The Soul Gallery, Part I: Sunara Jayamanne

An interview with local artist Sunara Jayamanne, on how art affects life published in today’s NATION.



This country is in the throngs of an all-new explosion of art and culture, resultant of a sense of a combined cultural heritage, which may just be the way out of this country’s umpteenth uprising. I cringe at the term now because it has become so commonplace, but the ‘post-war’ era has seen the artistic sphere of this country reach newer heights on all fronts from painting to photography to design, craft, music and so much more. One would have thought a new wave of shared identities was upon us, but our hot-blooded Sri Lankan passion drives us to do as much bad as we do good.


Sunara Jayamanne, a young woman passionate about creating pieces of art, be it clothing or décor that attracts not merely the eye but also the mind. She is incidentally a DJ as well, one of the few females in a thus far, male dominated industry in Sri Lanka, playing Wobble/Glitch-Hop and Nu-Jazz; a recently developed passion of hers, one that she’s been exploring since 2010. Her love for art and craft however, has been a much longer standing passion, sketching, doodling and painting since her younger days, while spending time with her grandfather who was both a writer and cartoonist. “I remember sitting next to Seeya while he used to work and watching him”, she says. “He used to buy me colours and things to draw with, definitely encouraging me to do a lot of art at a young age”.Image

I assume she must have aced her art classes at school, but she surprises me with her response. I was bad at drawing something within a small time frame so it was not possible for me to express myself to my best. She goes on to tell me that she began to dislike art at school because it also became more about copying a style and less about individual expression. Probably aspects educators need to look into when it comes to teaching aesthetics.


This didn’t mar her love for drawing however, but “after school I didn’t pursue art for a while”. A few years later she started drawing again after a friend reminded her of her previous love for the craft of drawing and painting. So slowly, at her own pace she started to put things together. Four years down the line, she has her own range of custom made jewelry, one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing and individual pieces of home décor, all which she spends her days putting together. Her home is strewn with wind-chimes made out of beads and string-hopper moulds, paper boats, notebooks with squiggles, canvases with paintings…opting to work whenever the mood came over her, spending tireless hours with each varying piece until she is done.

Sunara sells her work online via Facebook and other social media, also creating custom pieces of clothing, jewelry and home décor for her customers, primarily made out of recycled or waste matter. She also has live art displays and teaches recycled crafts to children at the Good Market every Thursday, an open-air market promoting home grown produce, art and talent. She is also available to create custom pieces of art in terms of paintings and installations.


My first painting was actually on a pair of jeans after which I did a backdrop for a local band, ‘Ritual’. It was only after this that I started painting on t’shirts in 2009. Her first sale was to a customer in the US in 2010 after which she kept making more pieces for customers in Sri Lanka as well. Towards the end of 2012, she began to expand her mediums of expression into other forms of clothing, jewelry and décor, with a thirst for wanting to experiment with other materials instead of just limiting herself to painting.

In a doctor-lawyer-engineer-businessman driven local atmosphere, one wonders why some people opt out of the process and find themselves driven to the lateral. I ask Sunara what purpose she thinks creating art serves at all in a world that seems to have its goals already preplanned. “To be able to create gives me a feeling of peace and reminds me that there is always more than myself working here. I feel like I am merely a vessel for a message that is passing through.” Incidentally, most of the best artists the world over say the very same thing about their craft and talent, believing themselves to merely be channels and mediums.


“It really makes me happy to be able to create at all.” says Sunara, “My work speaks about the world and how different energies come together inside it; that all possibilities are within this world itself. On another level it is also colourful, beautiful and fun which helps put the viewer in a joyous place. Or a questionable one.” Possibly both at the same time?

It’s probably a matter of opinion, but I feel that good art makes us question the things we take for granted; forces us to look at the world around us afresh and possibly brings us closer together. Maybe predetermined destinies are not the only paths ahead of us. Maybe investing in the smallest piece of art may help us find fresh perspective. At the very least, it makes the journey better.


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