My Giant.

Family, Milestones, Remembrance

My father was a difficult man to love.

But ask anyone who knew him and they’ll tell you he was an equally difficult man to hate. It just wasn’t possible to be angry with him for too long. And there was bloody good reason for this.

They say to forgive is divine, but from my father I learned that asking for forgiveness was a far greater act. And he lived by this philosophy, being the first to acknowledge his mistakes and be humble enough to say he is sorry. And in that humility, I saw a powerful man.

Unlike most women, I wouldn’t call him my first love or that I fell in love with someone just like my Daddy. Instead, I saw my father as a force to be reckoned with. He was always this giant, larger-than-life presence in my life. I saw a titan; a god-like figure who had the power to stand in the way of everything I wanted. To take him on, I too would have to become a giant.


And so began a lifelong rebellion of broken rules and having it no other way than my own. Our battles were of epic proportions, putting even the Olympians to shame. His voice would bellow out commands for everyone in a 5-mile radius to hear. I was having none of it.

What we both probably failed to realize at the time was something the rest of the family would constantly point out to us over the years; we are exactly alike. My father and I were twin flames. We were born with the same fiery spirits and that means nothing could bring us down.


As I grew older I began to see what everyone was on about. I am very much my father’s daughter and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I embrace the loud mouth, the impassioned spirit and the larger-than-life heart I have inherited. Every part of him I battled with was already a part of me. And everything he wanted to pass on to the son he never had, he has unwittingly passed on to me. I am Tony Soysa’s daughter, the blood of his blood and his spirit that lives on. I take no man’s name but his and I will carry it with honour all the way to my own grave.

Despite how much I fought him, when I was hurt, wounded or in trouble, it was always him I would turn to. I needed my Daddy to hold me as I cried and tell me everything would be ok. And he did. Time after time. The moment’s when I’ve needed him over anyone else in my life have been innumerable. And I will never forget them.

Cancer is a dirty word; a vicious, ugly beast that takes and takes and takes. Seeing him disintegrate into a shadow of himself in those last few weeks were the hardest to bare. But it is not those days I chose to remember him by. I will remember him as he lived – the life of the party, the loudest voice in the room, the most generous of hearts. The Legend.

This passionate, violent, overpowering man has left me with nearly four decades of memories, both good and bad. Each memory with so much life and fervor that it was never possible to doubt his lust for life itself. If I go about things impassioned, it is only because of him. His loud, boisterous ways are very much a part of who I am today.

Tony Soysa was an adventurer. There always seemed to be another mountain to climb, another story to tell. I am a traveller like my father and I learn more from my journeys than I do at home. I will see him every sunset I capture, in every rising sun I drive by. I will remember him with every new voyage I embark on, every ocean I cross and every story I live to tell.

I love animals more than humans – yet another thing I’ve inherited from the incorrigible Mr. Soysa. Together we have been midwives to the birthing of a few dozen puppies; fed them, loved them and learned to let them go. We raised dogs, eagles, tortoise, rock squirrels, a cock bird and a mongoose named Rusty who would sit on Daddy’s shoulders and share his morning cup of tea.

Perhaps the greatest gift he leaves me with is honesty. My father believed in saying what he had to say, straight to your face. There were no hidden agendas or duplicitousness about him. While he may not have had much tact in his approach, he always said what he had to say. He didn’t believe in keeping things unsaid or harbouring grudges. In world full of lies and deceit, this is the most honourable way to live.

He wanted a son to carry on his family name, but as life’s ironies go – he was given daughters. But in his oldest daughter’s rebellious choice to be a single mother, his name lives on. Like me, my son will carry no other name than my fathers. We are all proud, fierce spirits from father to daughter to grandson and we will honour this spirit by bearing the same name.

Daddy you are the blood of my blood and your legacy lives on in Lucas. This, I promise.


My father was a giant because of his giant-sized heart.

I have stood on the shoulders of a giant, overwhelming man and it is only in doing so that I have become a giant. Nothing, no body and no circumstance will bring me down. We have both lived through hell and dragged ourselves all the way back into the light. The lessons I have learned from my father, I will pass on to my son: be an adventurer, love all beings, admit your mistakes and most of all, be honest no matter the cost.

Let’s carry his name with honour Lucas, all the days of our lives.


My father’s passing leaves a giant void in my life. All I can do now is remember that I am his daughter and honour him in a promise that will live on long after we are all long gone.

I am Tony Soysa’s daughter and his blood still flows with every beat of my heart.

Dear St. Peter, I apologize in advance. He’s probably giving you hell.



Sounds of the Underground

Music, Photography, Published Articles, Published Work, Reviews


Colombo, 1999

I can still remember the smoky exteriors of the 80 Club down Independence Avenue that night.

I was revisiting a place where my late grandfather was once an office bearer. This meant I was forced into the club’s Christmas parties; an annual episode that would eventually end up with me throwing a shit-fit. A large breaded man in a red suit tried to carry me and give me presents. I was having none of that!

Coming back nearly 2 decades later to have a drink with friends, I was  lucky to be witness to a group of surly young teenagers attempt to play heavy metal. Ok, so they were no Motorhead, but was I hearing what I was hearing? Someone was actually doing something heavier than CCR?

Hallelujah. This is good, very good. But was this to be a flash-in-the-pan sort of thing, or did it have the wings to fly?



Colombo, 2016

The surly teenagers are now grown men. And their cup runneth over.

