Jagath Weerasinghe (1954)

“I got bruised the other day at Weerasinghe’s studio. He was showing the paintings that constitute his latest exhibition, Decorated. One in particular struck me. Though directed to other canvases by Weerasinghe, some of them also compelling, I kept coming back to it. Take in the image: it depicts a sinister man in camouflage, a soldier, against an orange ‘background.’ Upon returning home, I couldn’t get my mind off it.” – SanjanaHattotuwa for Groundviews

JagathWeerasinghe is one of the pioneers of the 90s Art Trend in Sri Lanka, and is currently a frontrunner in the contemporary art scene in the country. Having acquired a BFA in Painting from the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka and an MFA from the American University in Washington D.C., USA,Weerasinghe pursues his passion for visual art while also working in education contexts, most recently as the Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology at the University of Kelaniya. Weerasinghe co-founded the Theertha International Artists Collective in 2000 as a platform designed to foster dialogue among the local artist community in Sri Lanka beyond boundaries of ethnicity, region and artistic style. He was the Chairman of the Collective until 2017. He has presented his work in a number of solo and group exhibitions locally, and internationally in Dubai, United Kingdom, India, Germany, Netherlands, USA and Singapore. He is also an exceptional artist who has contributed to the art industry in Sri Lanka with several academic publications that shed light on the manner in which contemporary artists have evolved and developed their craft over the years. He is currently based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Weerasinghe mostly uses Acrylic on canvas or paper as his medium of expression, but has experimented with murals and monuments as well. 

 

His works are best described as abstract depictions of contemporary socio-political issues that have an especially personal bearing on his creative thought process. Weerasinghe is credited with the coining of the term “the 90s Art Trend”, and he has mainly contributed to the movement through artistic deliberations about the thirty year Civil War in Sri Lanka. His early works manifest a unique personal reaction to animosity, as a Sinhala Buddhist in crisis with his identity surrounded by repressive political regimes that continuously imposed questionable solutions to end the war. In July 1983,Weerasinghe was personally affected by the ethnic crisis when he witnessed the mass scale violence perpetrated against the Tamil community of the country, leading to the thirty-year civil war. He was also abducted in the 1970s, which has had a considerable influence on his political consciousness as conveyed in his creative work. In 1999, he completed a monument commissioned by the government of Sri Lanka, titled “Shrine for the Innocent”, in order to capture the violence innocent victims from the southern part of the country underwent during the period between 1988 and 1991. The monument was designed as a act of remembrance, as Weerasinghe states, to memorialize “one bloody incident [which] took more attention than the other smaller ones: the abduction and murder of 33 school children at Embilipitiya, a village in the south of Sri Lanka.” In the years following the war the monument was subjected to a “disappearance”, which Weerasinghe understands to signify the political changes that took place following a series of brutalities: “I mean in a conceptual way is actually a [RE] APPEARANCE of a monument which is much more relevant, and symptomatic of the civil and political society of Colombo, Sri Lanka or of Sri Lanka in general.” His approach to art is therefore one that is socially critical and engaged, establishing the fact that art should evolve with time and that artists should be engaged in their own socio-political consciousness and senses of criticality. 

His painting “Broken Stupa” (1992), exhibited at the traveling exhibition “Artful Resistance: Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka” depicts a severely damaged Buddhist stupa manifesting the religious and nationalistic consequences of the ethnic crisis. Ivory is used to signify the importance attributed to the stupa in Buddhism, and the colours of black and grey around the stupa highlight the manner in which citizens practiced extremism going against the actual peacefulness preached by their religions. His 2014 exhibition “Decorated” held at Saskia Fernando Gallery and Breese Little dealt with the themes of urban beautification and allegations of human rights violations Sri Lanka was encountering soon after the war. He looks at the country’s political situation with a “double-sided take”, questioning the decisions of the government with unconventional pieces of art that defy universal standards of beauty: “I love the development that has taken place; I am enjoying it in my city. Then on the other hand I question, is there a depth to this? Can we refuse it? If there is a depth it is perhaps our inability to make sense of our own position in this transition period the country is experiencing.”

