Jagath Weerasinghe is known for his visceral paintings that examine themes of identity, religion and nationhood in his homeland, Sri Lanka. Since the early 1990s, Weerasinghe's socially-engaged art practice has contributed to the development of Sri Lankan art.Read More
Weerasinghe is considered a pioneer of Sri Lankan contemporary art and has exhibited work in Australia, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Jagath Weerasinghe was born in the suburb of Moratuwa, just outside Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1954. He graduated from the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting in 1981. In 1991 he received a Master of Fine Arts in Painting from the American University in Washington D.C.
In the early 1990s, Weerasinghe established the '90s Trend', a movement that focused on the conceptual and theoretical elements of visual arts; and transformed Sri Lankan art into something that was socially and politically charged. After over 20 years of civil war in northern Sri Lanka, political protest in art became a way of communicating the country's unrest and expressing Sri Lankans' personal and cultural histories.
Following his progressive 1992 exhibition titled Anxiety, Weerasinghe began to teach art at the Institute of Aesthetic Studies. He introduced younger generations of Sri Lankan artists to a new approach of art history as a critical practice. Weerasinghe's teaching revitalised the arts by encouraging students to pursue new disciplines like performance, installation and digital.
Jagath Weerasinghe's practice is socially-involved and reflects on the genocide and political violence Sri Lanka has endured since the 1980s.
Yantra Gala and the Round Pilgrimage (1999) is an installation Weerasinghe made as a memorial for the parents whose children were murdered between 1989 and 1990 at torture camps in Embilipitiya.
The work comprises eight oil paintings on canvas with collage, elements of a wooden altar, resin, clay, gold leaf, wheat and earth. At the centre of the installation, Weerasinghe displays an empty mould of a Buddha, representative of the lost Buddhist Dharma—the cosmic law and teachings taught in Buddhism. Small labels with names of torture camps and names of sacred places in Sri Lanka are spread among stone rice and small clay flowers and birds.
The installation paintings depict women in saris beside empty speech balloons, symbolic of their unheard voices amid Sri Lanka's violent turmoil. The paintings feature maps of the country, suggestive of the search of the mothers for their lost children.
Weerasinghe's paintings take inspiration from the dances of the Hindu God Shiva. Weerasinghe's thick use of acrylic paint and expressive brush strokes capture the movement of Shiva as he quells toxic and hostile worldviews. Expressive drips of vibrant red, yellow and black paint smother the canvas, abstracting the figure of a beloved national symbol.
By capturing the intense narrative of Shiva destroying a world to create a world, Weerasinghe examines the push and pull between Sri Lanka's religious violence and the limitations of institutionalised devotion.
In 1999, Weerasinghe was commissioned by the Sri Lankan government to design a monument titled Shrine of the Innocents (1999). Weerasinghe's sculpture represents a memorial for the innocent victims of violence across southern Sri Lanka in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Jagath Weerasinghe has exhibited his artwork at art fairs including Art Dubai, UAE in 2018 and at the Indian Art Fair in New Delhi and Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa in 2016.
He has received several awards including the David Lloyd Kreeger Award, American University; Bunka Cultural Award, Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka; Hirayama Silk Road Fellowship; Visiting Fellow, Institute of Archaeology, University College London; ICCROM Fellowship for Conservation Studies, ICCROM, Rome; Visiting Fellow, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, South Africa; and Visiting Scholar, University of California at Berkeley and at University of Texas.
Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2022