Mag Events l by Tina Edward Gunawardhana l 20 Dec 2022     - 45

Taking Sri Lankan Art to the world

Saskia Fernando Gallery presents activist artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara's thought provoking work on the political turmoil in Sri Lanka at Frieze London 22

Words: Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Photographs: Tavish Gunasena and Paula Caballero

Placing Sri Lankan art at the forefront, Chandraguptha Thenuwara’s politically inspired art was selected by Saskia
Fernando Gallery to be exhibited as part of ‘Indra’s Net’ curated by Sandhini Poddar at Frieze London 2022, one
of the world’s most prestigious art fairs. His art critiques the use of religious extremism and militarisation by
officials to enter into power. Using iconography such as lotus buds and leaves, stupas, snakes, soldiers with
helmets and weapons, saluting soldiers, tanks, swords and lion tails, Thenuwara’s art relates a powerful narrative
of the subjugation of people due to politics and religious extremism in Sri Lanka. Thenuwara’s work on the same
topic was also exhibited at the recently concluded Venice Biennale.

What does it mean to you to have your work displayed at Frieze London 2022?
I think it is very important that Sri Lanka is represented at prestigious and important art events internationally. It
opens up new avenues in contemporary art for the artist. Most importantly, however, Frieze London enabled us to
represent our country at Frieze.
Galleries play a major role at events like Frieze London. It has opened us up to other international curators,
galleries, museums and collectors. It was a very good opportunity for my work and for Saskia Fernando Gallery
since it gave us a platform to reach out to a wider audience. Our work at Frieze London was part of a curated
exhibition ‘Indra’s Net’ by Sandhini Poddar. I would like to thank her for inviting me and Saskia Fernando Gallery to
participate in it.

What is the symbolism of using guns and lotus leaves in your art?
Guns represent the violence and crimes organized by politicians. Lotus leaves are associated with the fans used
by Buddhist monks. We usually find monks carrying these fans when they visit houses seeking offerings. It also
covers their faces when they preach or give sermons. Most of the sermons are very nationalistic or against
minorities and women or are aimed at instilling fear or spreading misinformation. By using guns and lotus leaves in
my work, I criticise the political parties or religious groups who are involved in such acts.

Why did you come up with a name such as Covert Drawings?
‘Covert’ means something that is not openly acknowledged or displayed. It is a continuation of the Camouflage
series. When you see the covert drawings, you will see a beautiful surface. There are hidden, poisonous and
dangerous things in the Covert image as there are in the society. You might not see them immediately in society or
you may have forgotten about them.
If you look carefully and closely at the Covert images you will find arrangements of flowers, creepers, plants.
However, they are in fact images of bones, dead bodies, amputated limbs, female bodies, swords, daggers, and
guns. These camouflaged images, hidden amongst the beautiful forms, remind you of the society you are living in.
It might be a beautiful space, but it might carry within it political and cultural mishaps. Most of these images result
from the wrongdoings of the politicians, ethnic conflict, and petty political power struggle, most of which are
nurtured by politicians for their personal gains and survival as well as gangs and thugs sponsored by political

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Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is the Deputy Editor of Hi!! Magazine. She writes on a variety of topics which include travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also a journalist for the Daily Mirror Life. An intrepid traveller, Tina likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno or email her at

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