By Azara Jaleel

The ‘43 Group maybe bygone, but the seeds they sowed of new thought and form shaped the beginnings of Sri Lanka’s Modern & Contemporary Art. Thus, we take great pride in publishing this important edition in celebration of ARTRA Magazine’s decennium, paying homage to this historic movement. So firmly infused with the instinctual, their works collectively reflect not only of an evolving civilization and country of the late colonial to post-independence times, but also the beauty of life & living. So naturally, we chose to curate selected works of the collective for this edition from the Sapumal Foundation, founded by Harry Pieris, core member & Hon. Secretary of the Group, wherein the works were adorned by the artist himself at his quaint and picturesque home at 32/4, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 a one-of-a-kind abode seeped in historical significance and style.

 “ ‘43 Group blazed new trails and created waves in the sluggish backwater of art in a dying phase of colonialism and had it not been born at the time it did, it would have had to be invented” states H.A.I Goonetileke to the foreword of Neville Weeraratne’s exquisite chronicles on the formation of the collective in his publication ‘43 Group, a Chronicle of 50 Years in the Art of Sri Lanka (1993). So compelling was the necessity of change and upheaval wherein pompous panache of academism & pseudo-oriental impressions had for too long held sway in the nineteen thirties. The Group was formed on the 29th of August 1943 at Alborada; 18, Guildford Crescent, Colombo, home of Lionel Wendt, core member of the Group which also included core members Harry Pieris, George Keyt, Ivan Peries, Justin Daraniyagala, George Claessen, Geoffrey Beling, Aubrey Collette & L.T.P Manjusri. Lionel Wendt, whose unique works & spirited life we explored in great depth on ARTRA Magazine, Lionel Wendt Photographs Edition 58 (2021) is given much accreditation for bringing this group of inimitable artists together for a cultural awakening in tandem with the times.

The main essay for this edition contextualizes the significance of the ’43 Group, and the characteristics of their Modernist works within the history of Sri Lankan Art whilst providing greater depth of understanding to their instinctual works, that is curated across this edition. The visceral narrative of this edition presents the spiritedness of the artists and their artistic chemistry within their works that collectively bring out the instinctual, especially of love, truth, beauty, form and spirit. Whilst the pages of the magazine begin with Ivan Peries stickly figure in quiet contemplation and introspection, it is juxtaposed with Justin Daraniyagala’s whimsical nightmare to set the tone for the visual narrative, presenting the ’43 Group’s explicit understanding and paradoxical responses to the nuances of the spirit, emotions, relations and of course, the human condition.

The respective interviews for this edition with those accustomed to the works of the ‘43 Group and the Sapumal Foundation are revered art personalities themselves, including that of Cresside Collette; contemporary artist and daughter of Aubrey Collette of the ‘43 Group who is now based in Melbourne, Kemal de Soysa; Trustee of the Sapumal Foundation, T. Shanathanan; contemporary artist and a Senior Lecturer in Art History at the Department of Fine Arts, University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Michael Anthonisz; the Chairman of the George Keyt Foundation shed light to riveting insights on the idiosyncrasies of the artists and the philosophical nature of their works. For this edition, we have also interviewed Rita Mannella, the Ambassador for Italy to Sri Lanka & the Maldives, who is an art connoisseur and collector herself, to understand her perspective of the role ‘43 Group’s Modernist Works can play in sharing the story of our nation. Whilst the main essay and the respective interviews address pertinent questions that not only reflect the artistic consciousness of the Group, but of their importance in the contemporary context in terms of their contribution – politically, academically, culturally, socially and economically. The Art & Living essay published in this edition is written by Rohan de Soysa, the Chairman of the Sapumal Foundation, who explores the exceptional character of Harry Pieris’ home that constitutes the Sapumal Collection of the ’43 Group as a unique repository not only of the thought process of the Group, but that of their rooted spirit to an authentic Sri Lankan persona.

In compiling this edition of ARTRA Magazine, we would firstly like to thank Rohan de Soysa, who supported us from the point at which it was conceived last year. A special thank you to all the trustees of the Sapumal Foundation and the staff for contributing photographs of their collection, extra reading materials and the space itself for our own articulations. We would also like to express our appreciation and gratitude to the aforementioned individuals who responded to our interviews with vigour and profound insights. Thank you to C. Anjalendran & Ismeth Raheem for sharing their valued understanding of the ‘43 Group and their dossiers of historic literary material that helped us formulate our own thoughts to the character of the ’43 Group and their Modernist works.

19th September, 2022 Visual Art | Paintings