The title of this exhibition itself plays with the new themes in Jagath Weerasinghe’s work. While images from his previous works continue to appear, the process for Weerasinghe in which he attempts to decorate the image with detailed line drawing against his heavy black brush strokes, play with his double sided take on life in Sri Lanka at present. Decorated, whether it implies a member of the armed forces or the prettification of Sri Lanka, presents a series of work that approach the subject without coming to a conclusion.
JW: It’s a simple experience; we as a people living in this city don’t know where we are living. We read the newspapers. In one paper it’s all about human rights violations, in another you see a better world. You walk in the city that is totally transformed; no barricades, it’s green, so what is the real reality (if there is anything as such)? At one point all this cleaning of roads is like decoration but there is no content to that. At the same time we enjoy it, we would never open our mouths to say that we don’t want this. This is my dilemma; I am trying to get to the bottom of these things. What is that man doing? The soldier: is he dressing or undressing? If you are anti-government you will say the soldier is dressing as a metaphor for remilitarization.If you are pro-government you might think he is undressing, to represent peace.
SF: What is the story behind the portrait without a face?
JW: It is the portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan of Venice, the portrait by Giovanni Bellini, the Italian Renaissance master. He was the ruler of Venice who earned his money from the spice trade. He was so powerful he waged war against the Pope in Rome. When I read this story and saw the portrait, it’s solemnness, the strong architectural aspect to this; the history linked with the way the current regime in power thinks, especially during the war. The west that is the power center was trying to intervene but our government didn’t care about them, and instead of meeting these dignitaries in Colombo he met them under a hut in Anuradhapura. They do not bind to the ideological power and arguments of the west. I found these and more similarities between Doge Leonardo Loredan and the ruling regime.
I don’t judge things in my art, I engage with things. None of these works are a critique of the government, they are engaging with a situation in order to understand and make sense of everything. 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.
In the other works my judgmental nature does come out. These images are not beautiful, and I try to decorate them. The more I try to do this the more they become anxious. There is a murkiness that I cannot define while there is a surface level beauty.
The seated man with a hole in the mouth is sucking away or is he sucking the background in. There are always two sides to the story. The meaning changes completely.