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A Voyage In The Modernity Of Weaving

Mar 26, 2011 3:26:01 PM - thesundayleader.lk
  • Exhibition Of Contemporary Woven Art By Tilak Samarawickrema – April 1 – 17

Tilak Samarawickrema embodies in his work the contemporary spirit of his country, Sri Lanka. His prodigious output is rooted firmly in the local artisan tradition and spans the gamut from wall-hangings to carpets, passing through an entire spectrum of weavings.
His motifs are inspired by the decorative ceremonial clothing and the costumes of Sinhalese dancers. The colours which Tilak uses are vibrant, but never overbearing or harsh. The warmth of his yellows, reds and oranges are always balanced by blacks and grays, by brilliant blues, or by beige and umber. His works are executed by hand by the skilled weavers from Talagune, a remote village in the Kandy District, where age-old traditional techniques of dyeing and weaving cotton are preserved.
An architect by profession, Tilak spent 12 years of his life in Italy. His close friend, Bruno Munari, captures the full import of his creative vision; “Tilak is doing his work in his country, Sri Lanka, seeking the images of his land, the forms, the colours and the traditional composition …. with these elements, he recomposes a new imagery coherent with contemporary sensibility.”

As a result of his Italian training, Tilak’s work is infused with a geometry that ties lessons from Bauhaus to those of constructivism through the experiences of the Lombardian ‘concretists’. The geometric grid of his textiles becomes a sensitive heddle, the magnetic field which integrates all of that he has borrowed, all of the quotes and references from his culture and life experience, The allusions to architecture are frequent in his tiered compositions or his square mandalas which remind one of the optics games of Albers. Many of his designs are surmounted by triangular roofs which evoke the structures of palaces or the facades of temples with superimposed pediments. The geometric order which governs the synthesis of Tilak’s forms gives his work a hieratic presence and an inherent stability which teeters on the edge of the decorative and the sacred, the profane and the ceremonial.
Tilak’s images harken to a country where prayer takes precedence over spectacle where spirituality is practiced as a ritualistic performance.
The spiritual symbols become the rational elements of Tilak’s aesthetic order. In contrast to the middle ages and the renaissance, contemporary art seeks perfection in the magic of the material. The spirit of the artisans’ tradition thus reappears in the guise of a daily mythology upon which is based the modern ideal of beauty.
Tilak’s forms and colours have their source in an effusive ancestral memory which comes together as the common denominator of his geometric order, and which distinguishes the modernity and rational philosophy of his work. To us, the tapestries which Tilak designs are real, fresh, alive, harmoniously conceived and structured. But they are more than this, because in fact, they integrate our taste for the present with a subtle metamorphosis of meaning.
These pure products of the Sinhalese artisan transcend all borders of time and culture and decorate the walls and floors of our living environments, enriching the quality of our earthly lives. This voyage across matter and forms was conceived in the fertile mind, the factory of dreams which belongs to Tilak. A chronicle of Sinhalese history parades in his language of modernity. Tilak has become one of the masters of contemporary textile art without renouncing his roots, but rather, by actualising their specificity.
Tilak is a role model whom I am pleased to salute — Pierre Restany (Reproduced from :  Tilak: A Voyage In The Modernity Of Weaving by Pierre Restany. Catalog Deutsches Textilmuseum Krefeld, 1995).
Pierre Restany (1930-2003) was an internationally known French art critic and cultural philosopher. In 1960 he created the idea and coined the term “Nouveau Réalisme”. From 1963 onwards Restany edited the art and architectural magazine Domus. In 1982 he co-founded Domus Academy, the first postgraduate design school in Milan.
Tilak Samarawickrema, born in 1943, is an architect from Sri Lanka with a multi-faceted design background in art, textile design, animated cinema and architecture. He holds a Masters Degree in architecture from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.
His architecture is minimalist, and his work ranges from residential buildings, banks, factories, to corporate interiors. He has given the apparel sector of Sri Lanka a new image by designing factories with a contemporary aesthetic. His most recent factory, the Mihila Green Factory at Agalawatta, Sri Lanka, was the first factory worldwide to win the LEED Gold Award in the New Construction category in 2009. In 1986-87 he worked as an ILO consultant to the National Design Center of Sri Lanka to revive and modernise indigenous crafts of the island. Since the late 1980s, he has designed cotton tapestries handwoven by traditional weavers of Talagune, Uda Dumbara, the oldest weaving village in the island.
The Deutsches Textilemuseum Krefeld (1995) and Norsk Form – the architecture and design museum, Oslo (1998) have held exhibitions of his work. The MOMA design store in New York marketed his tapestries for almost eight years. His interest in textiles took him on a UNICEF consultancy to Guatemala (1990) where he worked with Mayan Indian weavers to design products to be marketed in UNICEF stores world-wide. More recently (June-July 2010), he traveled to Afghanistan as a consultant to IESC (International Executive Service Corps, Washington) on a USAID funded project to set up a design center for carpet weaving in Kabul.
His tapestries have been exhibited at the American Center, Colombo-2009, Norsk Form Museum for Design and Architecture, Oslo – 1998, Gallery Mount Castle, Colombo, Sri Lanka – 1997, Design Gallery Cappellini, Via Monte Napolieone Milan – 1995, Deutsches Textilmuseum Krefeld Germany – 1995, Galerie Smend, Colgne -1994, Design Center, Brussels – 1994, Casa Tessuti Lucerne, Switzerland – 1992, Werkgalerie Steinmann, Lucerne, Switzerland – 1992, and SHED Design Gallery, Milan – 1992. In his architectural and design studio in Colombo, he is currently engaged in digital animation using deconstructed images of his tapestries.
His line drawings, initially a doodling habit that began whilst working in the studio of architect Geoffrey Bawa, later evolved into interplay of line and space, incorporating the forms and curves of the Sinhala alphabet. Between 1969 and 1987 he exhibited his art in Milan, Rome, New York, Sao Paulo and Colombo. His recently published book, Ink Of Lanka (2009), gives a retrospective overview of his work, synthesising the line drawings, black and white photographs, and reviews by eminent art critics Pierre Restany and Bruno Munari, among others.
His art has involved a constant exploration of the limits of the line. In the 1970s whilst living in Rome and Milan, he gave these drawings a temporal dimension through his animated film, Andare of Sri Lanka, which represented Italy at the Oberhausen Film Festival (1978). More recently, he has translated his line drawings into life size wire sculptures, which employ light and shadow as an integral part of their aesthetic.
His work has been published in Domus, Abitare, Modo, Gap, Case, Design Diffusion News, Interni, and Architettura–OFX, and also reviewed in the Corriere Della Sera, La Republica, L’Unita, The Guardian, London, Rheiische Post, Koiner Stadt, Stadt Luzern. Several television documentaries have been produced on his work, namely, Ink Of Lanka – Ya TV, Modern Woven Art of Sri Lanka – Rupavahini Corporation, Voyage In The Modernity Of Weaving – Ya TV, Cinema Sittam – Rupavahini, Designs For Export – Rupavahini, Silpa – Teleshan.
Samarawickrema has lectured on his work at Carpenter Center, Harvard University, Boston; the Aga Khan Foundation, Kabul; I.S.M.E.O. (Institute for the Study of Mid and Extreme Orient) Rome; the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad; University of California, San Diego; Crafts Council of Australia Sydney; Crafts Revival Trust, New Delhi; Sri Lanka Institute of Architects National Conference, Colombo; American Center, Colombo; Fulbright Foundation, Colombo.