LETTERED ARTISTRY

Pathum Egodawatte

The transformation of letters and words to works of visual art is what makes Pathum Egodawatte dynamic in his approach of creating a sense of oneness within communities. The artist gives an alternative identity to letters and fonts as works of art, intermingling Sinhalese and Tamil alphabets thereby, creating a new conciliatory language. We found Pathum’s use of the medium of letters to be dynamic as he symbolically and functionally endeavours to capture the multilingual and multicultural society of Sri Lanka.

“Mastery of language affords remarkable power”, a statement by Franz Fanon is expressive of how language has control over socio political phenomena. Language has the ability to change the way we perceive and the way we react to sociopolitical scenarios. The way we speak and the way we write down our thoughts on paper can create a significant impact as letters and words have the ability to influence society and people around us. In other words, communication has become central to power and politics. The letter form of ‘Sri’ is from the era of Sinhalese Nationalism dating to 1956, when former President S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike and the government of this period changed the political, cultural and linguistic structure of the country with the Sinhala Only Bill. When the Northern community applied tar on the Registration plates of vehicles with the Sinhalese letter ‘Sri’, it created an ‘iconographic war’, according to Pathum. After an intensive study of the historicity behind typography in Sri Lanka, for his Undergraduate project for his BA in Graphic Design at the Academy of Design (AOD), Pathum developed fonts. 

Pathum is a type designer and font engineer who is also the Co-Founder of Akuru Collective and Mooniak. His lettered artistry is dynamic in its incorporation of harmony. The work ‘Amma’ reflects the artist’s attempt to signify bilingualism in the Island. We also found it to be an interesting title itself, as the same term is used in Sinhalese and Tamil to denote ‘mother’. Significantly, it is also a reference to the motherland, as the designer strives to find a communal sense of being, alongside congruence between the two alphabets and letters. Consequently, ‘Amma’ creates a sense of reconciliation between the two native languages. ‘Amma’ in that sense, attempts to bring a nation together.

A type comes from attention to a myriad of intricate details. With this thought etched in his mind, Pathum has accentuated the functionality of written art with sociocultural propaganda through ‘Amma’. Similar to an artist who paints on canvas, the inevitability of social activism inculcates a unique form of social responsibility. “I’m trying to provide fonts for people to communicate with each other; basically trying to give each other equal opportunity to communicate with each other”. The letter form of ‘Ka’, Pathum describes to have formed by studying the similarity of the roots of Tamil ‘ka’ and Sinhalese ‘ka’ in which a plus mark structure is common to both letterings. In his blueprints for a reinterpretation, Pathum focuses on letter forms as mediums of artistic expression. 

ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.

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3rd May, 2019 Written Art | Personalities

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