and good ideas of the artists. Over a period of 25 years (1943 to 1968) the '43 Group exhibited publicly, thereby providing an atmosphere for younger painters to develop and a climate for an appreciative audience to grow. Although Wendt died a year after the '43 Group held its first exhibition, no-one disputes the catalyzing effect of Wendt at its inception. In fact, as late as 1955, eleven years after his death, a snidely dismissive newspaper review of the ninth '43 Group exhibition claimed that “everywhere that Lionel Wendt the lambs were sure to go” – implying that it was Wendt's influence, energy, and prestige that gave the group its cohesion and life. Wendt's achievements in photography alone are extraordinary. He experimented with solarised prints as early as 1935, which was perhaps one of the earliest uses anywhere of the solarisation effect for pictorial ends. He entered (and was accepted by) numerous international photographic exhibitions, often with two different styles under two different names. In 1938, Messrs Ernst Leitz, manufacturers of Leica, arranged a oneman exhibition of his work in London. His book of photographs, Lionel Wendt's Ceylon (London: Lincoln's Praeger, 1950) with a first edition of 5000 copies, is now a prized collector's item. IN 1934 the British Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board engaged John 47

The Song of Ceylon, a 1934 British documentary film

Grierson's GPO Film Unit to produce a film about Ceylon as a public relations enterprise. The resulting picture, Song of Ceylon, went on to receive first prize for documentary at the Brussels International Film Festival in 1935, and is given accolades in all accounts of documentary film history. The film is remarkable for unusual uses of the soundtrack as well as the imaginative montage and pictorial effects of directorcameraman Basil Wright. Before he died in 1987 at age 81, Wright recalled that before setting out on the project he hoped to find help from a “non-colonial mentality”: “Luckily, the head of the Board, G K Stewart, was an enlightened character, explained Lionel's burgher origins to me, and arranged for us to meet [at the Grand Oriental Hotel in Galle]. To begin with he was bristling with suspicions, but after a long talk with me and my assistant John Taylor he decided we were OK. He was of course invaluable throughout, and… guided us splendidly through the making of the film.” While editing the film in London, Wright found he had metres and metres of (for example) Sinhalese dancing but without synchronized recording apparatus there were no sounds to go with them. He arranged for two Kandyan dancers to come to England with Wendt as their mentor and guide. Apart from providing the background of drums and singing, the dancers trained a church choir from near the studio to produce suitable sounds for the dancing lesson sequence in reel two. As the film emerged, Wright decided it would be unthinkable to add a travelogue type of commentary, characteristic of “exotic” films of the period. By chance he discovered the classic 17th century account of medieval Ceylon by Robert Knox, a British sailor held in captivity for 19 years by the king of Kandy. The old-fashioned prose seemed eminently suitable, but the actors and broadcasters who auditioned for 48

A still from The Song of

the voice over made it sound phony. Two days before Wendt's departure from England, Wright idly suggested that he try the narration. It was, according to Wright, “the perfect choice” and thus Lionel Wendt's deep, cultivated voice is preserved in this exceptional film. Lionel Wendt was a big man, in keeping with his large talent. He had enormous energy, as well, which his friends say infused his entire personality. Everything in his character seems to have been superlative. For all my prodding people to remember evidence of dark corners, no one has had anything but good to say of him. He was “largeheart, but he hated insincerity and hypocrisy”. He was “so learned”, witty (“he had a marvellous way of relating stories, making things look ridiculous”). He “analysed everything through and through”, was “such a personality”. He “was indifferent to his own reputation, but quick to defend other artists”, and “was unforgettable and desired company”. “There was no moment you'd forget. He was a truly great man, honest, sincere, humble, friendly and kind and selfsacrificial.” A prolific writer of letters, Wendt's fancy ran free, as in this advice to a piano pupil who had cancelled a lesson due to injury: “I hope you don't strain or even sprain your memory. It will be awkward if you begin to memorize everything – conversations, fugues, birdsongs, wren's chatter, wallpaper, glue, buildings, marmalade, etc.” 49

To his friends he wrote loose couplets in the manner of Ogden Nash and obviously loved puns and wordplay (a pupil named Hilda became “Bewilda”). Owners of his letters treasure them, not only for their delicious references to long-forgotten scandals but for their memorable way with words and descriptions: “… I can't worry in more than 3-part counterpoint.” 'AND NOTHING SURPRISES ME' L C van Geyzel, who was one of Wendt's close friends, tells us that he possessed practical and intellectual qualities not often found in artists. He thinks that with his curiosity, taste, and capacity for hard work, Wendt could have been a scholar, but perhaps he also felt that too much intellectual luggage would be cumbersome and interfere with immediate aesthetic perception. Wendt's home reflected his interests and personality. In a long sitting room with low bookshelves on grey walls were hung paintings by his friends in frames he had himself painted and designed and enormous enlargements of his own prints. And there was his grand piano. In 1929 Beling and the German painter, Otto Scheinhamer, side by side, each painted Wendt's portrait, wearing a dressing gown and seated at the piano. The Beling picture hangs today in the Lionel Wendt Memorial Theatre. Any country would welcome such a multitalented, multifaceted native son whose gifts, as it turned out, were as much for encouraging and enlarging the experience of others as for self-development. His premature and unexpected death (of cardiac asthma) shortly after his 44th birthday, nearly a half-century ago, ended a life of contributions to others and personal fulfilment that would be enviable in a normal life span. Writing of Wendt, van Geyzel sums up (if such a thing were possible) his unforgettable friend: “But there was something over and above and more profound; a selfsufficiency that was neither selfish nor ingrown, and an assurance that was never arrogant, or in the slightest degree pompous (a healthy irreverence indeed, was one of his most delightful characteristics). These qualities claimed one's confidence and made one always want to share one's experiences with him. If at times he could be exasperating he was never insincere, and he had breadth of character that made temporary irritations seem quite unimportant. Such personalities are rare. They are so vivid that they seem in some special way to belong to life itself.” Originally published in 1994, In Serendib 13(4): 16-22 and is copyrighted by the author Ellen Dissanayake, author and lecturer, Affiliate Professor, School of Music, University of Washington, USA.


