Artist, architect and designer Ajantha Ranaweera’s debut solo exhibition
It’s not every day that an artist has their debut exhibition, but 1 October was such a day, with artist, architect, and designer Ajantha Ranaweera showing his first solo exhibition “The Boy in Paradise” at the Paradise Road The Gallery Café. The collection features a combination of figurative works and abstract landscapes incorporating acrylic inks, coloured pens, and pencils, markers, dip, and inks.Brunch caught up with Ranaweera to learn a little more about “The Boy in Paradise”, and what inspires Ranaweera in his art. Interested in art and creating things from a young age, for Ranaweera, art became a process of creation and exploration. Going on to study architecture at the City School of Architecture, his interest in art grew and his first-year masters Archt. C. Anjalendran and Archt. Sadev Wittachchi exposed him to a wide range of artists, further nourishing this interest in art. He was also taught by distinguished artists like Jagath Weerasinghe and Vasantha Perera.Going on to work at The Anjalendran Studio following his first year, Ranaweera was also frequently exposed to several of Sri Lanka’s veteran artists; Lionel Wendt, Ena De Silva, Laki Senanayake, and David Robson, as well as many other creative influences.While “The Boy in Paradise” is his first solo exhibition, Ranaweera has contributed to several creative projects, with his hand-craft drawings appearing in Archt. Anjalendran’s 2015 book The Architectural Heritage Of Sri Lanka: Measured Drawings From The Anjalendran Studio and working as one of the principal photographers (alongside Buddhini Kaushalya) in Dr. Shanti Jayawardene’s 2017 book Geoffrey Manning Bawa – Decolonising Architecture.As of 2021, Ranaweera has gone on to found his own architecture and design practice Dvāra Architects and Designers, a practice that centres on creating a lifestyle connected with decolonising knowledge. Part of a much broader discourse, decolonised knowledge, in a nutshell, has to do with the mindset cultivated by colonialism that our native knowledge, skills, and design sensibilities are not on par with the knowledge, skills, and techniques of our colonisers, and disrupting this narrative to embrace our native knowledge, from architecture to how we view outdoor spaces to how we interact with our surroundings. Speaking to Brunch on “The Boy in Paradise”, Ranaweera explained that the whole idea of the exhibition is to build a dialogue that celebrates and cherishes the images and memories of those who have disappeared, particularly during the 30-year civil war. “The idea here is to highlight a way one could deal with the act of disappearance; we begin to understand those left behind are not alone on this journey,” Ranaweera said. “We could regard disappearance as simultaneously containing loss and joy – we cherish the memories of those loved ones who have left us by seeing them in states of bliss. We know and understand death is life in the continuum of sansara.” Noting that disappearances, because of their very nature, leave behind more uncertainty than death, Ranaweer said that it is very important if we are to move forward as a nation, to talk about these difficult things in our national past, even if this dialogue is within ourselves and those closest to us. There needs to be dialogue to move forward, and “The Boy in Paradise” is his way of sparking dialogue. Sharing his feelings on his very first solo exhibition, Ranaweera shared that while he found the process overwhelming at first, with lots of questions running through his head on what the standard was, how many pieces to make, how the exhibition would work and so on, he is very excited to finally be showing his first solo exhibition, saying: “I would like to thank Shanth Fernando and the team behind Paradise Road Galleries. They were very supportive and helpful and I am very thankful for the opportunity.” On “The Boy in Paradise” itself, Ranaweera explained that that exhibition isn’t one piece over another (when asked to name his own personal favourite piece, he was at a loss), it’s more about the collective experience it generates through each piece’s different flavours. As an artist, Ranaweera shared that he is most inspired by the flexibility of art and the different things he can try. “I try not to fixate on any particular medium. Like architecture, I’m constantly exploring new ways of expressing my ideas,” he said, adding: “Within that context, I find mixed media to be quite helpful. Watercolour, markers, dip pens with various types of inks, and handmade mark-making tools are some of the objects I use in my work.”Encouraging future artists, Ranaweera said the most important thing for any artist is to keep developing their skills. “I competed with myself,” he explained, adding that he looked at the work of artists who inspired him and took part in larger discourses to develop a varied perspective. He also recommended finding a gallery that you are comfortable working with, and to always seek feedback. “When you have really good work and you’re constantly working on it, people will approach you. I have a huge set of friends I show my work to. We’re always discussing art on multiple levels, from intellectual conversations to casual conversations. Always get a lot of feedback.” “The Boy in Paradise” by Ajantha Ranaweera will be on display at the Paradise Road The Gallery Café until 30 October.