What was the inspiration behind ARTRA?
AJ: Fervent poets gathering to read out their musings at coffee shops, ardent musicians assembling at warehouses to perform their compositions, passionate artists questioning and critiquing worldly ways, capricious writers with imaginative prowess, dramatists with an appetite for experimental theatre and designers who want to make earth a greener place are what inspired ARTRA. In celebrating these formal and informal, tangible and intangible works of art, ARTRA began its journey in 2012 to hail these manifestations that constitute a nation’s cultural assets, essential to a community’s well being, cultural vitality, sense of identity and heritage.
Q/ What were the difficulties you experienced at the inception of ARTRA?
AJ: One of my primary challenges faced when starting ARTRA was making people understand the value art played in our daily lives, and its richness in creating value for non-art and creative industries. Consequently, although we started our journey of promoting visual, performance, applied and written art through the print medium alone, as years passed by, we overcame this dilemma to a significant extent by celebrating the richness and stimulus of art. We did this through multiple mediums including online, podcasts, art talks, exhibition, showcases, movie-screenings, gatherings, and partnerships with professional organizations to reach a larger local and international audience. All this while magnifying the scope of art in impacting larger spheres such as environment, sustainability, community development, living and design.
Q/ Being a serious artist in Sri Lanka is extremely difficult due to stereotyping and poor. How do you think this issue can be resolved?
AJ: Education and awareness. Sharing the scope of art in challenging the minds of people and thinking patterns that improve mental and social wellbeing, thereby providing individuals with a greater scope of impact upon the lives of people and a nation, will highlight the importance of contemporary art. This, in turn, will generate value to the work of artists and that of the industry. Also, I believe in highlighting the worth of a nation’s cultural assets in carving its identity and wondrous nature. This will lead to an increase in travel and tourism and will positively impact the growth of the art and creative industries.
Q/ Why is it important to build art and creative industries in Sri Lanka, and how do we go about it?
AJ: The significance of art lies in its creation in instilling a sense of emotion within us, as they entrench us with a strong identity of belonging to a country, a tradition or a way of life. Artists are saturated with cultural significance as they celebrate, depict, challenge, innovate and question ways of living, raising a variety of fascinating social, political, spiritual and philosophical questions. So, celebrating these characteristics of art is what ARTRA has taken forth as its single-minded aim. It will be great if other organizations, collectives and, most importantly, the state also pay heed to the growth of this perspective and industry. As Ananda Coomaraswamy said, “A nation’s growth is not determined by politicians or businessmen but artists and poets”.
Q/ You turned your passion into a profession. What advice do you have for gals out there who lack the courage to do the same?
AJ: Believe in yourself, and go ahead and do it. It’ll be a riveting ride where you will face many challenges, and when you do, don’t let it steer you away from your vision. Push through, because you will also be rewarded. Finding your purpose will bringi great joy to yourself and others, and perhaps the country and the world!
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.