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Sub-Marine by Chudamani Clowes

Born in Colombo and currently living in London, a past pupil of Bishop’s College, Chudamani Clowes is an artist, teacher, a proud ceramics painter and, last but not least, also a winner of the Griffin Art Prize (2014).
Chudamani, who has always been passionate about art and the environment, explains the relevance of the ocean, corals, and the underwater surface through her art. The exhibition “Sub-Marine” was held from 15 December, 2018 to 4 January, 2019, at the Saskia Fernando Art Gallery in Horton Place, Colombo 7.
Tell me a bit about yourself

I was brought up in West London, Nottingham. I studied art at St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, and Royal College of Art in the UK. I have always been passionate about art ever since I was a child. Art has always been a part of my life and I’m pleased to say that it’s made me who I am today.
Researching at the Royal College of Art about bonnets at the British Museum, I was intrigued by the history of how the Victorians during that period saw us Lankans and vice versa. William Frith, who painted “a day at the races”, expressed the diversity of Victorian society.
While researching, I came to the conclusion that they had represented us in a negative way – which is common with any dominant society. Thus, what I did was look at it from our Lankan perspective and thereby created the art which you see.

Could you tell me how you came up with the name “Sub-Marine” for the exhibition held at the Saskia Fernando Art Gallery last month?

“Sub-Marine” came up because it was a subject people rarely talk about. “Under the surface” generally isn’t spoken about at all; because when I used to speak about it 10 years ago people didn’t really address it. Even today, we really don’t necessarily talk about it. Thus, since I had wanted to bring a message to the rest of the people, I thought I would decide to talk about it, and what better way to highlight this topic than to use art as my moral tool.

Describe your art in relation with the ocean and corals. How did this connection come to be?

When I was on holiday in the Mediterranean, while on the beach, jellyfish began stinging my friend and I. Oddly, this made me think of their migration patterns. At the time, the migration levels in Spain rose expeditiously, which made it difficult for them (jellyfish) to cope.
Plus, my degree in marine biology gave me a background to creating and discovering the wonders of the ocean and its corals and put them into pieces of art. One of my childhood memories in Sri Lanka was when my father would stop the car on our way to Matara and I would watch children go swimming in the sea, play with corals, and have a good time.
Corals, which were given strange Victorian names, are beautiful and diverse and are what made me interested. What I noticed was that, in art, we see things that don’t come across as important in our daily lives but that leaves a message and plays an important role in our minds.

Are there any particular artists who inspire you?

There are a reasonable amount of artists who inspire me, (mostly political ones) such as Cara Walker, an American who specialises mainly in silhouettes, paper cuts, and is also an activist with the Black Lives Matter movement. Chris O’ Reilly as well, and Marcus Coates who has partnered up with me for a project too has inspired me and we have decided to have a show here in London which commences on 18 January.
I really get inspired when observing my fellow mates at college and also my mom, who has been constantly promoting the concept of “multiculturalism” all her life. Meeting a lot more artists too has helped me come far.

Apart from being an artist, what are your other strengths?

Well, apart from art, I am a teacher, a printmaker, and a ceramics painter at the Royal College of Art. My strengths also lie in researching and talking about subjects such as imperialism, migration, and impacts on the environment.

Finally, do you have any advice for future, aspiring artists?

First of all, you have to believe in yourself. At first, art wasn’t my strongest point, especially coming from a family where both my father and grandfather were doctors, I studied marine biology. Once I got my degree, I felt incomplete without my art, so I asked my mother if I would go far with it. At first she doubted me. This made me push myself and prove to her that this just wasn’t only a hobby but a career I always wanted. Attending Royal College of Art really proved to her that I could do it. Despite issues like paying my mortgage and giving birth to my son at a crucial time, I never stopped following what I was passionate about.

By Annya Forbes

Photos Saman Abesiriwardana