BARBARA SANSONI EDITION - DELVING INTO THE ARTISTIC MIND
In Conversation with Dominic Sansoni
Barbara Sansoni's dynamic creative pursuits across her drawings from her beautiful buildings to the rhapsody enveloped upon facial features of geometric finesse are fascinating. She presents a truly enchanting introspection to the omnipresence of beauty and vitality, which inevitably reflect the ingenious aptitude of her artistic quests. In unearthing the artist's esoteric for the special edition of ARTRA Magazine, we conversed with Dominic Sansoni, revered artist and Barbara's son to understand the nature of the artist's mind, and the scope of her multifaceted works.
“Driven, dedicated, hardworking and gifted with a kind heart” shared Dominic succinctly when we asked him to describe Barbara. Having a comprehensive understanding of Barbara as an individual and artist was of utmost importance to us in compiling this edition of ARTRA Magazine so as to ensure authentic representation. In doing so, we had countless sit-downs and long chats with Dominic at his home and Barefoot Café, talking about Barbara and her friends along with the memories of his childhood and early adulthood surrounded by creatively driven individuals, who are now considered to be art legacies who have left a significant imprint upon Sri Lanka's cultural heritage. “I remember the excitement at home when the Colombo Gallery was about to be opened in 1964. Most of all I remember friends, many of whom were artists, who enjoyed each other's company with storytelling, laughter, parties and music” shared Dominic in retrospect.
“Geoffrey was one of the most amazing storytellers I know who never spoke in a loud voice. So when we all sat around the table, everyone would listen intently to every word he says to try and catch what he's saying. Then there was Manjusri, who was the most unlikely best friend of Michael Mack, my mother's cousin. Manju and Honey, his wife used to come to our home often amongst all sorts of people. The core of those people were interested in creativity and they came from many walks of life. There was also Laki, Neville and Sybil Weeraratne, before they left for Australia during the civil eruption” recollected Dominic with much enthusiasm. In provoking our curiosity further, he stated “Do you know where everyone stayed when they went to Galle? Everyone stayed at the NOH, which you now know as the Amangalla. And the NOH had character. We bought breakfast from the kadé (the Sinhalese term for shop) next door, and we'd buy string hoppers on our way back. And do you know why did everyone go to the NOH? And why did the whole world come there? It was for the conversation, and the fun of that place was outrageous”.
Listening to these riveting remembrances Dominic sprouted in-between cake and sushi breaks while going through Barbara's numerous works adorned at their residence and photographs of the works saved on Dominic's computer, was truly a delightful, and at the same time, an insightful experience. In ensuring that this edition is cohesive in its representation of Barbara Sansoni's artistic consciousness, Dominic was very generous in showing us a widespread portfolio of Barbara's works. They included the artist's published works in the 1960's to those that have been exhibited locally and internationally including woven panels that were displayed at the former Ceylon Tea Centre in London, along with unpublished drawings that have stayed within the family. Barbara's personal touch to conveying wit, skill and affection through birthday cards, invitations and bedtime stories for Dominic and Simon, Dominic's brother are seen through her impeccable drawings on pages 30, 31, 50 and 51 of ARTRA Magazine's Barbara Sansoni Edition, reflect her creative contemplation beyond her professional pursuits. “There is a watercolour of the temple at Embekke which is a favourite, and a birthday card she made for me many moons ago” shared Dominic, which are featured on pages 54 and 51 respectively.
During our research, Dominic was kind enough to show us the second cast of the figure of the risen Christ that Barbara did for the Bandarawela Chapel at his home, which is an embodiment of artistic expression in itself. Designed by Ulrik Plesner, Dominic's residence with its spatial variations and minimal walls under a simple gable roof, is one of the forerunners of the resolved duality of "tradition" and the "modern", which continues to inspire generations of young architects, mentioned C. Anjalendran during a conversation. Along the walls of the entrance to the main hall, are wall tiles Barbara and Donald Friend sculpted together with figurines of animals and birds amongst many other works of local and international artists at his abode.
When we asked Dominic as to how Barbara's creative lifestyle influenced him as an artist, and photographer he stated “My brother and I were left free and encouraged to explore any avenues we chose. Accompanying Barbara & her friends when she travelled the island measuring and drawing buildings would have subliminally created an interest that I have to this day”.
Dominic began his journey as a photographer in 1980, maintaining a focus upon documentary, architectural and travel assignments. Dominic has worked for renowned establishments such as Asiaweek, TIME and more as a freelancing photojournalist from 1987 to 2005 and has spent the last ten years on personal projects. The artist and photographer is the author of many prolific publications including "Island from Above" alongside Sebastian Posingis in 2015 and 2017. Significantly, Dominic has exhibited extensively throughout his career, of which some of his exhibitions include "DREAMS" at Chobi Mela VI - the International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh in 2011, "The Jaffna Home" for the Colombo Art Biennale and "Sacred Space" Kathmandu International Arts Festival, Nepal in 2012, "Colour - Ceylon" with the Friday Sari Project, London in 2018 and "Symbiotic Orgamsims", Bawa 100 celebrations, at Lunuganga, Sri Lanka, in 2020. Dominic has also been working on the continued documentation of a community in Colombo 13 and the vernacular architecture of South India.
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