Winner of South East Asia’s most prestigious prize; The 2010 Sovereign Asian Art prize.

It was to the delight of the Sri Lankan art scene when Annoushka Hempel, Founder and Director of the Colombo Art Biennale, was contacted by the MD of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize and asked to put forward 3 Sri Lankan artists to be considered for this award. This was the first time any Sri Lankan artists had been considered for this distinguished competition. The honour of representing Sri Lanka in this competition was granted to Pala Pothupitiye.

This honour was deepened when Annoushka Hempel subsequently received news that Pala Pothupitiye had been included in the final 30 candidates shortlisted from a selection of  over 400 nominees. Pala’s work Jaffna Map was flown to Singapore and exhibited in the finalist collection alongside the other 29 pieces. The collection was also exhibited in Hong kong.

On receiving a call from an unknown foreign number, the already delighted Pala was informed that his entry Jaffna Map had won the competition. It was a great shame that Pala was unable to attend the awards ceremony held in Hong Kong but luckily Annoushka was able to make the trip and collected the prize on his behalf.

Pala’s sensitive and astute art which employs subtly political messages is a good reflection of the artist himself, who used the honour of winning the 2010 Sovereign Asian Art Prize to channel artistic responsibility. Pala, on winning the prize said; “I am deeply honoured to be recognised by the prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize. I am proud to be able represent Sri Lankan art and share it with the greater Asian region. The prize money will enable me to actualize ideas and work on projects that I otherwise would be unable to pursue and raise awareness for Sri Lankan art.” True to his word, Pala currently resides in Colombo running an arts and crafts workshop which supports a younger set of artists.

Jaffna Map

Jaffna Map is a recreated version of an official map of Jaffna, a location in the Northern tip of Sri Lanka which played a vastly significant role during the civil war. The savage figures of lions and tigers rampaging across the map represent the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers, whose teeth and claws rip through the land in their territorial feud. Their features incorporated so seamlessly into the peninsulas as to poignantly convey each side’s determination not to lose a grip on their values and territory.

On the furthest corner of the map are the discernable features of a human face, chased to the borders of the painting by the bestial clash just as the people of Sri Lanka were displaced by the conflict. The people of Sri Lanka were not only geographically displaced, as this map shows, but have also suffered from an internal displacement more subtley portrayed by the defensive features attached to the face. The bared teeth and the visible armour on the nose show not only a nation forced into defending themselves and their families but also a nation prepared for a battle. Pala has painted a very poignant portrayal of the barbaric nature of a ‘civil’ war.

The success of this piece reflects the eventual success of Sri Lanka, who exists as the only country in the modern world to have defeated terrorism on its own soil.

This internal displacement felt by so many in this post-war state is an issue which artists have been steadily addressing in galleries and exhibitions such as the ones hosted by Hempel Galleries.

The issue will be featured in an optimistic light throughout the upcoming Biennale, whose theme is ‘Becoming’.  What the theme implies is that, despite the suffering and displacement, the people of sri Lanka (and indeed the state itself) hold the potential to become something far greater. With this potential also comes responsibility. Both personal and governmental, as the late former president of the USA once famously said “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”.

The artists are at the forefront of this potential to become, it is they who lead by example, using their blank canvases to paint a new Sri Lanka and artists such as Pala play an important role in raising moral and political questions which are increasingly relevant in a recovering state.