Kusal Gunasekara teaches art at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts. A dedicated and much loved teacher, Kusal probably doesn’t have enough time to do what he loves most (and what pays little, comparatively). Paint.
Well, he has time now. We all do, in fact. Kusal decided to do something he hasn’t done in a long time. Portraits. That’s his way of ‘asking (his) friends to be safe and spend (their) time in a profitable manner.’
Kusal decided to paint his wife Dilini. I don’t know about art. I don’t know about painting. Nothing about light and shadow. Nothing about composition. He had her sit by a window, light streaming in, with a book in her hand, Martin Wickramasinghe’s Bana Katha Sahithya (Buddhist Folk Literature), published in 1955. A good book to read.
Dilini says it was not a prop; she was actually reading the book. Like Kusal and of course like all of us, she’s quarantined and far away from Tiangong University (better known as Tianjin Polytechnic University) where she is in the final year of a doctoral program focusing on developing fabricating censors for the textile industry.
I don’t know if Kusal is trying to give a message with the choice of book, but Bana Katha Sahithya cannot hurt anyone. What is important is the overall message which he posted. ‘Be safe, be profitable.’ Reading alone is profitable, one can argue, but I am thinking more about portraits. Portraits of those close to us, people we love.
Not everyone can paint and even those who do dabble with easels, palettes and paint can’t communicate the way Kusal does. There are however more than one way to ‘portrait.’ You could write it down. You could sculpt. You could turn a person, a relationship or a particular memory into a melody. You could turn all of that into a conversation, a moment of togetherness or shared silence.
Let me try. How would I paint my daughters, one 18 and the other 16 plus?
Made of dreams. Decodes narratives encrusted in pebbles, stones, sea glass and shells. Gathers pigment from love and constellations which she mixes and makes fresh unnamed colors with dewdrops of yearning. Has made brushes from delicate hair dropped from myriad literary creatures. Her canvas is often a cloud picked from the astral territories that are her preferred home away from home. Rearranges drops of heart and mind. Thus does she slay her demons and gives wings to those who want to fly away to high cliffs and freedom. Thus does she celebrate the earth to which they will one day descend and find the truths that were perhaps once too embarrassing to embrace. She finds herself in these and other ways. She gets lost, happily. Cries in secret, I am sure, but smiles in her own coy ways she does not want the world to see. In her eyes, I see myself, I like to think, but wish for her a thousand gazes made of things I have never seen.
And the other? All heart. She was born in a distillery where the world’s knotty questions were dissolved and reduced to essence. She grew up learning words and their traps simply by using and abusing them. No one gifted light, shade and color; she moved and moves to those endearing and rare places where such things congregate in combination and distance that match the memory, agitation and resolution of the moment. She holds her tongue in her heart which is washed in proud tears she will not shed but which, by and by, cleanse and pardon that which is insufferable about the world. In her words, I see a myself that took many more decades to come into being, and I wish for her words that will fill a library or a poem that says it all, delicate in description and finesse. In ways I could never imagine or write.
We are sequestered. This is a moment for appreciation. For love. Kusal Gunasekara, artist, teacher, cousin and friend, has spoken. I heard.
Heroes of our times Let’s start with the credits, shall we?
The ‘We’ that ‘I’ forgot ‘Duwapang Askey,’ screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let’s learn the art of embracing damage
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where’s your ‘One, Galle Face’?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane