Pradeep Thalawatta (1979)

“...as O’Rourke quotes: “Can an artistic intervention truly bring about an unforeseen way of thinking…Can an absurd act provoke a transgression that makes you abandon the standard assumptions on the sources of conflict? Can those acts bring about the possibility of change? While these questions remain to be answered, Thalawatta’s practice does offer alternative ways of perceiving oneself in a post-conflict city, not through overt acts, but through nuanced gestures; by embodying experiences and remaining porous to the urban environment around him.” – Jyoti Dhar

Pradeep Thalawatta graduated with a BFA in Painting from the Beaconhouse National University in Pakistan in 2007, and has been hailed as a noteworthy artist in Sri Lanka, creating pieces since the early 2000s. Thalawatta has exhibited his work locally and internationally, and has gradually developed a unique aesthetic of his own. He currently alternates between Jaffna and Colombo, and works as a Lecturer in Art and Design at University of Jaffna.

Thalawatta’s early work deal with highly metropolitan situations such as industrialization, commercialization and mass production making direct commentary on the urban landscape of Sri Lanka, which was been changing at a rapid pace since the early 2000s. Thalawatta draws from his personal experience as a citizen exposed to urbanization and its effects in these works. His latter works explore related phenomena, but under the more generic theme of changing landscapes. Referring to his solo exhibition A Different Road (2012), Annoushka Hempel notes: “the idea of changing landscapes has very much been carried through into this exciting new body of work… which as insinuated, features the road as that which runs through and features in each work.  Road, sea and sky. Sky, new road and old road. Road that erases that which once was. Road that breaks up history. The Game of the Road. The Road that leads to….? are all addressed.” The metaphor of the ‘road’ is interesting: it signifies the ideas of movement and travel that were previously restrained during the war, but later unified after the end of the ethnic conflict with the removal of border controls between the north and the south. Thalawatta can therefore be identified as an artist who has dared to move beyond the subject of the civil war, in order to focus on the aftermath, and the futuristic socio-political aspects of the war set against the contexts of heightening globalization and technology.

Thalawatta plays with the corporeal and the material to create his pieces, which range from the disciplines of painting to installation art to graphics. He talks about his work as follows: “my artwork bring attention to body, memory and displacement looking at the complex, convoluted politics of the everyday.” He is interested in exploring the exotic nature of materials and objects derived from the everyday urban atmosphere, playing with the unique textures and colours they engender.

His work “Diyatha Uyana” (2014) is a self-portrait where he appears to be drowning in a swimming pool holding a framed photograph of a highly urbanized city with high-rise buildings. This is an expression of remembrance of the times gone by, and a reflection on the decisions of the then government to develop the city of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte as an urban area. It also focuses on the theme of amnesia about the war: while the uneasy facial expressions on the drowning Thalawatta are disorienting, and reminiscent of the suffering people underwent during the war, the photograph of the city forces the viewer to contemplate on how rapidly the country has forgotten the atrocities of the war. The motif of his own image helps him to successfully express his own opinions and political standpoints, while appealing to the emotions of his audience as well.

Another instance where he used urban material in a novel way is his video installation “Line in the City” (2014) in which he walks around the city of Lahore, Pakistan, passing flyovers, high rise buildings, apartment complexes and the constant traffic, dressed simply in a linen shirt and denim jeans. It is then revealed to the viewer that he is in fact marking his path or ‘line’ with a roll of white toilet paper. Jyoti Dhar, reflecting on this piece, suggests that for Thalawatta, “weaving a line through the city was a way of underscoring and observing social behaviour, as well as charting an alternative and accidental map of a metropolitan landscape.” Combined with the reactions of the persons on his path who witness the act first-hand and the simple motif of the roll of toilet paper, “Line in the City” signifies the manner in which the urban has taken over humans’ lives, and how deeply immersed we are in the structure and landscape of a city.

