Weerakkodige Vasantha Perera (Self-published, 2008, 58pp)

“Cities arise, they exist, they flourish sheltering myriad forms of life. At times they crumble and decay into ruins and rubble to emerge into new life once again, when the conditions are ripe. Continual transformation is the process that cities and human settlements have to endure….” reads the abstract of this colourful book.

page from the sketchbook

A page from the sketchbook, showing ‘Man in a Purple Shirt’ (left), and ‘Old man with Glasses’ (right)

The statement cannot be more true of any city than Jaffna. Those of us who are not so fortunate to have seen the bygone glory of Jaffna, have imagined impressions of this great city exaggerated through media and the press for their own selfish benefits. Through ‘Jaffna – a Sketch book,’ artist Vasantha presents to us his first-hand experiences of contemporary Jaffna, going beyond rift and hatred, almost bringing its day-to-day activities to life. The sketches are a celebration of normalcy restored. It is as though a war never existed in this island and doesn’t exist anymore.

The interesting fact is that most or if not all the sketches and drawings in this beautifully crafted book were done during his visits to Jaffna at the turn of this century, when the war was at its worst, and most of Jaffna was destroyed. The many paintings of elderly people are subtle hints of the turbulence faced, but painted with hopeful eyes and beetle-strained smiles.

Being able to listen to the hush of our environment and enacting the beauty is a gift in itself. Vasantha is indeed gifted, not only as a talented artist but also as someone sensitive enough to establish an intimate relationship with the environment, see and hear intriguing sights and sound which others usually miss.

‘Common & Uncommon’

“On Cathedral Street in Gurunagar, I saw an old house, which was built in 1012 with an interesting roof. Since the house was built in the colonial period, it is decorated with carved window frames and doors. However the terracotta corner tiles and roofs inspired me more! These beautifully created art pieces, standing among the old decayed tiles, spoke to me about the vanished glory of this art. I added two rock pigeons commonly found in Jaffna to balance the uncommon roof.”

His style of painting, where the attention to detail is almost photographic, serves to bring home a message which the book conveys very forcefully. The minute details of the diverse designs on the sarongs of the men drawn without the upper torso, striving to haul in the net full of fish conveys not only the effort but also the unity among the diverse personalities.

Vasantha has not captured in beautiful watercolour paintings and unadulterated phrases simply what he sees. He has painted what he wants to see and what he wants us to see……..

….. And may we all see it sooner than later.

Reviewed by Zeena Marikkar