Lionel Wendt - Ceylon, publisher Fw: Books


autism 52

m & art 53


Open Open is a 10-year-old boy with a curiosity for life and the things that happen around him. He is on the autistic spectrum and loves to draw. He is especially good at drawing monkeys. When his class is selected to perform a Chinese opera based on the Monkey King’s Journey to the West, Open must find it in himself to overcome his obstacles and courageously step on stage. The book is based on a film, The Wayang Kids, by Singapore based studios, Brainchild Pictures. In the movie, Open is a nonverbal autistic. The book gives voice to Open, allowing readers to enter his inner world, the world of his emotions. The book connects readers to the film, enabling audiences a deeper understanding of the film’s protagonist. By bridging film and literature, a wider audience that includes children and their families can be reached. In writing the book, the author hopes to cultivate a love for reading literature amongst middle schoolers. By interweaving historical elements of the Chinese Opera, represented by the motif of the monkey, a heritage linked to Singapore can also be unpacked. Importantly, the author also hopes to spread awareness of inclusivity in our community. The book highlights the importance of tolerance and acceptance amongst young children for individuals on the autistic spectrum. Although fictional, the story portrays some of the trials and tribulations that certain special needs individuals have to endure by debunking the misconceptions that such individuals lack intelligence and feelings.  Both movie and book hope to address issues such as the challenges of parenting a special needs child, how autistic children are viewed by their peers, the importance of peer friendships and acceptance, to name some themes running through the story. The publisher, Ethos Books, has called Open a "[...] gift calling to the largeness of our hearts."  Denise Phua, President of the Autism Resource Centre and an advocate for Special Needs, has commended the writing and publishing of this book. Eva Wong Nava  55

Zhe Xuan



A Simple Love of Painting by Martin Bradley

Zhe Xuan at work

Unlike the character 'Open' in the book of the same name by Eva Wong Nava, or the child with autism in the Singaporean film 'Wayang Kids’ by Brainchild Pictures, Malaysian artist Pua Zhe Xuan is both an artist, and severely autistic. According to Britain’s National Autistic Society, autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a ‘lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.’ It is a serious condition for which there is no ‘cure’, for it is not an illness but a condition which is on a ‘spectrum’. Those people having autism vary as greatly from each other, as they do from people not having autism. The spectrum is a range, from less severe to very severe, and there are many symptoms appearing on that spectrum. Some of the basic commonalities shared by people with autism are (again from the National Autistic Society) ‘…persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests since early childhood, to the extent that these limit and impair everyday functioning’. Many people having autism have varying amounts of understanding when it comes to communication, including interpretations of gestures, and/or language. Some people on the autism spectrum are unable to speak, or are like Zhe Xuan, who speaks little. Other people on the autism spectrum rely on sign language, or other visual cues. Some others may be able to speak, but have trouble understanding others, their facial cues, expressions, tone of voice, jokes, sarcasm. Often the world, for people on 57

Zhe Xuan working larger



Zhe Xuan working on a new character

the autistic spectrum, is a confusing and frequently hostile place. Zhe Xuan was born in 1995, and will be 23 years old this year. From birth he appeared to be as other babies. There had been no difficulties during May Lai’s (his mother’s) pregnancy. He was born seemingly fit and healthy, sitting at the appropriate age. As time wore on the difference between Zhe Xuan and children of his age started to appear. After initial baby ‘talk', his vocalization stopped. He has been largely nonvocal ever since. Zhe Xuan has been taught a few words by his mother and through day care with Malaysia's autistic society, NASOM, but he is still unable to formulate sentences, hold a conversation or write. He was diagnosed to be on the more severe end of the spectrum of autistic disorders at the age of five. May Lai was determined not to give up on her child. By the time Zhe Xuan was eight, she had begun seeking for a way her special child to communicate as he remained unable to find a way to vocalise. Through constant observation, May Lai noticed that her child liked playing with coloured pencils. Zhe Xuan would draw on magazines, or recycled paper. May Lai had discovered the way to help her son, through art. The next step was to find help to encourage Zhe Xuan in this passion, and to give him a broader expression in his art. Zhe Xuan's love of the physical act of creation led him to other 60



artists and, in 2008, eventually to Honey Khor and her art studio, in Puchong, Malaysia. Honey and Zhe Xuan have been working together ever since. During those ten years, Zhe Xuan has grown from boy into man, physically. The way he approaches his art has changed. He takes on more challenging subjects now, and varies the size of his art works. From scribbling, Zhe Xuan had branched out to draw simple shapes. Sometimes, even now, when troubled he will revert back to drawing shapes, the same shapes, over and over again, on which ever paper, magazine etc, he is given to use. Those simple shapes have led Zhe Xuan to painting birds, trees, buildings, those things around him. His style is, and always has been, uniquely his own. Birds appear to be wearing Wellington Boots, flying or walking. Beautifully maned lions smile engaging smiles, in fact most creatures, and the people he now draws, all have smiles. That is maybe why his images are so endearing, smiles and happy colours, pleasant shapes that make us all smile too. When his mood has changed he will spend hours concentrating on a painting. When he is certain how the painting will look, he will not allow anyone, not May Lai, not Honey, to dissuade him from certain colours or course of action. At other times Zhe Xuan will be in a bad mood. He will not paint or draw. Instead he will march about the room, huffing and puffing, not wanting to sit still. But this does not last long. His love of creativity soon brings him back to drawing or painting. Recently Zhe Xuan discovered portraiture, and began his first self portrait, using charcoal, which was a new medium for him. Zhe Xuan was fascinated to use the charcoal to draw, leaving large black lines on the white paper, but also discovered the ability to use his fingers, to smudge, to manipulate the medium, bringing big smiles as he did so. With thanks to the untiring work his mother, siblings and other family members put into his welfare, the guidance of Honey Khor in art and the assistance of people supporting NASOM, Zhe Xuan has grown into an amiable, and talented young artist. Zhe Xuan sells many of his works, through his mother, and has his own art gallery (Zhe Xuan Fine Art), with much thanks to his parents who continue to support him in his creativity. Zhe Xuan has recently appeared on local radio and television, helping to raise awareness about autism, and has caught the attention of one University in England who wanted to use one of his images in a catalogue. Zhe Xuan has also been approached by The Art of Autism, in America.


Those simple shapes led Zhe Xuan to painting birds, trees, buildings, those things around him. His style is, and always has been, uniquely his own. Birds appear to be wearing Wellington Boots, flying or walking. Beautifully maned lions smile engaging smiles...



unique not broken Sir Woei is

At the age of three, I brought Sir Woei to see a paediatrician regarding her inability to speak. We were told that she may have some issues regarding her behaviour. However, my husband and I did not believe that up until she had attended preschool. After acknowledging the fact, I brought her to a genetic paediatrician immediately to seek for an appropriate diagnosis. Her condition at that time was suspected as spectrum autism. It was at the ages of 6 (2009) when she was diagnosed with her inability to communicate verbally and physically and having short term memory. Nevertheless, it is classified as a minor disability because she can self-manage and respond to instructions well. She was then assigned to speech and occupational therapy to recuperate from her disability about a year. Despite that, she still unable to cope with the environment and education provided in a Chinese Primary School which focuses on memorising and reading skills. So, I transferred her to a dyslexic centre to improve her learning for three months. After a period of time, she was fit to make progress in their education system and made substantial amount of progress. At the age of 9 (2012), I decided to transfer her to home schooling for an easier academic approach; which catered to their speed and ability to progress to the next level. It was a better choice than to attend public school because she can focus on having to learn one type of language (English) and acquisition of academic knowledge is presumably easier because they are taught in small groups by a teacher. I was also actively involved in engaging with the teachers to give feedback and suggestion on Sir Woei’s progress and condition. For over the past 6 years, her progress made into her character. She is more open minded towards new experiences, ideas and can communicate with strangers comfortably. Furthermore, she has also came to accept her own unique abilities and not seeing as a disability that is classified by the society. Her elevated level of creativity and sensitivity towards art has made her unique and not defeated by her condition. Written by Sri Woei's mother 66

a comic book by Sir Woei 67














Sir Woei 81

Maksuda Iqbal


Art lover Nuruzzaman Kaiser had been in contact with me for a while, expressing his joy for art, more especially by Bangladeshi artists. We agreed to meet on an unexceptionably hot day in Kuala Lumpur, to talk about art from Bangladesh, while Kaiser was still in Malaysia on business. The venue was IOI Mall Starbucks, convenient for us both. Before he was due to leave Malaysia, Kaiser had wanted to pass a book to me. It had the intriguing title of ‘Maksuda Iqbal Nipa: Episodes of her Gaze’, and was a retrospective collection of images by the non-figurative Bangladeshi artist Maksuda Iqbal Nipa. The book had been published, with much acclaim, in Dhaka, the year before last (2016). That volume was replete with testimonies from fellow artists and well wishers, as well as featuring a concise background on the artist. On seeing such amazing images, I promptly agreed to execute the following write up for The Blue Lotus magazine, and was deeply honoured to discover that the book was signed by the artist herself. Maksuda Iqbal Nipa: Episodes of her Gaze, is an imposing book which captures something of the artist’s thought provoking image making. It is a hard bound book and runs to over 250 pages. It is replete with a colourful dust jacket which features this artist’s exciting painting ‘Sounds of Austere Perceptions (2013), on the front cover, and is published by Enyetullah Khan’s Cosmos Foundation’s Cosmos Books, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is Maksuda Iqbal Nipa's first publication. Before enquiring too far into Maksuda Iqbal Nipa's work, there are some salient details a reader, fresh to Bangladeshi art, might want to be apprised of. As you might recall, after independence from British rule (1947) several Muslim art teachers (from the Calcutta Art School, founded by the British in 1854) had moved into what eventually became known as Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal and East Pakistan). Zainul Abedin, Safiuddin Ahmed and the student Quamrul Hassan (all previously from the Calcutta Art School) moved to Dhaka. This eventuated in the creation of an art institute called the Dhaka Art School, in Dhaka, 1948. It was run along similar lines to that of the Calcutta Art School, and underwent several name changes over the years until, finally, in 2008, it became the Charukola, Faculty of Fine Art, which until today continues its emphasis on the mastery of naturalism. Since those early days, the art of Bangladesh has moved from the pioneering ‘Modern’ figurative work of Zainul Abedin, characterised in paintings such as ‘Harvest’ (1934) and ‘Santal Couple’ (1951) to those exquisite socially conscious and earthy figurative works of Sheikh 82

Kept Secret

Mohammed Sultan (S.M.Sultan). Quamrul Hassan’s ‘Three Women 1’ (1955) leaned heavily towards the social figurative, but incorporated aspects of both Western ‘fauve’ and a latter day ‘Cubism’. In more recent times, Maksuda Iqbal Nipa followed in the esteemed footsteps of Tahera Khanam, Rowshan Ara, Hasina Ali, Jubaida Akter Khatun and Syeda Moyeena Ahsan, the first women to be admitted to the Dhaka Art School, in 1954. Following her heart, and seeking a more spiritual way of painting, Maksuda Iqbal Nipa has created an art not required to be dominated by either socially conscious figurative painting, nor to be held by conventions of subject and object, contrary to the teaching at the Dhaka Faculty of Fine Art. You might remember that in ‘Dialogue on the New Plastic’ (‘Dialoog over de Nieuwe Beelding’), published over two issues of De Stijl magazine (1919), the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian argued that his new direction of painting’s aim was ‘To express relationships plastically through oppositions of colour and line,’ and ‘To be expressed plastically in a determinate way, relationships must be represented only through colour and line.’ Mondrian favoured the interaction of line and colour over the need for a definitive figurative subject and object. Maksuda Iqbal Nipa, in her post Japan works, demonstrates this most effectively and is shown in her collected acclaimed works, within the pages of that book ‘Maksuda Iqbal Nipa: Episodes of her Gaze’. Maksuda Iqbal Nipa, or more commonly ‘Nipa’, as she is known, was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1975. In 1996 she completed her BFA (Drawing and Painting), at the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in 2002 she undertook a Post-Graduate Research Course (Oil Painting), at the 83

Gold Rush



Red & Yellow Combination

Aichi University of Education, Japan. In 2004, Nipa achieved her M. Ed. in Fine Arts (Painting), also at the Aichi University of Education. During her sojourn in Japan, Nipa’s artistic direction changed radically from the figurative to her own way of abstraction, like many Asian artists before her. Japan, you might remember, was the prime motivator of Western ‘Modernism’ in Asia. It began with the Meiji Restoration, in 1868, and has influenced Asian countries such as China and, later, South East Asia with concepts of ‘Modern Art’ drawn from the West. In Japan, Nipa’s move towards a chromic abstraction freed her to experiment with line and colour in much the way that those giants from the Bauhaus, Kandinsky and Mondrian, had advocated. Her colours spring, dance and vibrate, sometimes on very large canvases, weaving their own spiritual magic from cosmoses of colour (Pigmented Dream of Hard-edged Clarity, 2004), to ever flowing fields (Pondering Search, 2016). Nipa’s works are themselves transcendent, moving beyond mere paint on substrate, skilfully providing visual portals inciting observers to move to other planes. Nipa’s works are a triumph, a resounding crescendo of colour and line. Nipa’s chromatic compositions bring to mind the essence of Wassily Kandinsky’s philosophy of art. Kandinsky (in his 1910 essay ‘Concerning the Spiritual In Art’) spoke about an artist’s ‘inner life’ being expressed, its awakening and a transcendence through the medium of art. These self same spiritual expressions are evident in many of Nipa’s works, with titles eluding to their visual construct such as 86


‘Cerulean Wonder’, ‘Colour Haze’, ‘Traces from the Orange Botanic’, which subsequently bring to mind Kandinsky’s ‘Yellow, Red, Blue (1926), ‘White Line’ (1920) and his ‘Dreamy Improvisation’ (1913). Though some have likened Maksuda Iqbal Nipa's works to those of the late Bangladeshi artist Mohammad Kibria (1929-2011), it is an unfair comparison. The only similarity is that both artists had inclined towards the abstract, which in itself is a large category. There are, seemingly, no other points of reference between the two artists to draw the conclusion of their similarity. Collections of Nipa’s work may be discovered at the National Art Gallery of Bangladesh, Shilpakala Academy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, at the Bangladesh Bank, at the Bengal Foundation, also at the Embassy of Bangladesh in Vietnam. There are her works at the Bangladesh National Museum, and many private collections at home and abroad. Nipa has held numerous solo and group shows in Bangladesh, and outside, especially the National Museum of Bangladesh, UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, the Toyota Municipal Art Museum in Toyota, Japan, and at the Las Vegas Art Museum, USA, as well as the Youngone Corporation in Seoul, Korea. Nipa has been honoured by Bangladesh Mohila Porishod (Bangladesh Women’s Association) and has received numerous awards and grants from Japan, China, and Bangladesh. 87

Details of Conceiving Plots



Alphabets from the Field



Details of -The Glare of Uncertainty



Large digital advertising displays

Pain & Gain by Martin Bradley

“Ouch ouch, ouch. Pain, pain, pain.” “But, I am being very gentle with you” exclaimed the masseuse. “Define gentle, please. I am adverse to pain, especially when it's my own. Ouch, ouch, ouch.” “Good grief, and he’s still got the other foot to go with this Oriental Foot Massage”, I pondered lonely amidst the clouds. “I’m so grateful not to be an octopod”. According to Buddhism, we living beings are trapped in the cycle of existence known as samsara. In samsara, we wander aimlessly and experience unbearable suffering, or foot massage as some call it. It was my dubious fortune to have accepted an offer to undergo a variety of ‘treatments’, at a luxury ‘spa’. It was at the top of one of Malaysia’s many mountains within the Titiwangsa Mountain range. The air was cool, the were clouds are aplenty and the venue thronged by myriad people. 94

The offer was generous. It featured an overnight hotel room, a choice of facilities available from one certain health and treatment company (and their subsidiaries) in exchange for a little writing. As the Americans tend to say, it was, seemingly, a win-win situation. The only, slight, difficulty was, that I am a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, none spa-going sort of bloke. I like spas about as much as I like gyms, and for the very same reason - I can’t see their point. I’m not a health nut, fitness freak, a gym rat or bunny. I simply cannot see the purpose of lifting heavy weights, only to put them down again to gain a six-pack while I already have at least twice that. Nor do I see the sense of running ten miles, on the spot, on some contraption and getting nowhere, literally. I don’t do games where spherical objects bounce, or fly, back and forth, or have to be chased after being kicked. Equally I seem to be immune to being anointed with various smelling oils, being poked, prodded and pretending that not only is it doing me good, but I am enjoying it too. That’s just me. Many do like this, and pay copious amounts of money to ‘enjoy’ one of the many processes on offer at any number of spa ‘treatment centres’. I prefer to read a good book. 95

Ten years before I had been invited, by Malaysian Tourism, to undertake a tour of spas in Perak, Malaysia. I was asked to write about the experience for the magazine Senses of Malaysia. Some spas were located in wondrous settings, some were not. Some had steam baths followed by cold baths, others did not. It was then, during those days of visiting different spas, that I discovered this lack of ‘fit’ between spas, the healthy life, and myself. My experiences left me disinclined to repeat any of the massaging, poking and prodding, even despite the glorious surroundings, the incense and the soothing music. I am, after all, not adverse to soothing music or the odd stick of sandalwood. Ten years later I was willing to put my (many) prejudices aside, and just see what I had been missing. The ride up to the mountain ‘resort’ was interesting. It was not, quite, the helter-skelter of other Malaysian mountains but a smooth ride, albeit a rapid and windy one. It was pleasant to look out of the speeding car, witnessing rainforest tree tops set against a surprisingly bright blue sky racing by. It was wondrous to see large ferns waving in vague tropical breezes and huge, rainproof, banana leaves, not to mention towering coconut trees and other momentous Malaysian flora constructing attractive green vistas as I swiftly passed. Unfortunately, all this sumptuous scenery simply disappeared as I neared the top of the mountain, some 1700m above sea level, and entered what I could only describe as one huge builder’s site. This vista, coupled with being amongst the clouds, with mist everywhere, rendered a distinct lack of view which continued into the copious concrete underground car-parking space. Maybe this was the management’s cunning plan; to bore visitors to near death with drab concrete and ugly renovations and then, as they exit the car park, astound them with towering, bright, red, Chinese dogs (wearing sunglasses) and assail those visitors’ auditory senses with fairground cacophony. The immeasurable mall projected a Blade Runner ambience (without the rain), tinged with a soupçon of Disney world. The immensity of giant digital displays were due to reach their fullest potential at Chinese New Year, but they were doing a damn fine job of impressing me right then and there.‘Venerated Michael’ gave way to scenes of rainforest, which disappeared to promote a plethora of red gearing up for Chinese New Year. The mall was massive and so were the displays. Within the mall there was this World, and that World all vying for children’s attention, while myriad shops and restaurants teased, and delighted, the adults just as much. Several floors up of this materialistic consumerism and I had reached, not just the end of my tether, but my destination. Aromatic (and this was a word I was to hear oft time repeated on this journey) Ginger tea was proffered, and consumed whilst I sat and decided which of the many ‘treatments’ I should sample. I had, effectively, one day (split into two halves) in which to get to grips with this spa experience. I was determined to do it justice, as per my brief. I began at the top. I had a haircut. I say haircut, it was more a hair sculpting. The process was congenial, pleasant even. My raggle taggle 96

Getting ready for the Year of the Dog


Bliss Ginger Tea

mop of wild vines were slowly transformed into something vaguely human, shapely even, under the hands of a very gentle, comely, young Chinese woman. My hair washed, cut and washed again and I was positively glowing. It was “not a bad start”, I thought, ogling myself as much as possible in the mirrors. After steaming my feet in a wooden barrel, in the manner of Chinese Dim Sum, I was shown to a booth where my torture began in earnest. I have a very low pain threshold and swallowed my pain the best I could. “Mmmmmm, er, mm, mmmmm” “Is everything alright’ enquired Jon, we’ll call him Jon (the male masseuse) though it wasn’t his name. “Eer, it’s a bit painful.” “Do you want me to stop.” I desperately wanted to say a resounding ‘YES”, but didn’t want to appear to be a wimp. “Hmm, no, that’s alright” “Are you sure.” Again a pause for thought. “Yes”. I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t alright. Jon had managed to find every single pressure-point on my lower legs, the soles of my feet, and even on my toes. I grumbled about his obviously being trained by the CIA and my expecting ‘waterboarding’ next, but Jon declined to understand. I was probably the most reluctant customer he had ever had to deal with as I mumbled and squirmed. Jon, with his deadly kung fu hands, continued 98

to discover my bodily weaknesses. I continued squirming, edging away from the source of my pain the best that I could, but my foot was being firmly gripped in a proverbial vice-like grip. Jon had his head down but, just for a moment I had the sense that he was actually enjoying my discomfiture. And, then, it was over. The next morning, there I was again, sharp at opening time (10am). This time, my feet were treated to a bath in a porcelain foot bath. That was before I was ushered into the ‘Quiet Zone’, through doors which, most effectively, cancelled the sounds from the mall. There was the obligatory incense curling its ‘aromatic’ smoke into the room, and a small candle with a very romantic flame. I was asked to undress, and then to lay prone. Once again I felt Jon’s sturdy, but decidedly unromantic, hands on my torso. There is little to say about this performance, except that it was a repeat of what happened on my lower legs, feet and toes, but this time on my body. I still felt every single pressure point. I felt the pain as Jon screwed his knuckles into them, felt momentary relief when he paused, and so on for the next hour. I would have described this as the most exquisite torture, only there was nothing even vaguely exquisite about it, just torture. At one point I was asked to lay supine (on my back). Jon placed a small, cool, ‘aromatic’ rice-filled lavender pillow over my eyes, and kneaded my temples with peppermint oil. This time the ‘treatment’ flew by and, before I knew it, it was finished. I rested. Ginger tea was brought and drank. I became curious about the black, standing, contraptions, near the front of the shop lot. “They’re On Site Chair Massage machines, used for walk-in customers.”, I was told. “Would you like to try one?”. We have a saying in England - ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, which basically means once I had started these treatments, I had committed myself to their completion. Again, I said yes. The experience of sitting, leaning forward into the machine fully clothed, and being pushed and poked again by Jon, was just as painful as the two other times. This time, like the infamous Dutch lager ad., I felt the massage refreshing the parts other massages cannot reach. Could it be “Ouch” that I “Ouch” was actually beginning to enjoy these massages. Surely not. Racing away from that futuristic mall, its entertainments and treatments, I had pause to consider the experiences over the two days of my visit. It was not the negative experience I was expecting, and not the experience I remembered from 10 years before. It was different. There were no soothing waterfalls, no soft breezes or sounds of birdsong, no walking on rounded pebbles to the scent of lemongrass, but a wholly other experience concentrating on the massage itself, a treatment rather than a treat. This had taken my mind off due dates, word counts and researching just for a few hours and, I guess, that is all bound up with a spa’s intended purpose. Foot Baths


43 Sri Lanka's




Rohab de Soysa talking at the Colombo Art Biennale, 16 February 2012

Good afternoon and welcome, fellow art-lovers.  Thank you Albert for introducing me and for your kind words. The art displayed here and the ideas of the 43 Group and Harry Pieris may seem a bit quaint and old fashioned compared to where the art scene is today. But I hope to show you that it and the values that formed it have their rightful place not only today but in the future too.  Though I have been billed as the keynote speaker I am now the ‘only note’ speaker because the other two were not able to come. Harry Pieris: Harry Pieris was born on 10th August 1904, the eighth of  eleven children, one of whom died at an early age. The remaining ten, six boys and four girls, were a rather motley crowd, in that they had widely differing tastes and attitudes to life. Harry was the only one who liked art enough to actively pursue it throughout his life. But they all shared a love of animals and fresh tasty food! He ate with feeling and said that was how food should be eaten. Not for him mass produced fast

Drawing of the '43 Group by Aubrey Collette

food or food guzzled in a hurry. He was reluctant to visit restaurants but I did persuade him once. “This food is not absolutely fresh nor is it cooked with love so it will not properly nourish you” said he. He enrolled at Mudaliyar A C G S Amerasekere’s Atelier School of Art as a youngster. Justin Daraniyagala was another student there. The good Mudaliyar was a skillful artist but had a rigid and academic approach to art. Eventually realising that Harry would benefit from more tutoring, he suggested to his parents that he be sent abroad for further studies. So it was that in 1923 at the age of 19 he joined the Royal Academy in London, whose Principal at the time was Sir William Rothenstein. Apparently he preferred the Royal Academy to the Slade School of Art because he liked their attractive cerise pink gown. Sir William was the first to recognise Harry’s talent for portraiture and encouraged him in that direction. In 1926 he won the prize for the best portrait, one of his uncle, Sir James Pieris. In 1927 he obtained the diploma of the College. The many portraits he did during his life which are on view here will bear witness to his great ability to capture not only the likeness but the character, not always flattering, of his sitters. 101

Ratikeli by George Keyt

Many sitters who commissioned him, paid for the portraits and gave them back to him because they weren’t made pretty enough! Our gain – their loss as I hope you’ll agree during our Gallery Walk later on. He returned to Ceylon and was here from 1927 to 1929 before going to Paris, following Rothenstein’s advice. He spent six years there under the tutelage of Robert Falk, who encouraged him to copy the old masters in the numerous Parisian galleries to further his skill. One such copy, a nude after Rembrandt, is on display here. Also to be seen is a painting of the young Harry by Robert Falk, in a somewhat early- Picasso-like style. Another of Falk’s students, a Rumanian lady Luiba Popesco, described as a woman of great intelligence, integrity and charm, became a close friend of  his. Some of her paintings too are here on display. Paris at the time was a hub of artistic activity.  Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Roualt, Leger were some of the artists there while Ravel and Stravinsky were writing music. It was a very stimulating place for one of artistic bent. Harry was particularly close to Matisse and his family, whose hospitality he enjoyed. Harry worked at the Atelier de la Chaumiere and two small galleries during his time in Paris. Justin Daraniyagala, too, studied art 102

The Sapumal Foundation



Dreamer by George Keyt

in Europe and the two met frequently in Paris and London. He attended meetings of the Friends of Tagore Institute in Paris and decided to offer his services to Tagore’s Abode of Peace in Shanthiniketan in India. He was recommended for this post by Sir William Rothenstein and he worked there for two and a half years, before returning to Ceylon in 1935 at the age of 34. He then looked after his family’s agricultural and other properties, developing  an abiding interest in agriculture and gardening. The beautiful gardens of the Sapumal Foundation bear witness to this, though it must be said that during his lifetime the gardens were even more beautiful. He read widely and was interested in philosophy, theosophy, literature, poetry, temple paintings and rather anti-colonial and left leaning politics. He was a person of  simple elegance with an eye for beauty, who mixed happily and learnt  from  people of all creeds, races, classes and backgrounds. He lived by the ideal propounded  by Ananda  Coomaraswamy, “Nations are made by artists and poets, not by traders and politicians. Art contains in itself the deepest principles of life, the truest guide to the greatest art, the art of living”. He believed like Coomaraswamy, that the artist was not a special kind of man but every man or woman was a special kind of artist. Good work, whether painting, making pottery or food was a love affair between the artist and his production, done with feeling. He was a man who was content with what he has – a rich man in the eastern sense, which holds that a rich man is not one who has a vast fortune but a man who is happy with what he has. Art which is truly great has endured over the centuries even though unsigned by the artists who did them. Will the art of these days prove to have the same qualities? Time will tell. His understanding of art was further enhanced by a visit to the USA in 1953 and a visit to China in 1957. He was also a teacher of art, who always encouraged young people to follow their inclinations. As Ian Goonetilleke wrote, “He provided the stimulus for others to forage more audaciously than he was inclined to do. He also had the intelligence and


percipience to realise that other artists were unable to remain indifferent to the new manifestations of social and cultural change set in motion by the forces of independence, nationalism and socialism. Within his chosen limitations he strove to appreciate the new aesthetic urges, even if he may not have understood the reasons for their emergence in a larger society. He tried to identify and encourage these tendencies when he discerned that the creative talent was present. ” The 43 Group: When Lionel Wendt, a talented photographer and pianist, returned from England, after studying law, his house became a meeting place for artists, to whom he became a patron. The walls of his house were covered with the paintings of his friends and proteges, not to mention his own photographs. His grand piano dominated the space. In 1943 a germ of an idea seemingly first planted by Ivan Peries burst forth as a shoot when   Lionel Wendt held the inaugural meeting of the 43 Group in his house at 18 Guildford Crescent on 29th August 1943 where the objectives of the Group were announced. To quote a couple of extracts from these Minutes, “Group exists for the furtherance in every way of art in all its branches” and again “It is the intention of the Group that contributing artists will select their own work before submission and the usual practice will be to exhibit all works submitted”.   Just inside the entrance to the Sapumal Foundation building there is a drawing by Collette which shows the original core group. These   were Lionel Wendt, Geoff Beling, Harry Pieris, Richard Gabriel, Ivan Peries, George Keyt, George Claessen, Aubrey Collette, Justin Daraniyagala and L T P

The Sapumal Foundation interior


Untitled Justin Deraniyagala

Untitled Justin Deraniyagala


Manjusri Thero. Of these ten only Richard Gabriel is alive today, living in Melbourne. The first exhibition of the “43 Group” was held in an old corrugated iron warehouse at 525 Darley Road, Maradana in November 1943. There were no speeches and lighting of oil lamps as was traditional because as Lionel Wendt said “An exhibition opens like a flower…” Later 43 Group exhibitions did have speeches but never the ceremonial lightings of the oil lamp. This first exhibition was greeted with derision and scorn by the staid and conservative art world of  Ceylon, much as the Impressionists had been in Europe decades earlier. Some unkind comments were “Some people were more thrilled with the titles of the pictures than by the pictures themselves”; or “My strongest impression of this exhibition was that it was conceited”. A kinder observer wrote  ” it was a stimulating relief from the usual pictures of old men with long beards, temple elephants and flamboyant trees. There are at least half a dozen works that would do honour to any exhibition anywhere in the world and more than three times that number of exhibits that would repay the closest attention.” Sadly in 1944 Lionel Wendt died and his brother Harry Wendt inherited his house. When he, too, died shortly after, it was left with a request that it be made into a theatre and place which would benefit both the performing and visual arts. In the foundation of this  house was buried a scroll written by him which read “May all honest endeavour  in the service of beauty flourish therein and win its reward of inward content and the peace that is only in ceaseless effort. ” It is today the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Art Centre. Thousands flock there annually to view art and

Lionel Wendt Art Centre

photographic exhibitions, plays and musical performances. Harry Pieris then became the main focus of the “43 Group” and his living quarters, which were the rear section of this, his mother’s house, became the new meeting place for the artists of the group.


Monkey Dance by Richard Gabriel

No doubt the 43 Group was influenced by both the style and subject matter of the Impressionists and Expressionists, reproductions of whose paintings they would have seen, especially from the ‘Cahiers d’Art,’ which Lionel Wendt used to subscribe to. However, the 43 Group paintings interpreted similar topics in a gentler and more lyrical way. The prime mover in putting all these exhibitions together, designing the catalogues for the local exhibitions, supervising the hanging of the items etc., was the Groups first and only Secretary, Harry Pieris, who also designed the 43 Group logo. The first exhibitions were held at the Darley Road warehouse, later ones in the Art Gallery, then Lionel Wendt’s house in Guildford Crescent before it became the Lionel Wendt Centre and later at the Lionel Wendt Centre itself.  In all the Group held 16 local exhibitions, the last one being in February 1967. Additionally the Group also sponsored several non-43 Group events, 109

in furtherance of their objectives e.g. performances of Kandyan dancing by the The Kandyan Dance Society among whose members were the renowned Suramba, Ukkuva, Guneya, Punchi Gura and Jayana. The first such performance was in 1945 followed by several others with these and other dancers; a documentary film on the work of Rodin; photographic reproductions from Ajanta; a photographic exhibition of Hindu and Buddhist sculpture from the ancient Khmer Empire of Indo-China; an exhibition of prints and originals of the French Impressionists in 1948; The Hiroshima Panels exhibition in 1957, which was the response of two artists, Iri Maruki and his wife Toshio Akamatsu, to the massacre of more than 400,000 of their fellow citizens by the atom bomb, the first weapon of mass destruction in history, and so on. When the 43 Group works were exhibited abroad they were much more kindly received. At the first such exhibition held from 25 November to 23 December 1952 at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, London. John Berger art critic of the New Statesman commented that “Keyt would surely be recognised as an artist of important genius’ and that he would “unhesitatingly place Daraniyagala alongside any of the 20th Century masters of Expressionism with the possible exception of the Indonesian, Affandi. Another critic, Maurice Collis, commented that a picture by Daraniyagala “could hold its own in the best company. I know very few English artists who can paint as well and none who can paint better” And again of painting by Gabriel “a really choice piece of craftsmanship which shows how thoroughly the artist has studied the technique of painting”. The interest thus aroused led to an exhibition in November 1953 at the Petit Palais in Paris. A comment from that exhibition was “What characterises this school and  makes it a living thing, is the degree of accomplishment in forming a synthesis between an age-long tradition and the twentieth century ……… they form, very certainly, the foundations of a great art: they mark a beginning only, but a beginning of plenty and hope.”  Another critic commented “Side by side with the oldest of the exhibitors, George Keyt, who in spite of the revolutions in European painting, was among the first to discover the Sinhalese tradition, and the youngest painter in the Group, Ranjit Fernando, whose talent is being developed without any concessions to the art of the West, there is the work of Richard Gabriel, interpreter of rural life; the portraits of Harry Pieris; compositions by George Claessen, Aubrey Collette, Ivan Peries, all of them varied, subtle, austere and powerful, bearing witness to superb craftsmanship. It is likely, however, that the French public will give their particular attention to the nineteen works of Justin Daraniyagala which are like fragments of a huge monumental composition, bursting with life and bearing a very special kind of formal