 

Weerasinghe continues to grapple with the socio-political remnants of the war, but has now embarked on delineating further current issues in Sri Lanka that resonate with him. His recent solo exhibition, “Belief: The Promise of Absence” (2018) consisted of ruminations on canvas about the local and global crisis of mass migration, and the social calamities and intimate pains that arise as a consequence. The paintings are mostly abstract in nature, with human figures blended into them with the aim of depicting how humanity is undergoing a “major civilizational crisis” as “millions of people are forced to leave behind their ‘lives’ and ‘memories’” when they migrate to other countries. Weerasinghe captures the nostalgia, emotionality, confusion, inner turmoil and identity crisis that follow migration as he fuses darkened, disfigured body parts on the canvas alongside bright reds, purples, blues and yellows to highlight the atmosphere of unrest and perturbation. Weerasinghe’s portfolio of work and outstanding contribution to the art industry of Sri Lanka are a source of inspiration for many young artists who have begun to approach art as experimentation coupled with critical thinking in terms of a developed socio-political consciousness. 

Name of Exhibition Year Place
Anxiety 1992 National Gallery of Art, Colombo, Sri Lanka
New Approaches in Contemporary Sri Lankan Art 1994 National Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Fourth Asian Art Show 1994 Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
Lionel Wendt Gallery Exhibition 1995 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Die Welt zuGast 1996 Spiel Bank, Dortmund, Germany
Dialogue with Christa Webber 1997 Gallery Mount Castle, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Yantragala and the Round Pilgrimage 1997 Heritage Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Recent Paintings 1997 Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Asia-Pacific Triennial 1999 Queensland Gallery, Queensland, Australia
(My) Inability of Painting Woman 2000 Gallery 706, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Arts South Asia Show 2002 Liverpool University Gallery, Liverpool, UK
Paradise Road Galleries Exihibition 2003 Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo, Sri Lanka
AhamPuram 2004 Jaffna Library, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Urban and the Individual 2004 Finomenal Space Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ten Artists from Sri Lanka 2005 Milles Garden, Stockholm, Sweden
The Celestial Underwear 2005 Phenomenal Space Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Reading Room: Thousand Shivas and Thousand Mikes 2006 Singapore Biennale
Theertha Red Dot Gallery Exihibition 2007 curated by Fumio Nanjo, Sharmini Pereira, Eugene Tan and Roger McDonald, Singapore
Sri Lankan Contemporaries 2007 Theertha Red Dot Gallery, Sri Jayawardenepura, Sri Lanka
Designing Peace 2009 The Noble Sage Collection, London, UK
Artful Resistance: Crisis and Creativity in Sri Lanka 2009 Marian PasatRoces, MCDA, Manila, Philippines
Shiva Nataraja 2009 Museum fürVölkerkunde, Austria
Visual Responses During the War: Selected Artists’ Works 2010 Lionel Wendt Gallery & Harold Peiris Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Contemporary Art From Sri Lanka 2011 2011 Asia House, London, UK
Colombo Art Biennale 2012 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Art of Resistance 2012 Espace Gallery, New Delhi, India
“Mediated (Data Art)” 2012 Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Drawings 2012 Breese Little, London, UK
Decorated 2014 Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Decorated 2014 Breese Little, London, United Kingdom
Colombo Art Biennale 2014 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Reading Room 2014 Tarq Art Gallery, Mumbai, India
All Together Now! 2014 Breese Little, London, UK
Cinnamon Colomboscope: Shadowscenes 2015 Rio Hotel and Cinema, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Rewriting the Last Love Letter and Other Works 2015 Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo, Sri Lanka
With or Without Me/aning 2016 Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
India Art Fair 2016 New Delhi, India
Portraits of Resistance 2016 India International Centre, New Delhi, India
Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Documentaries

Name of Documentary Year of Production
1000 Shivas, Hand Painted Limited Edition Book 2006
The One Year Drawing Project: May 2005-October 2007 2008
Chapter titled “An Overview of Modernisms in Sri Lankan Art of the Twentieth Century” in Artful Resistance: Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka edited by Sylvia S. Kasprycki and Doris I. Stambrau 2010

Ref :JW 120

Title :Divine

Signed :-

Year :-

Measurements in Cms :96.5 x 66

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :96.5 x 66

Ref :JW 133

Title :Self Portrait with Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Right

Year :-

Measurements in Cms :30 x 28

Material Used :Wood Cut

Dimensions in Cms. :30 x 28

Ref :JW 125

Title :Self Portrait with Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1987

Measurements in Cms :29.5 x 28

Material Used :Wood Cut

Dimensions in Cms. :29.5 x 28

Ref :JW 101

Title :Untitled

Signed :Top Left

Year :1988

Measurements in Cms :50.5 x 40.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :50.5 x 40.5

Ref :JW 5

Title :Traffic Lights

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :74 x 57.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :74 x 57.5

Ref :JW 14

Title :Self-Portrait

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :30 x 28.5

Material Used :Wood Block

Dimensions in Cms. :30 x 28.5

Ref :JW 21

Title :Moon over Dambulla

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :22 x 13.5

Material Used :Wood Block/Reduction Print

Dimensions in Cms. :22 x 13.5

Ref :JW 41

Title :Untitled

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :45 x 60

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :45 x 60

Ref :JW 126

Title :Self Portrait with Dambulla

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :29.5 x 28

Material Used :Wood Cut

Dimensions in Cms. :29.5 x 28

Ref :JW 127

Title :House

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :29.5 x 23

Material Used :Wood Cut

Dimensions in Cms. :29.5 x 23

Ref :JW 1

Title :Broken Stupa

Signed :Lower Left

Year :1992

Measurements in Cms :49.5 x 62

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :49.5 x 62

Ref :JW 2

Title :Broken Stupa

Signed :Lower Left

Year :1992

Measurements in Cms :49.5 x 62

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :49.5 x 62

Ref :JW 6

Title :The Long Necked Man

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1992

Measurements in Cms :77.5 x 102

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :77.5 x 102

Ref :JW 104

Title :Untitled

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1997

Measurements in Cms :31 x 42

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :31 x 42

Ref :JW 109

Title :Campaign

Signed :Upper Right

Year :1997

Measurements in Cms :76 x 91

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :76 x 91

Ref :JW 308

Title :Untitled

Signed :Middle Left

Year :2002

Measurements in Cms :91.5 x 64.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :91.5 x 64.5

Ref :JW 4

Title :Untitled

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2004

Measurements in Cms :56 x 46.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :56 x 46.5

Ref :JW 180

Title :Head of Buddha

Signed :Upper Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 181

Title :Head of Buddha

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 190

Title :Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 192

Title :Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Middle

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 193

Title :Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 226

Title :Dancing Shiva

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :32 x 29

Material Used :Acrylic on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :32 x 29

Ref :JW 272

Title :Self Portrait

Signed :Middle Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :63.5 x 50.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :63.5 x 50.5

Ref :JW 314

Title :Untitled

Signed :Middle Right

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :121.5 x 112

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :121.5 x 112

Ref :JW 191

Title :Dambulla Rock

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :28 .25 x 23.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :28 .25 x 23.5

Ref :JW 307

Title :Untitled

Signed :Upper Middle Left

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :92 x 76.5

Material Used :Acrylic & Cloth on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :92 x 76.5

Ref :JW 316

Title :The Ominous Figure

Signed :Lower Middle

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :132 x 142

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :132 x 142

Ref :JW 317

Title :The Celestial Violence

Signed :Upper Left

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :173 x 142

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :173 x 142

Year Institute Qualification
1981 Institute of Aesthetic Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honors in Painting (Second Class Upper Pass) Minor: Sculpture
1985 International Center for the Scientific Study and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) Conservation of Wall Paintings
1988 Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, USA Conservation of Rock Art
1991 American University, Washington D.C., USA Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting