Postcards from Home

They’re complex, intense, and most often subject to varied misconceptions intertwined with other forms of textural arts. Considering its exclusiveness, “Postcards from Home” by Cresside Collette would be a real delight for those of us who don’t witness it daily. Cresside, an artist born in Sri Lanka, shifted to Australia at the age of 11. The exhibit – through the portrayal of her tapestry work – is essentially homage to her deep-rooted connection with the island. It would certainly be a testamentary to one of our earliest influences continuing to remain potent throughout our lives. We were presented with the opportunity to converse with Cresside, and engaging with her gentle yet vibrant personality was an absolute delight.

You were born in Sri Lanka and moved to Australia at a very young age. Could you share your thoughts on what it was like growing up in Australia?
I was fortunate because it was relatively peaceful in terms of transitioning. It was because we were “Ceylon”, as it was then. So, both Ceylon and Australia were commonwealth countries where British influence was very strong. When I went there and started school, we would sing the same rhymes and play the same hopscotch game in the playground. Also, I was only 11 years old. So, I felt very comfortable and had an easy transition.

Your artworks seem to be unique. If you were to describe your art, how would you describe it?
I would describe tapestry as a textile form of art and it has always been very traditional, going back to medieval times. It’s always allied to the fine arts. This is a clear woven form. Also, tapestries can range from enormous pieces that cover huge walls to very tiny pieces – like the ones I do. Depending on the fineness of the warp and weft setting, you are able to get a lot of detail into smaller creations.

Going through some of your creations, you have evidently captured the spirit of local culture, which in certain ways pays homage to your Lankan roots. What are your comments on this?
Well, my roots have inspired this particular exhibition. I’ve wanted to come back and have a homecoming in terms of my homage. I was very fortunate to go on field trips to different places in Sri Lanka…that whole expression of colour, the sense of the place I had when I was a child. So, in a way, it’s like bringing that back, unfolding it in your artwork and what you do. When you’re born in a particular place, you essentially absorb all of that, so that’s what has come out in my artwork.
It has been my creative life for 43 years. Apart from that, I take a tour to either the UK or France almost every week. It has been my full-time occupation because for fifteen years, I have worked for a tapestry workshop that was established in Melbourne in 1976. Afterwards, I did about 20 tapestries in schools with school children. I then completed my Master’s in Tapestries and Fine Art at Monash University. I taught tapestry, weaving, and life drawing at RMIT University for 11 years. Then I started my tours that I take every year – this too is related to my weaving. Now I’m at my retirement age, so I can actually do whatever I want to do!

Tapestry, on the face of it, appears to be so intricately woven, which is not an easy task. What are some of the intricacies and complexities you’ve experienced throughout your course of practice alongside some of the misconceptions people often have?
I think that’s an important distinction to be made because most people think that it is needlepoint, and it’s not always this.
The intricacies are that it is quite a challenging process. You must have a brain to weave. I’ve noticed other artists who have a beautiful visual sense, but they can’t get that relationship between the hand-eye coordination to the brain. In workshops such as ones in France, for someone to become a workshop weaver, they have to have seven years of training. I don’t think you need seven years of training, but you’ve got to have a certain aptitude for it, which is a visual sensibility combined with your manual dexterity.
Postcards from Home, an exhibition by Cresside Collette opened to the public on 14 February, 2019 and will remain open daily until 7 March, 2019 at the Saskia Fernando Gallery at 41 Horton Place, Colombo 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

By Chenelle Fernando

Photos Indika Handuwala