Illusory world of billboard beauty
By Esther Williams
"Billboards mark the Colombo cityscape where larger than life men and women with their bodies airbrushed and photo-edited to perfection gaze down on mere mortals, offering them a dream, a fantasy, a glimpse of consumer heaven."

Anoli Perera's latest exhibition 'Goddesses Descending' portrays the billboard girls.
It is a commentary on the present consumer culture where men and women with perfect bodies entice you to the products they represent, be it cell phones or soaps.
"Television extends this fantasy into our living rooms," says the artist. Looking like goddesses the models come out through Greek columns with perfect bodies that everyone aspires to have: Lux or Rexona for lovely skin; Odel Unlimited wearables for the body beautiful and Black Knight to smell divine.

"It may seem possible but it is not real!" the artist explains of the illusory world they offer. Advertisements are technically manipulated to make an image look blemish-less. Anoli says that everyone is caught up in it whether they like it or not. "I am not critiquing it but making an observation of what I see," she says.

We need to see through the images, adds Anoli who finds that most of the time sexuality and sensuality are defined by these images. People should judge what the reality is, she says.

The artist has used a mixed medium of pastels, acrylic, ink and cut out images from magazines for the 30 X 28 cm paintings. Amidst the vibrant colours are recognisable faces of Indian models and Bollywood film stars who have a big influence on Sri Lankan fashions and beauty culture.

Anoli has always worked with collages. Of late her themes have revolved around the woman. In her earlier collection called 'In the entangled web' she used fabric and lace to depict how the middle class woman organises her domestic space.

A graduate of liberal arts from the Colombo University,Anoli changed course to become an artist and has spent considerable time abroad learning new techniques in painting and water colours also working with sculpture, stone carving, metal and cement.

She has been painting since 1989 and has had several exhibitions since then. Her work - paintings, sculpture and installations have been exhibited here and in Asian Art Festivals in the US, UK and Japan. She has contributed to art columns in magazines abroad like the Frontline and other Asian magazines.

Currently the Colombo based artist is the coordinator of Theertha International Artists Collective that engages in community work and art projects. She will be leaving shortly to China to attend an artists' workshop in Lijain.

Anoli's paintings are being exhibited at H.W.Architects, 410/111 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 from October 8 to 31. The office designed by its Director, Hiranthi Welandawa is a work of art itself and perfectly complements Anoli's collection. "We want to be a part of art and the students and I are keen to learn from it," Ms. Welandawa says adding that the office will house other art exhibitions in future.

Monodrama of dramatic suspense
"Who Killed Santiago Nasar?"Garcia Marquez presented on the Sri Lankan stage
Mark Amerasinghe, the veteran "Mono Dramatist" performed Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Cronica De Una Muerte (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) that he himself adapted as Who Killed Santiago Nasar. He has already adapted and presented four novels/short stories, namely, The Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy, Albert Camus' The Fall (adapted as The Mirror), The Outsider and Victor Hugo's The Last Day Of A Condemned Man (adapted as The Last Day In Death Row).

Marquez first published his Cronica De Una Muerte in 1981, the year before he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. In this novel a faceless narrator describes the brutal murder of young, proud and handsome Santiago Nazar by two young men from the same village who think that he was responsible for the loss of virginity of their sister, an unpardonable crime in that society.

The narrator in the novel, who is also a member of the village, and a good friend of the victim, presents his story neutrally, albeit vividly, using his own recollections and descriptions of eyewitnesses, and the most important and the horrible moments of the saga that he collected whilst investigating into the incident to find out the truth.

In the novel the friend of the victim describes the incident in detail before the villagers gathered in the village square at his request. Amerasinghe adds a different perspective to this story by making him the narrator in his monodrama. Thus in Amerasinghe's version the narrator performs a dual function as a partaker of the incident and the presenter of the performance simultaneously.

Marquez's novel begins as follows: "On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. He'd dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit. "He was always dreaming trees' Placida Linero, his mother told me 27 years later, recalling the details of that unpleasant Monday ".

In Amerasinghe's theatrical adaptation the narrator of the novel is sent before the spectators, and he addresses his fellow villagers: "Buenas noches y gracias senoras! It is good of you to have turned here on the square, at such short notice, to meet me before I leave. You all know why I came back to this town after more than 20 years. I just had to.

We were all there on that Monday morning when it all happened, and most of us surprisingly, just looked on, helplessly. It all happened on this very square in broad daylight, in the unobstructed view of a whole town paralysed into inactivity. This fact has gnawed at me over the years, and I had to find out how and why this was allowed to occur, particularly, since we all knew, hours before the deed, that the Vicario brothers were waiting to kill him."

In the monodrama Amerasinghe has not only made the presentation of the story more dramatic and lively, but also added a third dimension to it by articulating the attitude of the narrator overtly. The direct involvement of the narrator throughout the adaptation, who in the original story was only an eyewitness and investigator, deepens the impact created by the collisions of different perspectives.

Marquez ends his story with a report of the faceless narrator who also quotes an eyewitness who describes the last few minutes of the dying man Santiago Nasar: "He stumbled on the last step, but he got up at once. 'He even took care to brush off the dirt that was stuck to his guts' my aunt Wene told me. Then he went into his house through the back door that had been open since six and fell on his face in the kitchen."

Amerasinghe, who adapts the novel into a "drama", ends the main episode with the same statement as in the original made by the narrator who in his adaptation has turned into the protagonist of the play. However, Amerasinghe's narrator does not stop at just describing the final moment of the murder, but makes his observations, expresses his emotions, and opens a discourse in the minds of the spectators/auditors regarding the legal and moral implications of the whole incident with these words:

"Well, I have presented to you the final act of that tragedy which most of us witnessed over two decades ago, on this very stage. Although practically the whole town saw the Vicario brothers slaughtering Santiago Nasar in broad daylight, the twins were acquitted on the grounds that it was a case of justifiable homicide, the settlement of a debt of honour."

And Amerasinghe ends his play with the following words of the narrator:
".... So do I, after years of committed, hard, unremitting toil, remain perturbed. My perturbation stems from a question that nags, and will continue forever nagging me. That question is: Who, who really killed Santiago Nasar?"

When Amerasinghe, who had only a wig and a moustache as makeup, presented this monodrama in the little auditorium of the Alliance Francaise de Kandy, an audience of about a hundred watched it for one hour in total silence. They were not spellbound. Their ears, eyes and minds were made alert, and they not only watched the drama, but also observed, and were able to come to their own conclusions and make their own judgments.

The strength and also the secret of the success of Amerasinghe's monodrama "Who Killed Santiago Nasar is the use of presentation through narration instead of representation through acting. A normal naturalistic stage play based on the same story would have easily faced the danger of turning into a piece of melodrama.

In this form of performance the absence of the actors representing the dramatic personae eliminates that risk. One can argue that this is not drama but story telling. However, it is clear that it goes beyond just story telling and becomes a dramatic epic or a dramatic narration. Thus there is no doubt that the author-director-actor Amerasinghe has perfected a powerful instrument to bring problems of a particular type before an audience (not necessarily on a proscenium stage).

There is another question one may ask about this type of adaptation. That is, whether justice has been done to the author of the original work, here Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is an uncontested fact that any adaptor of a play or a story written by another playwright or an author has the freedom to interpret it according to his/her wishes, albeit not distorting the original. In the case of "Who Killed Santiago Nasar" Amerasinghe has certainly done no injustice to the author of the novel but has made his point of view more effectively felt.

Dr. Amerasinghe, a very modest yet talented artiste, should give more spectators of the country the opportunity to share this rare experience. Undoubtedly a "monodrama" of this type has much potential, especially in a country like Sri Lanka where a strong tradition of political drama including "street drama" has developed during the past few decades.

Dr. Michael Fernando

Two master artists works to go on sale in London
Martin Russell was one of the patrons of the '43 Group in its formative years. He helped the individual members by purchasing their paintings. Eleven paintings from the Martin Russell collection, four George Keyts from the early 1940s, all oil on canvas and seven paintings by Ivan Peries mostly from the 1940s and one painting from 1951 will be sold this Tuesday, October14 at Sotheby's in Bond Street.

The son of a London merchant banker Gilbert Russell, Martin Russell acquired his interest in modern art from his mother, Maud Russell (the daughter of the German Jewish stockbroker and racehorse owner Paul Nelke). She had been painted by several English artists, including Nicholson, Orpen and McEvoy, and had sat for drawings by Matisse in l937.

Russell became assistant private secretary to Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information. In 1941 Duff Cooper was sent by Churchill to Singapore to report on the co-ordination of the numerous British Government departments active in the Far East. Duff Cooper returned to England in January 1942 while Russell remained in Singapore to close the office.

Marin Russell was lucky enough to escape to Sumatra two days before the Japanese occupied Singapore. After working his way through Sumatra and Java, he arrived in Ceylon on a river steamer in 1942.

He was assigned to the cypher office at the museum in Colombo by the Army command. He was introduced to Lionel Wendt and met Keyt in Colombo two years later for the first time at the inaugural exhibition of the '43 Group where he purchased all the Keyts exhibited sans one.

Subsequently posted to Lord Mountbatten's staff in Kandy, he formed a friendship with Keyt and other members of the '43 Group. He built up an extensive collection of the early works of the members of this group.

Russell returned to England in 1946 where he started to write his book The Art of George Keyt. As Keyt had moved to Bombay in 1947, Russell decided to spend more time in Ceylon and India in order to enable him to complete the book, which was published by Marg in Bombay in 1950.

The images of the paintings can be viewed on the Serendib Gallery website: and the Sotheby's website too could be accessed from this site for further information. (Images of the paintings offered for sale could be viewed on the website MD

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