Name of Exhibition Year Place
Urban and the Individual 2004 Finomenal Space Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Contemporary Sri Lankan Art: Ten Artists 2005 Millesgarden Museum, Lidingo, Sweden
“Day 2 Day” Theertha Exhibition Season 2008 Theertha Red Dot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Red Dot Design Show 2009 Theertha Red Dot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Art Works on Paper 2009 National Art Gallery, Male, Maldives
Theertha International Artists’ Residency Exhibition 2010 Theertha Red Dot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Theertha@1 Shanthi Road Gallery 2010 Bangalore, India
Red and White 2011 Department of Fine Art, University of Jaffna, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
A Different Road 2012 Hempel Galleries, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Becoming: Colombo Art Biennale 2012 JDA Perera Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Mobile Library: Open Edit 2013 Park Street, Mews, Colombo, Sri Lanka
5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial 2014 Fukuoka, Japan
Serendipity Revealed 2014 Brunei Gallery, London, UK
South by Southeast 2015 Osage Gallery, Hong Kong
Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2015 Christie’s, Hong Kong
COLOMBOSCOPE: Sea Change 2019 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Ref :PT 28

Title :Self Portrait

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2004

Measurements in Cms :80 x 174.5

Material Used :Aluminum Piece, Charcoal on hard Board

Dimensions in Cms. :80 x 174.5

Ref :PT 23

Title :Me & My Material World

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :107 x 76.5

Material Used :Plastic Beads, Jungle Seeds, Charcoal on Board

Dimensions in Cms. :107 x 76.5

Ref :PT 24

Title :Me & My Material World

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :76 x 107

Material Used :Charcoal, Shopping Bags, Aluminum Dust, Coloured Wire on Boards

Dimensions in Cms. :76 x 107

Ref :PT 25

Title :Me & My Material World

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2005

Measurements in Cms :107 x 76.5

Material Used :Water Colour, Nails, Cotton, Coloured Wire on Hard Board

Dimensions in Cms. :107 x 76.5

Ref :PT 10

Title :Self Portrait

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2008

Measurements in Cms :92 x 63

Material Used :Sidhalepa- Transparent Sticker Print on Acrylic Sheet

Dimensions in Cms. :92 x 63

Ref :PT 11

Title :Lifebuoy (Day to Day Series)

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2008

Measurements in Cms :63.5 x 139.7

Material Used :Lifebuoy - Transparent Sticker Print on Acrylic Sheet

Dimensions in Cms. :63.5 x 139.7

Ref :PT 20

Title :Signal (Day to day Series)

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2008

Measurements in Cms :125.5 x 110.5

Material Used :Tooth Paste Covers - Transparent Sticker Print on Acrylic Sheet

Dimensions in Cms. :125.5 x 110.5

Ref :PT 6

Title :The Sink

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :102.5 x 46.5

Material Used :Charcoal on Wrapping Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :102.5 x 46.5

Ref :PT 1

Title :Window

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2010

Measurements in Cms :60.96 x 91.44

Material Used :Tippex, Gel Pen on Wrapping Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :60.96 x 91.44

Ref :PT 3

Title :Burnt Landscape

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2011

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Photography on Photo Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :-

Ref :PT 13

Title :Portrait Weaves

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2011

Measurements in Cms :85.5 x 176

Material Used :Canvas Print Red & White Work Series

Dimensions in Cms. :85.5 x 176

Ref :PT 15

Title :Sky, Sea and Road

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :45.5 x 221.5

Material Used :Ink & Pyrography on Photo Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :45.5 x 221.5

Ref :PT 16

Title :The Game

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :66.5 x 247.5

Material Used :Play Cards & Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :66.5 x 247.5

Ref :PT 17

Title :Road at Night

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :101.5 x 245.5

Material Used :Ink & Acrylic on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :101.5 x 245.5

Ref :PT 18

Title :K,K. S Road

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2012

Measurements in Cms :69.5 x 243

Material Used :Photo Print

Dimensions in Cms. :69.5 x 243

Ref :PT 12

Title :Montage of Old Road

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2014

Measurements in Cms :140 x 210

Material Used :Soft Pastel on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :140 x 210

Ref :PT 14

Title :Montage of Old Road

Signed :Unsigned

Year :2014

Measurements in Cms :111 x 173.5

Material Used :Soft Pastel on art Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :111 x 173.5

Year Institute Qualification
2007 Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan BFA in Painting
2004 National Design Centre, Sri Lanka Diploma in Graphic Design
2003 Vibhavi Academy of Fine Art, Colombo, Sri Lanka Studio Course