An interview with local artist Ruwangi Amarasinghe, on the benefits of the wandering mind, published in today’s NATION
Growing up in a family of artists must have been a wonderful experience. To come of age, watching different creative people bringing art to life through their varying processes has turned Ruwangi Amarasinghe into a creative animal all of her own. My conversation with Ruwangi is the second in a series of interviews that aim to get inside the creative process of varying local artists, along with their very unique mediums and manners of expression.
Her creative process is fairly simple really; her mind wanders off at the most inopportune moments, taking her to places where she is inspired. Sometimes in mid conversation, something someone says would spark off an idea and off she’d go. She immediately starts to sketch it, needing to “put it out and put it down” as she told me. The results are unusual, quirky, layered and surprisingly deep for someone so young. In a world where we constantly tell our children not to let their minds wander off, maybe we should reconsider the benefits of their ability to do so in the first place.
For Ruwangi, it is her deepest source of inspiration, for another it maybe something equally powerful. “I don’t even want to learn to drive because I’m afraid I’ll be a hazard on the road. Even in school I was only half there. I space out all the time. I don’t pay attention to the world around me most of the time.” From these wanderings, her world of art has come to life in a myriad forms. While other little girls kept diaries, Ruwangi drew hers to life. One that has manifested itself into a blog online called Mana Vimana, loosely translated as a journey of the mind. Contained within are a wide spectrum of pieces; cartoons, doodles, symbolism and intricate artworks.
At just 22, with a sculptor for a grandfather, an art teacher for a grandmother, numerous painters for aunts and uncles, Ruwangi has created her own distinctive way of expressing herself. I wondered when she first picked up a pencil and decided that she wanted to draw. “I can’t remember what I first created. I’ve been drawing forever, really. On everything. All my school books had squiggles on the corners. I was always drawing”. When talking with her about her process, she tells me that she opts to hand draw her work first and only use her computer to color them in onscreen. “I want to move over entirely to canvas and make a living off my paintings one day. I want to move away from this digital world.” Ruwangi has already started working on a collection for her debut exhibition.
As with my previous interview with artist Sunara Jayamanne, Ruwangi also tells me that she didn’t really pursue art in school even though she was always an artist at heart. “I don’t feel that you can grade art with an A or a B. School is based on a grade system. You can’t just give marks out of 100 for a piece of art. The way everyone thinks and sees things are different. You can’t grade the way a person’s mind works.” She goes on to tell me that she thinks the current school system doesn’t work for everyone. Expressing herself visually even with her words, she says, “It’s like asking an elephant, tiger, fish and monkey to all climb a tree. Not everyone is good at the same thing. You can’t expect everyone to be good at everything”. More and more young people seem to finding themselves outside their school system, ironically one that was supposed to have been put into place to help us discover ourselves in the first place. The types of careers, jobs and interests that students have in today’s world are sadly not reflected in our education systems, with people learning more online than in their classrooms.
Our conversation changes direction as I ask her what place she thinks art has in the context of the current world we live in. “Art lights up a dark room. It means hope. Even a scientist or a teacher or a policeman can recognize something that is beautiful to them. And that’s art. That’s what art does. It’s also about connection. Not everyone gets everyone’s art. But when I see a piece of art I connect with, I feel always connected to that artist. Art connects people.” We go on to talk about ‘Spaced Out’ her personal favorite piece of work (shown here). “It’s about looking within yourself to realize that there is more out there. That you are merely a tiny speck in the universe. You’re not as important as you think you are. At the same time, you are everything because we are all connected together. It’s also about realizing that we are not the only things around here. There’s so much out there in space that we know nothing about. It’s all about keeping an open mind.” In her own words she basically tells me that this piece is about the first step to self-realization. Powerful stuff for someone so young.
We talk about another piece of hers, an illustrated book called ‘Illumination’. “It’s about a robot who meets and follows a butterfly. A meeting that will change his life completely. People lose themselves in a routine, cyclical, mechanical lifestyle and forget to notice the nice things about life. They become robots. You need to take one second out of your cycle to notice something beautiful and it can change your world.” Another powerful message, so simply expressed.
She seems determined. “I want to make art that has a message. I want to change the world. The way people think.” She wants to create art that will change the world. A lofty goal, but a sentiment that many artists share and could possibly achieve on a collective level.