A colossal scene has emerged in the world of underground music. A million mushroom operations have bloomed, and some very successfully. Hela Black Metal, Rock Fusion, Pure Sri Lankan Metal, Anarchy – call it what you may, but we’re on to something good. Really good. Sri Lankan musicians are touring the world, and a new generation of metal heads are born. Nails painted black, these broody figures find release in the music and go forth into the world exhilarated for having experienced this sonic boom.

LT Magazine’s March 2016 issue has just hit shelves. Its cover story, Sounds of the Underground was produced by yours truly; a story I must have been writing in my head since that smoke-drenched night at the 80 Club 16 years ago. I write this story because it’s a darn shame that more of you haven’t heard the world-class sounds of your own country. I shouldn’t be one of a handful of music lovers spoilt for choice. Now more than ever, when our outstanding craftsmanship is being acknowledged by experts from across the world, this story must be heard.

If you come across this cover in bookshop, gallery or supermarket – take the time to pick it up. Especially if you claim to love good music. Listen to Sri Lanka’s rich underground that’s been nearly 2 decades in the making. Listen to it before you put on your radio and let Justin Beiber take you away again.


Pettah 2014

Single, Mother?

Photography, Published Articles, Published Work

Originally published in the Women & Media Collective periodical OPTIONS, in October 2015. The photo essay discusses single motherhood – a cause that hits too close to home. I share my story so that other single mums know they are not alone. And I demand that both state and society acknowledge us and our children.

The issue was curated by Dr. Shermal Wijewardena.



In 2010, Social Services Minister Felix Perera announced that a staggering 23% of households in the country function as single parent ones.

After three decades of war, this isn’t really surprising, and there is much respect for war widows here.

But what about single mothers who can’t speak of such tragedy—those who became pregnant and bravely decided to journey onward alone? And what of wives who are abandoned without child support?


One woman, then, must become mother, father, breadwinner, nurturer and more.

This is a struggle that neither society nor the government has stopped to acknowledge. In fact, these women face disrespect and shame.

I would know – I am one.



Finding a place to house us was near impossible at first.

One landlord demanded that I vacate their premises because I was pregnant without a husband. Three others have lodged reports with the police, claiming I was a sex worker.

My husband works overseas, I now say, toting a fake ring, or else doors would be slammed shut in my face.



How is it that you have a child and no husband? How can you afford to run a household on a woman’s income?

Having to answer these questions on my own becomes exhausting – and not something I have the luxury of time to endure. But I have in fact spent many hours at many police stations, sometimes with lawyers, answering many ridiculous questions thrown my way.



No place of work has been able to acknowledge my circumstances as special ones. If the state doesn’t recognize me, why would private organizations find the need to?

I can’t come to work today because there’s no one to take care of my son.

I’m sorry, that’s not acceptable. There are other mothers at work.

Yes, but they aren’t single parent households. (And I suppose no one really understands what that means.)



And what of our children? When their birth certificates unabashedly state ‘parents unmarried’ or ‘father unknown’, how do you get them into school?

Would a school want to be associated with such a child when most other children come from ‘good homes’ and ‘good families’?

What does that mean really? Does it mean that my home is not ‘good’ because there isn’t a husband in it? That my endless trials ahead make my family a ‘bad’ one? That I must pay for the sin of choosing to raise my child alone?



The question is simple, why am I not acknowledged?

I don’t asked to be put on a pedestal, my son does that for me every day. Merely to be acknowledged so the road isn’t so long.

And so I’m not laying awake at night, wondering what tomorrow holds.


In Conversation: SURESH DE SILVA

Interviews, Music, Photography, Published Articles, Published Work

Originally published in LT Magazine, People feature, September 2015


A crazy diamond. A shooting star. A rider on the storm.

Suresh de Silva can be called many things, but the one thing that truly stands out is his boundless talent. He spent the last 15 years as an ad-man, writer and caregiver to the many stray canines who now form a part of his home and family. But rock & roll fans know him as the front-man an vocalist of Stigmata, the island’s pioneering metal band, now in its 15th year of existence, with multiple albums and international performances to their name. His performance of Judas Iscariot in the Workshop Players’ production of Jesus Christ Superstar, his recent collaboration with classical baritone Sanjeev Niles and the lyrics to practically every song Stigmata has recorded, combine to propel the notion that we are very much a breeding ground for originality in Sri Lanka.

As he prepares to launch the band’s 4th album, embark on a tour of New Zealand and finish his debut novel, Suresh looks back on his journey with us, leading on to where we have come as a music industry today.

What do you love about our island?

That Sri Lankans can be very easily underestimated. We are called lethargic and narrow minded. But I think there is an embedded propensity to be more that what we are. I think that’s where you push the ordinary into the realm of something extraordinary. There are a lot of Sri Lankans in a lot of industries who are doing that and will continue to do so.

How do you measure success?

The generic formula is judged by how much money you’ve made, ROI and how well evolved your lifestyle and living conditions are. But look through history – from Beethoven to Paganini to Janis Joplin – their successes haven’t been measured by these things. For me I think it’s what you leave behind. If you are in a creative professional, what you aspire to leave behind is a legacy and how many people are loyal to you and how many lives you’ve changed as a result. As a musician, if you have a steadfast discography and memorable performances, then you have that legacy.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Primarily the band, because they push me to create at a whole new level. And everything around me, really. An article, a film or a life experience that I go through – they all fuel the inspiration.

What was it like to don the robes of Judas Iscariot?

It was an official production of the international franchise under approval by Andrew Lloyd Webber so it was a dream-come-true. I firmly believe that the workshop players are the only ones who could have pulled it off and its one of the reasons I wanted to be involved. I don’t think I’ve surrounded myself with so many talent people at the same time. Judas was a troubled man and it was a challenge to pull off the role, even vocally.


What’s your favourite Sri Lankan food & drink?

Food? That has to be rathu kakulu (red rice). A good pork curry, pol sambol, amba curry, papadam and fried chilies. A good Sri Lankan rice and curry basically. With drinks, if it’s hard spirits then arrack and if it’s not, it’s got to be EGB.

Have you seen the underground music scene grow in recent years?

It’s a paradox – the things we are lacking are the very things that have triggered a massive outburst of creativity. Innovation, foresight and great talent are always present, but only a handful knows how to put Sri Lanka on the map,
irrespective of genre.

You have over 25000 fans. That can’t really be an underground.

We had an audience of 35,000 people at our Dhaka. I think it’s because we’ve made brand and band correlate. We’ve created great equity for ourselves. They say the devils in the details; we’ve been meticulous with the quality of everything we’ve done. We always had the gift of being able to create and capture those musical moments on record, but we’ve also been able to deliver them live.

The average listener finds heavy metal hard to digest. Why is this and why don’t we have more metal fans here?

I think people tend to get perplexed and a little intimidated by something they can’t fully wrap their heads around. What you can’t understand, you can’t categorize or put into a box. Metal has multiple connotations and that’s not for everyone, I suppose.  You can’t merely experience music as background artistry, especially music like this. Having said that I think people here are becoming bolder and braver – not merely with musical choices but in their willingness to explore.


What do you feel the industry lacks from an infrastructural standpoint?

There is no point complaining of a lack of infrastructure. There is no use complaining – you build with what you have. We have made international alliances on our own, that’s how we’re getting out there. We have 3 generations of fans for the scene now. Plus, there are a lot of gigs happening this year with the big 15 concert series to mark our 15 years as a band. The gigs are diverse with everyone pushing the boundaries of originality. Things are happening. We also see more corporates coming into to sponsor us; they see the value of the music and the intelligent fan-base it attracts. The reason it’s not moving entirely forward is the lack of volume in quality music, not infrastructure. We need more good music from every genre coming out to make this work.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a book – I’m done with two-thirds. But putting together an album and tour negotiations have got in the way. The book itself I can’t quite talk about other than to tell you that it is dark fantasy meets high crime in a Sri Lankan context. The 4th album, The Ascetic Paradox is also coming out this year and we’re touring New Zealand soon after the launch.

What can young musicians learn from your journey?

Never be averse to constructive criticism. In fact, be your own worst critique and always tell yourself you haven’t done your best yet. Tell yourself the next one is going to be. Someone in the audience is going to be mesmerized that day. You have to aspire to do that, to challenge yourself to be better. And of course, you have to stick to and believe in what you are doing to the very end.


Words & photography by Natalie Soysa.

The Soul Gallery, Parts IV, V, VI, VII & VIII

Interviews, Photography, Published Articles, Published Work, Reviews

I never got round to posting the last 5 articles of my column in The Nation titled ‘The Soul Gallery’. I did an 8 part series of interviews with some of the finest creatives souls on the island, unearthing and showcasing their work and process.

Parts I, II & III can be found here:

Part I – Sunara Jayamanne

Part II – Ruwangi Amarasinghe

Part III – Nihara Fernando

Here’s the rest:

Part IV – Shehara De Silva (BLUDGE)



An interview with graphic artist Shehara De Silva, on how failing art can create a successful artist

Shehara De Silva or Bludgy as she better known, has become an iconic designer who opts to use t’shirts as her canvases and medium of expression. Together with her partner Sala, she launched ‘Bludge’ a label of limited edition t’shirts just over two years ago after quitting a long time career in advertising. The label is not only a derivative of Shehara’s nickname but was also named in reference to a Bludger, loosely translated as slang for a lazy person. Her designs are anything but lazy however, they are packed with a myriad stories, interpreted on so many levels. I’d like to think that these very artistically imprinted t’shirts stand for the anti-rat-race, because from the outside world’s perspective, if you’re not going to work, you must be a lazy person, a failure. With Sala, Bludgy and their very different way of life, this is most certainly not the case.

I sat down with Bludgy a few days ago in her colourful and very chilled out home, to talk about what life has been like, working from home, creating art, making a living and managing to squeeze in plenty of lazy time by not going to work anymore. My conversation with her is the fourth installment of the Soul Gallery, a series of interviews with some of the most dynamic artists in Sri Lanka’s currently expanding creative scene. I am reminded of the new wave of many people quitting their jobs to make a go of it on their own; tired of working for someone else’s gain and unable to express themselves in environments that predetermine the expected outcome. “At office, you have to work to someone else’s timetable, at home I set my own pace and I’m free to work the way I want to” says Bludgy, in addition to all the other obvious benefits of not having to worry about to what to wear, fight through morning traffic and get to work already exhausted. Remove the unnecessary elements out of the working process and you just might get a better outcome.


Bludgy’s life embodies a credo that the Bludge brand itself stands for – do what you love and love what you do. I wanted to know how this manifested itself in her art so I ask her where the inspiration comes from. “My designs have a lot to do with the life I lead.” she tells me, “Bludge is a way of life and all my designs wind up reflecting that”. I delve deeper wanting to know what her creative process is like: “I really don’t know where the design is going until I am finished. I simply ask myself ‘what if’ along every step of the way”. She tries out every possible perspective with each element, breaking obvious design rules to create some truly memorable designs, each printed in a limited number to retain its artistic exclusivity. She goes on to tell me that all her designs are “essentially creating different faces. And everyone who looks at it tends to see a different aspect to that face, one they can relate to”. Looking over some of her designs such as ‘TransPorter’, ‘LunaTrip’, ‘Bludgersaurus’, ‘Spaced Out’ etc, you recognize the truth in her words, meeting the strangest of characters, each with familiar elements such as the Flower of Life, Rasta iconography and even what I would like to think is a graphic imprint of a Sri Lankan yaka mask, all becoming calling cards to a dynamic, new breed of free thinking Sri Lankans.

In an attempt to find common threads across the different creative people I have interviewed I ask them all the same question: did your education shape the creative person you are today?  “I failed art in school” says Bludgy completely unabashedly, “but I always had colouring books at home, because I loved art”. The art classes in school defined what she would have to draw and “I don’t like drawing scenery and stuff really. Besides the good food in the hostel, school in general was a waste of my time”. Some of the most successful and creative minds of the past century have been drop outs and failures in school – names as big as Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Thomas Edison.  Einstein grew up to become one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time, with one of the most creative intellects in human history but left school at 15 with no certificate and poor grades overall. Edison, went on to become the greatest inventor of his time but was called ‘addled’ by one of his teaches at age 8 after which he was taken out of school. Darwin revolutionized the science of biology but was called a disgrace by his father after he failed at numerous subjects that had merely bored him at the time. Our children are taught of their successes, but maybe there maybe some merit in letting them know that the system doesn’t work for everyone. Some children are made to feel like complete failures when they fail at the school process and it makes you wonder if they could have become some of society’s greatest contributors instead.

We talk about how the average person opens their minds to different types of art, especially in the context of how much art has suddenly begun to explode across the country since of late. There would be no point to this new wave of expression, if they aren’t going to be understood or appreciated. But Bludgy tells me that art is about connecting things and to be able to make those connections, you need to open your mind. “People have to possess a need to learn more and see more. That curiosity and that need is a must. That’s how you open your mind to art. People need to think more”. You can’t change your perspective if you only expose yourself to the same things over and over again. And according to Bludgy, to experience art you must experience the world at large and not limit yourself to the same spaces and places. Changing your perspective helps you change yourself and changing yourself, is quite possibly the only way to change the world.

PART V – Malaka Premasiri


An interview with photographer Malaka Premasiri, on the passion for artistic experimentation

Malaka Premasiri - Self Portrait

Not many Sri Lankans deem photography an art form. We hire photographers to cover our events, special occasions, capture moments, photograph our brands for advertising – but the pictures that take our breath away aren’t usually the ones we consider paying for. We stop to look, admire and move on. What we fail to realize is that these very photographs are the ones the people taking them are most passionate about. Ones that make them push the photographer to experiment and take the medium’s boundaries a step further.

After interviewing four women artists, I thought it would be good to get a man’s perspective on the expanding arts scene for my fifth interview; Malaka Premasiri, a photographer with a passion for experimentation whose work is standing apart simply because he didn’t compromise his craft simply to make the sale. “A friend once told me you shouldn’t go after money, you should just do what you’re doing” he tells me and it’s exactly what he did; a policy which is paying off now.

A few years ago, Malaka had no idea that a photographer’s eye instinctively resided within him. He started taking photographs of landscapes that caught his eye with a phone camera just for the fun of it. People started to notice the work he was doing and encouraged him on. This lead to him purchasing a small point & shoot camera and eventually a DSLR a couple of years ago. Incidentally I came across a photograph of his taken of the Kalutara Bodiya a few years ago (shown here), with the lights of the traffic on the streets captured by a technique called ‘long exposure’, which basically means you expose your image to allow light in for a longer period of time during the time of capture. The result was breathtaking and I have since followed his work diligently, always curious to know the man behind the photograph. He tells me now that it wasn’t even captured with a DSLR because he didn’t own one at the time. “I sold it for more than what the camera was worth. It’s really not about the camera you use”, a valuable point to note to the many photography enthusiasts who assume that equipment makes the photographer.

A recent series of captures by Malaka grabbed my attention again just over a month ago. He was invited by theater director Ruvin de Silva to take some headshots of the cast of his new play, ‘After Class’ for pre-publicity purposes. Malaka had other ideas brewing in his head, however. “I asked if I could do something different. I watched a few rehearsals, to get a feel for the play and the characters and only then brought in my gear to shoot. By the time I came to watch the play as an audience member I had already seen in about 4 times over”. It probably helped that the client was also a creative soul because the results, (shown here) were other-worldly to say the least. Sometimes it pays to allow the photographer to have a creative input into the job you ask of them, because they just might see something from a perspective that you haven’t. I think it applies to all creative fields that we commission work from, in fact.

After Class - Drama Kalutara Bodiya sdf

As with my other interviews, I broach the topic of school,  having been told by my other interviewees that school had very little bearing on the people they are today, including a very successful artist who failed art! Malaka smiles and agrees, because his discovery of photography happened completely by chance with a phone camera after all. I laugh, not finding the need to delve further, simply because this forming pattern is coincidentally similar; school has nothing or very little to do with the many faces behind the arts scene today. I’m learning to accept that.

We go on to discuss the subject of making it in a world that sometimes pays more attention to their busy lives than pause to notice art. He thinks social media has become a great motivator and learning base. But, “you have to find a clever way to display your work, both inside social media and outside it.” he says, “It’s how different you make yourself as well, you need to create yourself along with your art”. This is true, I think – recalling that the most standout artists of all time are also those with distinct personalities. I recall the first names that come to me when I think of art – Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Alex Grey – all eccentrics, remembered equally for their work as well as their individuality.

Social media still has its limitations in Sri Lanka. While it is a good starting base for an artist or photographer, it helps to expand your horizons in terms of exposure. We discuss the role that mainstream media could possibly play; “Established artists always have publicity. I think mainstream media needs to give new artists more exposure or even the public won’t see anything new after a while”.

I am curious to know of his process, how he learned and what drives him as a photographer. He tells me he learned by reading online and experimenting with his camera. He says he loves freezing time, and from what I am gathering, also slowing it down. “I used to wake up early morning and walk around with my camera. I used to go to the Bellanwila Temple, the Pettah Market…. I miss that, I should start doing it again. He pauses for a moment, “Firstly I am a selfish photographer. I take the picture for myself. If I like it, then someone else can see it.”. 

It is probably a good way to go about it. You can’t expect the world to be moved by your work unless it can also affect you powerfully. “I want my work to be an eye opener to people from my perspective, but first it has to be an eye-opener for me”.

PART VI – Deeandra Bulner 

In conversation with artist Deeandra Bulner, on appreciating the tiny things in life

Deandra Bulner

“I’d like to shrink everything and create a little fantasy world” says Deeandra, reminding me of the miniature world Alice visited after having a shrinking portion in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. Deeandra Bulner is a young artist who creates and sculpts miniatures with clay, polymer and paint. In a world where everything is blown out of proportion and the demand is always for things that are larger-than-life, it’s been a refreshing experience to discover this little universe of miniatures that she has created.

This is the sixth in a series of interviews that I’ve been doing with the aim of introducing a few of the myriad new genres of art happening in the country as well as the faces behind the work. Interestingly I have found many common threads among these many artists that may serve as a learning point when it comes to the aesthetic learning experiences of our children. Each coming from different backgrounds, opting for varied tools and mediums, all told me that learning art in school was one of their least favourite experiences, and Deeandra is no exception to the rule. “I didn’t care much for the art stuff in school because they would always tell you what to draw, like Vesak Night or a waterfall.” she tells me. In reference to her art of making miniatures, she tells me that “as much as I would love to thank my school education for this, I really can’t. I didn’t really pay attention to art in school, but you would have been able to spot my text books, because all of them were covered in doodles”. On some level, you would probably think it shocking that artists were not good at art in school but it is sadly becoming the gospel truth in most cases. The very institution created to help us discover ourselves has very little to do with the people we eventually become and this is especially apparent with artists today.

I am interested to find out why she opted to make miniatures in the first place. “It’s very simple really, I just thrive on taking a normal day-to-day thing and scaling it down. And I like that it can be very personal. People who buy them relate to the same things I make. A photographer wanted miniature camera earrings, another wanted a boom box.” Her work however, isn’t only for custom orders, her creative process involves making things that catch her eye, having always loved modeling with clay since she was a child. “I always wanted to work with clay and I used to make miniature clay things as a kid too. Like coconut trees and slippers.” I also observe how her miniatures have multiple uses, allowing her to make jewelry, household wall and counter décor pieces, paper weights, other items for workspaces and much more. The possibilities seem endless. “Most of the time I try to replicate something and then my mind will tell me that it might look cool hanging off someone’s ear. Or I’ll make bowls and owls and indigenous faces….” she trails off.

What does she really want people who purchase her pieces to get out of it? We take her jewelry as an example. “You could say that I never think about the functional. I love when it’s personal because it almost always that adds so much of detail. I’d like for them to think that jewelry doesn’t need to be precious stones and gems – its value is not in how many karats but who gave it to you and what it meant. That being said, sometimes I just make things because they look nice or trendy… but that is also part and parcel of making the person who buys it look or feel good I guess.”

I direct our conversation to a topic that’s been on my mind, the sharing of knowledge. The greatest of artists are acclaimed for creating novel pieces or styles, like Picasso for instance. But when you discover something new, do you keep the secret to yourself or pass on your knowledge to anyone else who also wants to do what you’re doing? Deeandra gives me a very candid response: “I’ve actually already told someone else how to, about the clay and where to get it from. I don’t know what she is doing with the info I gave her but I gave it. I’ll be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first but I made myself do it because when I approached a few people, (not to ask them how to but more like where do I get this from and how do I buy it) I noticed the hesitation to not want to give me the details.” I am taken aback by her honesty. “It’s important to share so we also can improve. I might not be able to do something that someone else will do with this clay and that notion itself is kind of a challenge to do something new to come up with something new and to be able to share a craft is also kind of cool right?” I’m smiling right through her response. Yes, Deeandra, it’s very cool.

IMG_0346 IMG_0381 IMG_0386

Deeandra was open and honest enough to tell me she was hesitant to pass on her knowledge, but clearly the risk was worth it because she is now in discussion with other artists and artist forums who make similar art, exchanging information and ideas regularly, each aimed at helping each other improve and possibly even collaborate. Honesty is a very refreshing discovery in such a young artist, but it’s an essential one; art is one of mankind’s few means of honesty. It makes you feel at all because it has come from an emotional place within the artist. In a world of constant deceit and lies, art is a possible opening for each of us to at least be honest with ourselves.

PART VII – PUSH Skateboards

In conversation with graphic artists Hash & Umanga, on starting a skateboard culture in Sri Lanka


Skateboarding culture maybe new to Sri Lanka with the recent launch of PUSH Skateboards by graphic artists Hash Bandara and Umanga Samarasinghe, but is in fact a sub-culture even older than the 80’s punk era which brought skateboarding and graffiti, into prominence. Skateboarding first began in the 50’s when California surfers wanted to ‘street-surf’ when the surf wasn’t up.

One of the most interesting things about the new movement of art in the country is that it takes elements of different cultures, giving it a Sri Lankan interpretation. This is also the case with PUSH Skateboards, with Hash and Umanga creating graphic art based collections of skateboards and accompanying t-shirts that relate to Sri Lankan youth.

Why would artists want to create a brand of skateboards, using them as their canvases? “We were into skateboarding since we were small.” they tell me, but they couldn’t find proper skateboards in the country which lead them to the idea in the first place.  They also believe it can be a positive influence. “Skateboarding became our life and helped us become who we are today. Every teen goes through issues and skating became an addiction that kept us away from other issues. It made us feel more independent”. They want to pass on the influence it brought into their lives to other young kids as well. “We want them to get a feel of freedom, a feel of art and we also hope that skateboarding will help these kids concentrate on something productive rather than something negative.”

Not every kid in the country knows how to skate however, so I ask them how they plan to reach kids through a medium that they are unfamiliar with, i.e. skateboarding. “We teach everyone who wants to learn”, they tell me. Hash and Umanga host a series of weekly events called Skate Sunday’s, where they teach children how to skate and also visit schools, explaining the concept of skateboarding. They are planning a skate jam in early June as well.

I ask them what inspires the art behind the collections itself, noticing the fascinating and colourful imagery that is the brand’s calling card, creating strange personalities and mythical creatures that seem to come together thematically. Hash says she is inspired by nature, music and Asian culture, while Umanga is drawn to fantasy and mythology. “We both do different designs, but we keep to one theme with each collection”. They are incidentally both designers who come from very different design disciplines, Umanga being a fashion designer and Hash, a graphic designer. They didn’t start out planning on being artists at all, incidentally. “I could never draw in school, I hated arts. One of my teachers told me I can’t draw so I never wanted to draw. I did my degree in law for two years and figured it’s not what I wanted to do with my life. So I took a year off. Travelled around Asia a bit and then decided to study design. Umanga started studying to be a pilot & ended up studying Fashion” says Hash.

This piques my curiosity wanting to know the story behind how a would-be lawyer and would-be pilot are now artists and owners of Sri Lanka’s first skateboarding brand. When did they realize that there was an artist inside each of them? Hash goes first “I realized it when I was doing my LLB degree. I started doodling all over my books because the subjects were so boring and it became a habit. I started putting my thoughts into my doodles. My brother saw one of them and said I should be in advertising. That’s what made me give up law and go in to graphic design.


The would-be pilot tells me a funny story: “I realized I could draw since I was small. I realized it when all the kids in my class started asking me to draw birthday cards and do their art homework. I was also asked to draw cover pages a children’s books when I was 16.” Then why decide to become a pilot, I wonder. “I wanted to work for the forces and become a pilot but the Air Force didn’t take me because I was short”.

I laugh along but I also realize that what she is doing now is no less heroic. Artists change the world too, they do it by changing the way people see things. They make themselves vulnerable by pouring out their hearts into their work to help others find a sense of honesty and something they can relate to. That makes an artist a hero too.

PART VIII – Sachini Perera

In conversation with photographer Sachini Perera on the art of live music photography

Sachini Perera

When I think of live music photography my mind is instantly drawn to iconic photographs from the 60’s like Jim Marshall’s epic portrayal of Johnny Cash giving the camera his middle finger in the middle of the legendary Fulsom Prison concert or his depiction of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at the ’69 Monterey Pop Festival. Photographs served to make musicians just as much as their music did in the era before the music video and the craft has continued today, even in Sri Lanka where gig photography is becoming a booming passion with a host of shutterbugs lining the stages at most live music events today.

One of the first few people to start covering these events as far back as 2006, and in fact the first person to start taking gig photography seriously is Sachini Perera, who will be having her debut photography exhibition of live music photography titled ‘The Show Must Go On’ next weekend, the 8th & 9th of June at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery. “At first it was just me playing around with a point and shoot camera, trying to manipulate the lighting at gigs” she tells me, “and I used to take a camera and take a few shots because I used to blog about these gigs and wanted accompanying photos. But then as I started taking photos, I realized that there was drama and theatrics in these performances, especially in heavy metal which I was new to at the time”.

Slowly her work started getting recognized, with both the bands and their respective fans eagerly awaiting photographs from the gigs they performed at or attended. The bands she chose to photograph like Stigmata, Paranoid Earthlings, Thriloka, Funeral in Heaven etc., were not mainstream musicians and since of late the social media boom along with her photography and those of others who have now joined in the passionate pursuit of gig photography have contributed immensely to bringing their music to the limelight. “I started receiving some positive feedback for the moments I captured. It was new territory because most of these bands had a limited audience to begin with. After a while, the performers also started to respond to my camera and to the cameras of others”.

She has to date not charged a single artist for the photographs she has taken, other than for a few media publications who have featured her work. Instead, her payment is “just the thrill of adding an extra element to the experience of live performances and the satisfaction of the feedback I receive from the performers as well as the audience.” Her focus is on “wanting to portray these performances in the best ways possible, of wanting to promote them so that they receive the support they need to continue what they do.” Interestingly Sachini doesn’t only shoot heavy metal and rock & roll concerts, her live music photography extends to classical music, jazz, fusion artists, experimental sessions, informal jams and many others.

With this new boom of live music photographers, many opt for a lot of post production work and image manipulation instead of releasing their original captures. I was interested to know Sachini’s take on this. “With the technology and tools that are available, it’s easy to manipulate photos to look good on computer screens. If you’re only looking for the gratification of a bunch of people “liking” your photos, then I supposed that would be enough for you, but if you’re interested in honing your skills further then you need to take a step back and critique yourself. Selecting photos for this exhibition has made me look at my work more critically than ever before and I’m very grateful that I’m not dependent on editing for the final outcome of my photos

As a huge fan of the godfather of Rock & Roll photography, the late Jim Marshall, I feel the need to draw another example from his life in relation to what Sachini told me next. Jim wasn’t just an impersonal photographer, he became close personal friends with the musicians her captured, shooting them off-stage as well as at informal off-stage session, which lead him to becoming the only photographer allowed behind the scenes at Woodstock. Sachini’s story, in a local context, is similar. “I’m very biased towards Thriloka and have been following them from the very beginning with my camera and all the shots I’ve taken of them are associated with great memories. Especially some shots taken when they invited me to photograph them on the first day of recording for their last album.

I move on to my favourite topic with all the artists I interview – did your education or schooling play a role in the artist you have become today? Sachini says it didn’t play much of a role at all. “It was actually my family and upbringing that was more influential in me picking up the camera. I have been truly lucky to have parents who have given me a free rein from a very young age to pursue anything I’m interested in, which has made me fearless to pursue things that my school teachers actually tried to stop me from pursuing. I come from a family of doctors and many people, including my teachers saw that as the natural progression for myself as well. My father had to personally come into the school I was in at the time and tell the teachers that he is completely on board regarding my plan to do Arts and moved me to a school that catered better towards this.” She is blessed to have had parents who didn’t leave it to an academic system that has clearly failed the aesthetically inclined.

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We close our conversation on the topic what it takes to make an artist and the need for disruption. “Recently I gave a TED talk on positive disruption and my concluding message was that you need to take a leap of faith in order to positively disrupt. The tools are available. You just need to put yourself out there.” She tells me disruption is necessary “because that is the only way we can progress and move forward. It is imperative to think out of the box, to disrupt tried and tested methods, to shake things up, to make some noise. Many things that I now consider achievements in my life so far are happy accidents from disrupting” Most artists have discovered themselves purely by accident; a point to note for the many young people out there, who have no idea that an artist’s soul resides within them.

Collaboration is the Cure

Music, Reviews

Suresh De Silva in collaboration with classical baritone, Sanjeev Niles. Cadence_of_Your_Tears

On a small island encumbered with politics, one would hope that it could at least escape the world of creativity that ideally shouldn’t tolerate any form of it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The few instances of fusion and collaboration however, hint at the possibility for artists to cross these imaginary divides, learn from each other and create work that stands apart from the rest. To put it as plainly as possible: if we work together, our differences will only fuel greater things to come.

It’s been a while since I was inclined to write about new music. My writing since of late has been of a socio-political nature, from remembering the 1983 Black July riots to the paltry state of so-called development under the immediately outgoing regime.

I heard a piece of original music last evening however, that immediately spurred me on to want to write about music once again. First, a little background, since I am writing about an unlikely collaboration between two very different musicians:

Suresh De Silva is no stranger to original music. As a rock and metal musician, front-man and vocalist he has been writing music for nearly 15 years with his band Stigmata. His voice has grown tremendously over the last decade and I am proud to note that we have vocalist of his caliber on our soil. His fans are primarily (but not entirely) meatheads who are drawn to his growls and screeches, but his effortless vibratos and falsettos are what tend to make me catch my breath. There’s a quality to his voice that I am now finding hard to liken to any other and I suppose that’s the true mark of an original vocalist – being able to create a feel and texture that are truly one of a kind.

Suresh had been hinting on social media that he was collaborating with a classical vocalist and I for one was waiting eagerly to know more.

I think Suresh’s foray into Broadway has done him a world of good. For those of you who missed it, this mad metal voice donned the robes of Judas Iscariot in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar by the Workshop Players in 2013, expanding his vocal repertoire to newer heights.

A few weeks ago, Suresh announced that the musician he was collaborating with was Sanjeev Niles, a classical baritone. While I am all too familiar with Suresh’s voice, Sanjeev’s was a welcome and almost nostalgic surprise, taking me back to my own choirgirl days. Sanjeev tells me he has been performing with choirs and as a soloist for over a decade now, including with the Colombo Philharmonic and the Merry An Singers. He owes a lot of his training to Mary Anne David who I am sure will very proud of his latest work. While he is a classical musician, he is also a fan of some of the greatest rock outfits of all time including Iron Maiden, Nevermore, Blind Guardian and Metallica.

Suresh & Sanjeev have known each other for many years, but have just begun to realize the benefits of working together. Suresh De Silva, metal vocalist and Sanjeev Niles, classical baritone; the thought itself is intriguing enough, is it not?

After tireless weeks in the studio with Ravin David Ratnam of Paragon Productions, the duo were ready to let a few of us have a listen to the first track of their upcoming album.

Their voices are as different as chalk and cheese but for some indescribable reason, seem to work very well together. Cadence of Your Tears (Freedom’s Chains), co-written and performed by the two is beautiful new direction of original Sri Lankan music and I am keen to hear more, which I am told will include Sri Lankan instrumentation as well.

Sri Lankan instruments are rare and barely recognized by most young music lovers in the country who are drawn to monotonous western pop. Hats off to all musicians in the country who opt to include music of this nature in their original compositions such as Dr. Sumudi Suraweea and his Baliphonics project that re-presents the Bali ritual in a contemporary context, and Stigamata for Andura, their rendition of the Gajaga Wannama and the inclusion of Sri Lankan percussion in their 3rd album, Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom. Our youth are forgetting the rituals and music that the nation was founded on long before colonization and I for one am an advocate of returning to those roots and providing modern interpretations to our musical heritage.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand:

Kudos to Ravin for a great production and to the collaborators for making me want to know more, hear more and get more of this very unique sound. Applause also to young visual artist Madhri Samaranayake, for creating the artwork that accompanied the single. Creative projects that bring together multidisciplinary aspects of art will always have a place close to my heart and while this is primarily a musical production, bringing in visual dynamics to it, make it all the more powerful.

While classical and heavy metal music have combined around the world, I was yet see this kind of ‘coming together’ in Sri Lanka. Having been a fan of the likes of Devin Townsend whose work transcends musical genres and of course symphonic power metal outfit, Nightwish with their original operatic vocalist Tarja Turunen among others, I’ve long awaited this kind of cross-genre sound being created here.

While outfits like Thriloka infuse rock with jazz, no one has ventured into a fusion of the operatic sphere with metal thus far – or at least until last evening, that is. A track is released and will be available for public listening within a week. Add to that, an entire album is in production. That long breath I was holding can now be exhaled with absolute joy.

Suresh & Sanjeev, for doing this you not only have my applause, you also have my gratitude. You are among a few rare testaments to what creativity and art are all about. Collaboration truly is the cure.


Photography by: Aabhisek Mikael Gunaratnam

How is this Development?

Photography, Published Articles, Published Work

Originally published on Groundviews on 6th January 2014.


A few months ago, I travelled to Jaffna.

I saw a very different, ‘developed’ Jaffna than the one I had visited just a few years previously in 2011; a mall, 3D cinema, new buildings and many other new developments in the process of construction.

The people of Jaffna however, seem to be unchanged.

They dress the same, they talk the same. There are no denim clad females; instead they still opt to wear sari & salwar khameez. Who I saw, met and spoke with in depth everywhere I went, were people unchanged by the ways of so called development and post-war abundance.

I met people to whom the internet is just beginning to feel familiar to. I met people who believe that only bad girls wear jeans. I met people who told me that besides the city wide splendor, the rest of the peninsula, the Vanni and many other areas are still suffering from malnutrition, disease and a lack of education. Go see for yourself, they told me.

How is this development?

The people of the peninsula are possibly slightly less afraid, but still equally suspicious of the many despotic, controlling factions that seem to have taken little account of what the people and the arid lands across Jaffna actually needed or wanted at any point, be it the LTTE, the Sri Lanka army or the current political monarchy.

To the outside world, post-war Jaffna is becoming a booming hub of activity. A large portrait of Mahinda Rajapakse stands over the destroyed remains of the Kachcheri, authoritatively insisting that this destruction will never happen again. Oh, and the new Ninja Turtles movie was playing on a brand new 3D cinema complex.

Somehow the actual construction and rapid development plans happening in the peninsula seem to have little positive effect on the people there. They seem terrified, if anything. They have learned the fine art of being quiet, subservient souls so they go along with that which is new or strange, but do not revel in it – do not enjoy it. They are, in fact miserable.

How is this development?

I would like to think the government myopic but I think it’s more a case of megalomania than anything else. Who cares what Jaffna needs, what Sri Lanka needs is to show the world we are booming. So let’s build big buildings and monuments and war memorials. After all that’s what the rest of the developed world has done, have they not? From Trafalgar Square to the Arc de Triomphe to the giant monument now erected at Elephant Pass, bringing in thousands of visiting tourists from all over the country who stop by to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers of only one side of this battle.

We are not a developing nation. How can we claim to be one when we do nothing but erect structures, especially in peninsula that has known nothing but a three decade long war, little or outside communication and no electricity for a decade?

How is this development?


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The pictures that accompany this piece are what spurred me onto to write it in the first place. Drive a few kilometers out of the town, heading towards Casurina Beach and you will settle on the nearly 10 km radius garbage dump. A gargantuan one, with layers of dust and rubble and dirt, with moving figures of humans, tractors and animals, I would liken to the setting of a fantasy epic if not for the stench that rises from it. Wild life, livestock, birds and other stray animals feed on this garbage and drink the water leaking out of the bags and piles collected over years. Squatters in the area dig through the mountains of garbage, looking for forgotten items they could use or nearly edible food to fill their stomachs.

How the hell is this development?

The concept of development goes beyond construction. It takes into account many other factors from irrigation systems to efficient waste management and sustainable living. At the most banal level of defining development – if we aren’t living clean, we are just a partially good looking island, otherwise drowning in our own shit. Do the powers that be even understand the concept of longevity when it comes to designing a national development formula? It’s all a little more simple really; they want to look good now.

An unprecedented presidential election happens this week in Sri Lanka, but it’s also one that starts to finally give this island the idea that the power lies with her people, where it should have been all along.

Maybe for the first time ever, we need to set precedent, get off our opinionated derrieres and exercise our fundamental right and requirement to vote.

Don’t vote for a candidate.

Vote for the possibility that we can actually step out from this very stench that we have been placed within for generations, from riots to bombs to wars and a national facelift under the guise of post-war development.

I will not vote for a man that has done little to really develop a nation beyond highways, harbors and pretty little street lights.

I will not vote for garbage.