Muhanned Cader (b. 1966)
“It is through drawing that he strives to formulate a visual language combined with signs and symbols observed in the objects and materials of everyday. Typically many of the forms in his work are rooted in abstraction that comes from an observation of shapes, forms and colours in nature.”
Muhanned Cader is a Sri Lankan artist born and raised in Colombo. As a student Cader showed an interest in art during his early years, and later went on to receive a formal art education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1990s. Cader is recognized by Josephine Breese as an artist that belongs to a distinct school of thought in the contemporary art scene in the country due to his “fascination with abstraction”. He uses abstract motifs and imagery that may not directly depict his take on socio-cultural and political aspects of human existence, but could yield a multiplicity of meanings. Due to his ability to communicate universally through abstraction Cader has come to occupy a space of profundity and repute in Sri Lanka as well as overseas. He has exhibited in the US, UK, Australia, India, Singapore, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh on various artistic platforms since the early 1990s. He is also the first artist from the contemporary art scene of Sri Lanka to have had one of his work, “Nightscapes – Ocean, River and Sea” represented at a renowned Christie’s New York auction. Cader received the prestigious “Kala Suri” award presented by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2005, and the Bunka Award given by the Japan Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund in 2004. He has taught at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts in Colombo and has been a visiting lecturer at the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts located at the University of Jaffna. He currently divides his time between Colombo, Sri Lanka and Oxford, UK.
Cader refers to his art as a representation of “true politics”, as he aspires to remove obvious political associations or commentary from his work. However, the abstract shapes and geometric variations he uses on the canvas can invite and inspire readings about power. His use of such uncommon and unique formats prevents the viewer from seeing the full scene, creating the mindspace for “true politics” to emerge as a visual metaphor. For his solo exhibition Glueandstick held in 2017 at the Barefoot Gallery, Cader revived the cut-out technique used by Henri Matisse, using glossy and colourful cutouts from magazines such as the National Geographic to create high quality digital prints that make a commentary on environmental degradation as well as the negative repercussions caused by the political world such as loss of habitat and human displacement. Mariah Lookman, curator of the exhibition claimed that the works take Cader further in his journey of constructing an artistic identity for himself as he explores “bad politics” alongside “true politics” through visual metaphor associated with the slowly deteriorating wildlife and natural beauty of Sri Lanka. The abstract pieces from magazines make a statement by themselves: “these abstract compositions reflect Muhanned’s visual system of forms that he has been using to critique bogus ideas of development seen in his recent exhibitions, and become more pertinent in the present time of massive political change,” said Lookman. His previous exhibitions such as Island (2016) and Jungle Tide (2015) also dealt with the natural world and the rapid changes happening in Sri Lanka in terms of urban development promoted under the label of progress.
Cader has always worked with the aim of “breaking the frame”, which he does mainly by avoiding the use of the rectangular frame on his canvas. The exhibition A Different Lens held in 2013 at the Koel Gallery in Pakistan is one attempt where he breaks the frame in relation to landscapes of the sea and the sky, using shapes that almost resemble the known such as a lion, a dove or a human bone. Although such works may not directly deal with political issues, Cader ensures that they disrupt the politics of image making. Such thinking can be traced to his fascination with cartography and the need to remove rigid framing of imagery and visuality. His installation “Galle Fort; Fort Kochi” displayed at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014 uses non-rectangular shaping and framing to depict his rejection of fixed notions of identity. For this piece he used graphite on wood to signify different shapes and images he discovered on the coast of Kochi.
Cader is also known for his series of artworks such as Never Mind The Bullshit (2011) and Coded and Loaded (2010), which are collections developed not necessarily as exhibits but as collectives that force reflection. Never Mind The Bullshit is a collection created using washed up materials found on the beaches of the island of Sri Lanka. Referring to the collection Cader said, “through these paintings, gouache on paper, I have juxtaposed the idea of tragedy with glory, for at the end of any conflict, the winners, or heroes are celebrated, and the rest forgotten. With this body of work I have in my way paid a tribute to the ordinary and not glorious. In memory of all those, and all that stands resistant to the test and trials of time.” The collection is significant in that it uses unconventional and day-to-day material in the process of creation, highlighting the need to celebrate not only the heroes who brought peace ending the ethnic conflict, but also the ordinary citizens who underwent trauma living with a constant state of insecurity and fear. Such collections, therefore, although not as politically charged as the works of some of Cader’s contemporaries, engage in a socio-cultural and political commentary relevant to Sri Lanka as well as the universal context.
|Name of Exhibition||Year||Place|
|Untitled, Drawings and Paintings||1995||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Untitled, Drawings and Paintings||1996||Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Untitled, Drawings and Paintings||1997||Heritage Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture||1998||Heritage Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Nightscapes||1999||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|In Black and White||2001||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|79 Days in Lahore||2002||Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery, National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, Pakistan|
|Birth of Un-Cool||2003||Vibhavi Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Drawings||2004||Paradise Road Galleries, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Landscapes||2004||Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery, National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, Pakistan|
|Drawing Sculpture||2007||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Casting Light||2010||Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|A Different Lens||2013||Koel Gallery, Karachi, Pakistan|
|Jungle Tide||2015||Talwar Gallery, New York, USA|
|Glueandstick||2017||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in
|1994||School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA||BA|