George Keyt mural paintings for 1940s Buddhist Gothami Vihara


Figure in Yellow by Ivan Peries


lyricism…..This realist painter, this man of vision from Ceylon, with his extraordinary chromatic range of colour, this Daraniyagala, whose name we should all remember, will be known from now on as one of the important revelations of our time.” A work by Ivan Peries “Portrait of Iranganie” and one by Richard Gabriel “Fighting Bulls” were bought for the permanent collection of the Musee du Petit Palais. This was followed by exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art which opened on 6th January 1954 of George Keyt; the Artists International Association Galleries which opened on 11th January of 7 mixed artists (Claessen, Collette, Fernando, Gabriel, Ivan Peries and Harry Pieris) and the Beaux Arts Gallery  of  Justin Daraniyagala which opened on 13th January  in London. These were followed by a major exhibition at the Heffer Gallery in Cambridge.  At the Biennales of Venice in 1956 and Sao Paulo in 1959, works by Justin Daraniyagala, Ivan Peries, Richard Gabriel and George Claessen won prizes as well as patronage, while the others won acclaim. In 1964 the Florentine Art Academy founded in 1564 to honour Michelangelo conferred on Gabriel the distinction of honorary membership. All these overseas exhibitions were organised by Ranjit Fernando. He was living in London, following a crippling childhood illness. It is a tribute to his remarkable character that this did not prevent him from mounting these superb exhibitions, for which he designed the catalogues. It is of interest to quote Neville Weereratne  on Gabriel ” Gabriel understood the aspirations of the common man as a reaching out for the simple, idyllic life, where freedom meant freedom to dream, to be still, to be like the birds of the air, neither weaving nor spinning but arrayed in a certain grandeur. These basic freedoms are fast disappearing today." Although the 43 Group artists were aware of the violent world around them, such as World War 2 and the racial upheavals and insurrections in Sri Lanka, this violence of the external world did not infiltrate  its way into their art. They focused on topics which depicted Life, especially of the farmers and fishermen who produce our sustenance, and Love, as between mother and child, man and animal and as depicted in myths, rather than on topics which depicted the ill-mannered and boorish  behaviour characteristic of wars, state repressions, and rebellions. They had no desire to paint pictures of killings and rapes and thus glorify such acts, as done by artists in more intrinsically violent and domineering cultures. THE SAPUMAL FOUNDATION:  As mentioned earlier, Harry Pieris was extremely active in the 43 Group. He had also, over the years, built up a collection of paintings by the 43 Group as well as other artists, often acting as a benevolent patron to artists in need of encouragement or funds or both. In 1974 he felt that he should establish something of a more permanent


nature so that the public could view good art and be enriched thereby. To paraphrase Magaret Gooneratne ” ….Harry in his understated yet determined way was convinced that the advantages he had inherited, received and gained must be shared with a wider range of people. It was a responsibility that made him restless. In such thinking the Sapumal Foundation took firm and adventurous root.” So he formed the Sapumal Foundation, with two close friends, Dr Christopher Raffel and Dr Arthur Weerakoon  as trustees. The main purpose of the Foundation is to preserve the collection for the benefit of posterity and to advance the cause of art by this and other means.

Indrani by Harry Pieris

When he was young his siblings had nicknamed him ‘Sapumal”. Sapumal is a flower that is said not to open fully -implying that Harry was not quite mature: it may also have been because the Prince Sapumal of history was said to have been an unsmiling man, and Harry was not much given to smiling. With impish humour he has got his own back by naming his Foundation after his nickname. He had by then inherited his mother’s house and hung a good part 114

Martin Wickramasinghe by Richard Gabriel

of his art collection throughout it. This is the house you see behind you. The other day someone wanted to know who the architect was as it had been built so imaginatively. In fact this was not a house built by an architect. When Harry’s father died his mother felt that the large mansion they were living in, at the beginning of Barnes Place, was too big for her, with its huge dining room, ballroom, many bedrooms etc. So she decided to move into three small cottages, occupied by minor staff such as washerwomen, cooks etc., after converting them into one house by demolishing the dividing walls and making a few modifications. As you walk around it later I hope you too will enjoy the result. Initially, Wendt’s superb collection of 43 Group and other paintings were housed at the Lionel Wendt. Due to bad storage many of them had deteriorated and it was decided to auction them, partly also to raise funds to complete the Theatre. Harry was fortunately able to buy some paintings from the auction to supplement his own collection. With his discerning eye he purchased some of the best ones which are now part of the Sapumal Collection. 115

I can do no better than quote from Professor S B and Ellen Dissanayake’s descriptions of their impressions of the house. Professor S B Dissanayake says ” The house and garden, both extensions of Harry’s personality, became over the years part of a permanent interior decor for me which included the people and objects I cared for most. Every (new) face in my life entered into this decor at some time or another. I went to Harry’s house to see afresh, to learn of beauty and find it confirmed. My first memories of the mingled scents of flowers and painted canvases in his studio, the trees in his garden, lemons, jasmines, atteriyas, brunfelsias, with their scented shadows are still fresh….To pause and look at what Harry has surrounded himself with is in itself  a creative act requiring an effort….His garden, house, the paintings in his house, register his whole experience of life. He has, as it were, formulated that experience in entirely visual terms for everyone to see." Ellen Dissanayake embellished these thoughts on Harry’s home in her tribute “There is nothing of the museum (in his house) nor is there anything that could be described as ‘interior decoration’ – rather it is a delightful and comfortable clutter of odd pieces of furniture, books and vases and carvings and ceramics and photographs and other memories collected over a lifetime….What I feel in his house and in his presence is an atmosphere of timeless gentility and fineness that miraculously still clings though I know that just as it has disappeared in America and elsewhere in the West, here, too, it is rare and evanescent.” In the running of the house and care of the paintings he was ably assisted by his chauffeur and man Friday, Robert, and in the upkeep of the garden and making beautiful flower arrangements by Piyadasa and his team. It was Piyadasa’s wife who lovingly prepared his meals. This little touch of  feudalism worked very well. 116

He also used to host a tea-time Salon, to which interested people came and talked animatedly and often provocatively about the topics of the day. He provided tea and sandwiches to fuel them. He invariably sat in a particular chair, which you will see, with a splendid flower arrangement of bougainvilleas in a copper vase by his side. This was a stimulating and enjoyable event, much looked forward to. Harry Pieris was the founder chairman from 1974 until he passed on in 1988. He bequeathed his house and contents to the Sapumal Foundation. He was succeeded by Mr L S D Pieris who was the chairman until 2010. It was he who transformed the Sapumal and made it much more organised than it was, by labeling paintings, taking inventories etc. He made the Sapumal much more user-friendly without losing any of its charm. I succeeded him in 2010 though he remains a much appreciated and valued trustee. During his time as Chairman he was able to oversee the publication of “The Sapumal Foundation Collection – A Select Catalogue” which has examples of the work of each of the 37 artists whose work hangs here and also had photographic records made of the

Harry Pieris


entire collection, more than half of which is in storage . Those interested may purchase a copy of the said book afterwards. The Sapumal Foundation has over the years sponsored exhibitions of works by various artists both in our own and other premises. We have also published a few books, including one in Sinhalese. We have given space to Ms Noeline Fernando to teach art to children, and to Professor Sarath Chandrajeewa, one of our foremost sculptors, to teach adults. We have given space to the Executor of Ms Varuni Hunt to build a Gallery to house her works and he in turn has given us an apartment above it to help us to earn a little income by renting it to visiting artists. We hope to continue in this same vein, in the same tradition of simple elegance followed by Harry Pieris so that people can come, wander around and leave refreshed in spirit. I hope that, in keeping with the theme of this year’s Biennale, I have shown how a young boy interested in art ‘became’ a mature painter and art teacher, how he then ‘became’ the main mover in a group of painters and finally how he ‘became’ the generous giver of his Collection and its setting to posterity so that they could enjoy what he himself had enjoyed building up over the years. Whatever we in Sri Lanka “become” in the future we would “become” better if we are guided by a long-term vision based on simplicity and sincerity which seeks beauty and harmony while protecting the lives and environmental rights and entitlements of all our denizens, animal, bird, fish, reptile, spirit and human equally. 118

Landscape by Geoffrey Beling

In conclusion I would like to thank the Colombo Art Biennale for giving me this opportunity to talk to you  and to all those whose writings I have borrowed from, in particular Neville Weereratne. Also to Albert Dharmasiri for so readily agreeing to act as the Moderator. And last but not least to the staff of the Sapumal for coming in after hours as it were to help. Rohan de Soysa, Chairman – Sapumal Foundation Used with kind permission of Michael Roberts, posted in



A collaborative project between Rabindra Shrestha and twenty artists from Nepa Originally exhibited at Nepal Academy of Fine Arts, 2014

Rabindra Shrestha has said that the invisible or imaginary line creating any visual form or shape is the core of his work. He goes on to indicate that "Existence of various objects is confirmed when you see them in a tangible form, a certain shape. Lines can form circular shapes like a football or rectangular like boxes. However, intangible things also exist despite not having any form or shape. A visual artist can present even abstract subjects like feelings, god or peace into tangible forms. Hence, for the artist all the things in the universe take some type of form. Forms exist because of lines. So, in essence, the line is the soul of the universe. 120



This is my collaborative project with twenty different artists from Nepal. In this series, these different visual forms created by different artists are representations of the tangible form of any abstract feelings. The indirectly created pencil marked lines are the invisible or imaginary line, the soul of the universe. "

Birendra Pratap Singh 121

Rabindra Shrestha was born in 1977 in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is a freelance artist and received his BFA from Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design in 2014. In 2014 Shrestha was involved in a collaborative project “Line Art” with twenty different artists from Nepal. In this series, different visual forms created by different artists are representations of the tangible form of any abstract feelings. The participating artists received canvasses with pencil marked lines from Rabindra, upon which the individual artists then filled in their own work, representing any abstract subjects like feelings, god or peace into tangible forms. According to Rabindra, for the artist all the things in the universe take some type of form. And forms exist because of lines. So, in essence, the line is the soul of the universe. His dissertation project was a video about his “Line Art” project (which he has already begun to take to the international level). Rabindra

Durga Baral 122

Shrestha has participated in many group and individual exhibitions and has won numerous prizes, for example in 2013: National Especial Award in National Fine Art competition organized by NAFA, also in 2013: Winner of US embassy Art Competition organized by US embassy in Nepal, in 2009: 2nd position in Alfresco Open Art Exhibition cum competition at Nepal Art Council, and in 2008: 2nd position in Inter College Painting Competition by (RAG) Rising Nepal Artist Group at Nepal Art Council. 123


S. C. Suman 125

Bijaya Maharjan 126



Aditya Aryal (Sadhu X) 129

Manish Lal Shrestha 130



Kiran Manandhar 133

Bigyata Sattyal 134



Shashi Bikram Shah-ii 137

Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha 138



Kirti Kaushal Joshi 141

Lok Chitrakar 142



Manuj Babu Mishra 145

Premman Chitrakar 146



Puran Khadka 149

Sagar Manandhar 150



Raju Shrestha 153

Sangee Shrestha 154



Shreejan Rajbhandari 157

Shashi Bikram Shah 158




colors of c

getting read

Channarak Thy creating The way of life



dy to exhibit

Colors of Cambodia is 15 years old. To mark that poignant anniversary,

Colors of Cambodia is currently holding an exhibition of its students, teachers and Founder's works. The whole team have pulled together to get ready fresh and exciting artworks for the launch.

Students and teachers of Colors of Cambodia are creating a brand

new wave of ‘Organic Surrealism’, in Siem Reap, unfettered by classical

chains or allegiances to bygone Khmer painting. These new, invigorating, canvases shown for the first time at the Art from the Heart (2018) exhibition, leap into the forefront of Cambodian contemporary art.

While Colors of Cambodia art teachers have included those originally

trained in Phare Ponleu Selpak (the free art school in Battambang, Cambodia), there have been many professional artists attracted from America, Singapore and Malaysia, who have assisted in the coaching of the students and staff of Colors of Cambodia. It is exciting to witness a

movement, akin to that of the discovery of Haitian ‘naive’ artists in the 1940s, which is revealing new ways of looking at Khmer culture and tradition.

Parallels too might be drawn from the more organic artworks of the

Chilean Roberto Matta, Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, Mexican Rufino Tamayo or Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral, yet this Siem Reap coterie of young artists reach for their own styles (and references) mirroring

no-one. True, Bill Gentry (founder of Colors of Cambodia) leaves more

than one of his organic inspired artworks in the gallery, which students

and teachers will see on entry and exiting that gallery space, but any referencing or mimesis is purely subconscious as Gentry is unable to

frequent the gallery enough to be able to have that kind of influence over his students.


Dancing Apsaras, Narath Sorm



Levy Chan creating Shadow Play


Salone Lon creating Pleasure without money


Reun Lotus in Angkor, in process by Chomreun Lon




Reun Lotus in Angkor, Chomreun Lon


Art of Cambodia, Seakly Hong


The Face of the Human being, Puttik Hou

Seney Soun

Traditional Dance of Cambodia, Ponleu Prom


Apsara in the gaden, Channarak Thy

Sacrifice, Sophanin Sor

Beautiful Mother, Sophany Sor

Romork, Salone Lon

Human characteristic, Sophany Sor


Human characteri

Khmer Pride, Chomreun Lon

The way of life, Channarak Thy

Inspiration from Pra Sat Pram, Honey Khor

istic, Sophany Sor

Cycle, Salone Lon

The Women’s Feeling, Seyma Try, detail

Pleasure without money, Salone Lon

The way of life, Channarak Thy

Bound we are, in time, by stupid ideas, Sopheakdey Preap

Shadow Play, Levy Chan



Grateful, Salone Lon

In readiness for the current exhibition, volunteers

from Malaysia flew in to assist in repainting walls and hanging framed works of art at the Colors of Cambodia

Gallery, helping to mark the end of a 15 year old era. When the current exhibition closes, Colors of Cambodia

will move to another gallery, nearby, but with additional space to hold more students, and more creativity. The new building has three floors, a mezzanine and a roof space which will allow a larger area for printmaking and ceramics, as well as more wall space for larger artworks.

“Art From The Heart� ~ is the second Colors of Cambodia Exhibition in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and is taking place between the 24th of March to 24th of April 2018.

The exhibition launch was at 6pm on the 24th of March at # 270 Mundull 1 Village, Sway DongKum Commune, Siem Reap District, Cambodia. The art on show is created by Colors of Cambodia students, aged between 13 years to 21 years old, their teachers, volunteer teachers and the founder, Bill Gentry. 50% of the sales go to the creators while the other 50% goes back to pay for materials. Non students participants donate their sales revenue to Colors of Cambodia.

The way of life, Channarak Thy


Dusun Publications The Blue Lotus Publications

Books by

Martin Bradley


Books by Martin

Bradley 179




The blue lotus 12  

The Blue Lotus Arts Magazine. I am very happy to present such an eclectic, varied selection of artwork to you for this issue. From Sri Lan...

The blue lotus 12  

The Blue Lotus Arts Magazine. I am very happy to present such an eclectic, varied selection of artwork to you for this issue. From Sri Lan...