Creative Outbursts

"Speak softly but carry a big can of paint,” wrote street artist, Banksy. This connotation is particular in its implication to represent art and the sole substantial influence that art carries; to indicate that art is a language which is able to move across generations, decades and cultures. One of the many forms of this extraordinary language is street art: a form of art that resides on a wall as a public display of visual representation. If one was to contemplate the origins of street art, one is certain – the origins of street art reside in the creative process moulded by one of the many artists’intentions such as to form an antithesis to the fundamental societal context, as a form of healing, to bridge the gaps between cultural differences and in attempts to rebel ill-intended political advances. A work of art is the medium of voice through which those beings of society express and convey the nuance of emotion, sentiment or opinion. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this form of art is the embracing and comprehension of these liberal acts by the community.

The recent phenomenon in Sri Lanka’s community witnesses an ascension of street art, peculiar in its subject, drawing varying perspectives and implications. The uprise of creative outbursts led us to take a stroll across Sri Jayawardenepura and Maharagama to speak to the individuals behind these works. “This street art was initiated as a result of the trend which is currently spreading around Sri Lanka. They started off as an attempt to discourage propagandists against pasting posters on the walls during the election period. In these works, that we have painted across these walls on School Lane, thanks to the support of Nippon Paint, we have tried to highlight issues such as pollution and environmental concerns,” said Dasun Danushka Wijayarathna from the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Faculty of Management and Commerce Studies.

 The wall across School Lane, in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is painted with a series of stories, depictions of a particular concept meant to inspire, and encourage. The pictures address issues concerning actions that sabotage the ecology and perhaps, introspection. The collection of paintings spread out across the walls include one of an intriguing perspective: a human being adorned in a hospital gown carries in his cart a potted tree that appears to be supplying oxygen through a narrow tube – through this, the viewer is made to comprehend that our environment is fast deteriorating and that it becomes our responsibility to protect before it becomes our downfall. This portrait is supported by a complimenting painting of a mother stork feeding her babies plastic from its throat-pouch, made to symbolise the daunting notion that in future it is bound to become a reality. “In these paintings, we’re trying to show the clash between nature and the industrialized society. It shows the contradiction of love and kindness of nature and the effects of pollution. A lot of people can’t understand that pollution is a major threat for us, so to emphasize pollution, the artwork has greater space revolving around it. We always try our best to give priority to the environment. We should try to create a better environment for all human beings and animals,” he said. Other various significant concerns are splayed across the walls in paintings to convey the artist’s message including paintings that are left to the viewer’s interpretation.

This journey further led us to Maharagama, where we spoke to R.Rishan and his group of friends. “We are not from here, we’re from different parts of the country. Since we weren’t from here, we didn’t think that we’d get the opportunity to draw. It took us about 2 days for us to get permission to draw on the wall but we spoke to the relevant parties and eventually got permission. We’re still continuing to paint, and we’ve received a lot of praise and compliments from people passing by offering food and encouragement”. Rishan and his group of twelve, adorn the walls of Avissawella Road, Maharagamawith spray-painted illustrations of contemplative visuals. The series of paintings include a figure of a girl, gazing up towards the sky in melancholy. The inventive use of presentation reflects on the subject of the drawing. Yet another innovative concept comes through in the painting of an eye, through which a man seems to appear out of, the depiction is inquiring of the viewer to interpret through one’s perspective. “To whoever who’s reading to this, whether you’re good at drawing or not, we’d like to invite you to make the country more beautiful, even if it’s a small pencil line,” said Rishan.

What started off as a trend evolved into a passionate movement for the society and community including University students to address growing concerns we face, as a whole. The paintings address issues diverse as pollution and political trepidations. Together, the community speaks to the community, conversing through paintings and drawings, messages spread across the canvas of the country so as to inform, educate, console and comfort.

The work of an artist can speak volumes and can be a powerful tool. Those that take to these walls to express themselves, as a community, are everyday people, like you. These murals seem to be a form of community activism, a concept that embraces the culture of using art as an outcry of creative affinities. While some visuals may stir controversy, or adorned in spaces overpowering the law, which we do not endorse, some works add to societal introspection, questioning our thoughts and actions. We find this uprise interesting as art paves way for a larger purpose, it functions as a canvas for the people. From the conversations we have had with those in Maharagama and Sri Jayawardenepura, these works are initiated mostly by students of non-art disciplines, old boys of schools, groups of friends and school students who want to share their opinion. In this process, debates develop as to what is right and wrong, acceptable or not, stirring provocative conversations that provoke contemplation educating society, and valuing those who reflect beyond the daily grind. Our conversations continue across the island, and we are looking forward to keeping you posted on the agendas and the best of street art around the country.

20th December, 2019 Visual Art | Pop Culture & Art