Catharina Danial

The human consciousness is of multilayered and multifaceted aspects, each stratum an alternate version of a singular being, a deeper understanding each simplistic feeling or notion adapted. Catharina’s journey of self-discovery was founded through her fondness for the seas and likeliness to its equally multilayered characteristics. From its sea creatures to the tranquility of its shores, the artist finds an intrinsic connection that inspires her work. “Although coral reefs look like rocks and dead bodies they are living beings. They breathe, grow and reproduce. They represent life in an invisible way. When I started doing self-portraits, when I started understanding my being, I realized that I am a coral in an ocean,” Catharina’s depiction of self and similarity between the ocean’s home is accentuated by the nuanced meanings in the colours and contrast represented in her paintings. We conversed with Catharina to understand her creative process and her artistic trajectory. 

Catharina Danial, an artist born and raised and continues to reside in the land of Jaffna, the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Catharina obtained her education in the arts at the University of Jaffna and has since exhibited her work at several exhibitions including established local arts festival Colomboscope, 2019. Catharina’s work exhibits a range and multitudes of a journey that narrates a story of her self-discovery, aligning parallel to her observation of the ocean’s biodiversity. Her indepth understanding and knowledge of the nature of the sea, she believes is intrinsically linked to herself, in its areas of life’s purpose and intention. Within the creases of the sea’s corals she finds herself, her conscious and soul residing in its beings, a counterpart and element that contributes fundamentally to a singular being. 

Q | How did you begin your journey as an artist? 

I used to love drawing as a child; I used to draw on bathroom walls and I remember there used to be sketches and drawings of helicopters, ships and seas and a few portraits that my father and brothers had drawn and I used to try and copy them. And then I started learning on my own and as I grew older, I chose to study art as a subject. I began to slowly understand what art meant and the artists across time. I was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s work and then decided to study art for my higher education. This decision led me to learn the intricacies of each methodology and art practice and I began to represent my work as an artist and learn my own practices. Then, in 2018, it was a dream come true when I was able to showcase at Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, an exhibition curated by artist T. Shanathanan. I want to say that he’s the person who really made me question my work and this made me stronger as an artist; I was answering my questions through my artworks and I created an identity of myself through my work.  

Q | Can you explain the concept behind your Colomboscope, Sea Change showcase? 

I find that the sea has become an important part of my life. I am greatly fond of the ocean. It is a place of solace and calm and I feel it is a place that relaxes me, it is meditative and a release of sorts. Within these shores and bodies of water are corals. My grandfather was someone known as a ‘sammatti’, a fisherman who dove the waters and deep seas where there are diverse sea creatures. Growing up, I would hear stories about the underwater world. These stories instilled in me the curiosity about the sea and I would visit the beach to learn more. Now I find that the beach is part of who I am. I am connected to the seas, it heals my inner consciousness psychologically. The concept of corals is something that I feel is a reflection of myself and my personality. Through research for  Colomboscope’s Sea Change project, I found the biological aspects of corals and understood its diversity and how multifaceted they are; they’re not merely rocks or dead creatures, they’re living. From brain corals, fire corals, Favia corals, Poritidae corals, I represent different parts of myself by their paintings and sculptures. 

Q | You have used mediums such as hair and coral to represent your concept. Can you elaborate on why you chose these mediums and how that have reinforced your idea? 

I took on a new approach in my art practice as I did the work for ‘Sea Change’ which were the coral hair sculptures. It was a rather newer medium that I used for this series. These sculptures were such that they interacted with my emotions, moving into my skin through my soul. So through my work, I instilled life into dead corals by making living coral visuals. It became a self-expressive notion that portrayed a physical-metal, conscious-unconscious connection between the coral and hair. To present this I used hard-soft mediums. The coral hair sculptures are symbolic to my relationship with the ocean and seas, and how they’ve been a source of calm and healing to me. The sculptures are, a form of a self-portrait where the corals represent parts of my body and the hair accentuates these characteristics. For example, the installation ‘Breathing Corals In the Tank’ where I used Favia corals and long hair attached to the holes, depict hair on my skin. I installed oxygen into the tank so that it would display the effect of life. 

The reason I chose to use hair specifically is because it’s a more sensitive element of our body and I wanted to showcase that in a way to express my inner feelings. I painstakingly attached each collection of strands into their holes for this effect. The ‘Sea Change’ project wasn’t just an exhibition piece, it was something that helped me learn about the sea, the marine life and helped me rediscover myself and in turn, strengthened my concept.

Q | What are you working on now? 

The journey I’ve taken as an artist has so far made me grow more confident in my work. My experiences have led me to move on to new ideas. I am now working on a series that examines and researches myself. I’m focusing on areas of my inner consciousness that coincides with the tranquility of the oceans and seas and this interaction. I have travelled to Jaffna with my husband and have discovered new forms of healing new shores that heal me and bring me happiness. I’ve discovered more colorful corals and therefore, have brought out a more colorful version of myself. I know that my work can’t end here so I keep asking myself, “Who I am I? Why do I love ocean? What is the relationship between myself and the coral?” So I dig deeper into myself and my soul to find these answers through my work. 

The coral reefs beget the discovery and her conscious amplifies it through her art. What do we see in the mirror when we look for ourselves? To Catharina, it is the concept and ideology of the reflection that intrigues her. We believe, in her art, she paints her reflection, an encapsulation of still life but within a plethora of characteristics paralleled and evoked from the within of her innermost self. During this period of self-discovery and observation, a standstill of time as society ponders its existence and the existence of before with its anomaly subsisting, we find Catharina paints herself and her interpretation in the complexities and depths of the ocean’s ecosystem, a living environment. 


16th April, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings