Haji Omar explains her connection with Sri Lanka and the strong influence it plays on her work in particular this series titled ‘I Dream of Water’. The influence of the emotional and spiritual on her work continues to be omnipresent. Now based in New York, Haji Omar maintains her place as a prominent female artist in the Sri Lankan contemporary scene. This exhibition presents the artists evolution into new forms of abstractionism.
What made you choose to study art?
Making art was instinctive for me from a young age but the decision to study it took vital encouragement and support from my professors and parents. I first fell in love with art by spending countless hours really looking in books, galleries and museums. Paintings by Pierre Bonnard and Francis Bacon, sculptures by Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth moved me. I was intrigued by Surrealism, Cubism and Impressionism. It was not long before I felt the desire to be a part of the larger conversation.
Have you maintained a connection to Sri Lanka through your work and/or life?
Yes – definitely! I often have vivid dreams about the time I spent there. A great deal of the imagery and color in my work is inspired by my memories of Sri Lanka. It is an integral part of who I am and what I believe in. The autonomy and methods by which I approach art making stem from being emerged in a culture that has an ancient history, respect and love of various art forms, i.e. decorative, religious art and architecture. There is also so much beauty in the natural environment of Sri Lanka I really try to hold on to that. The sense of awe I had as a child in a magical landscape.
When did you leave the island?
I left when I was fifteen years old. But I have visited frequently and also lived in Sri Lanka for a year and a half from 2009-2010.
Explain the themes of emotion, spirituality and femininity and their continuous appearance in your work?
I had gone through some of the most transformative experiences of my life by the time I was twenty-three. Over the last seven years I feel like my work has been about processing intense emotions, understanding loss, and experiencing profound growth and transformation. These are all spiritual experiences and inextricably linked to the subconscious. Emotion and spirituality define us as human beings, finding acceptance within oneself is crucial for survival. The idea of femininity is more complicated; it is rooted in the notions of resilience, strength and rebirth. The reason these themes appear and reappear in my work is due to the fact that they are essentially how I navigate this world. All of my decisions and behaviors stem from being deeply connected to a personal mythology.
How do you see yourself in relation to the Sri Lankan contemporary art scene?
I see myself as an active extension of the Sri Lankan contemporary art scene. Living in New York I feel privileged to share with a Western audience my history and character that has been molded by Eastern influences. When I look at the work of contemporary Sri Lankan artists I feel inspired and connected. Even down to basic elements like mark making, various choices in media and form; I feel like we speak the same language, that we share a similar aesthetic. It feels good to be part of an art movement that is separate to the New York art scene. But the best feeling I suppose is being able to participate in both worlds, to speak to different audiences at the same time. It gives me confidence that my work is able to cross cultural and literal boundaries.
What are your observations and suggestions for the sustainable growth of the Sri Lankan art scene, given your current location in New York?
I am delighted and impressed by how the Sri Lankan art scene has evolved, rapidly over the last few
years. I have observed that art is not limited to the privileged and upper-middle class; it can have a huge positive impact on low-income and minority communities as well. The creative industries offer various benefits to local economies and have the ability to improve community bonds, to inspire youth and provide awareness of new opportunities. Economic development strategies often incorporate strengthening local arts and culture. If there is continued and increased support from individuals, organizations and the government there will be limitless possibilities for a thriving and sustainable art scene in Sri Lanka.