Both the woman and the art are like the hair. There’s shape to the short-ish style, but a few flyaway strands get caught in her fingers. It’s black, like everyone else’s, but the highlights wink a little “colour”, and if you look closely enough, a grey strand here and there will tell you she’s given life something to reckon with.
Layla Gonaduwa, self-labelled “inspirationalist” and artist, is showcasing her latest solo work, a collection of 30 wall installations in copper and enamel at the Barefoot Gallery, from October 5 to 15. The exhibition, titled ‘MemoryScape’, is what she sees as the beginning of a backward-autobiographical process.
“It’s some part of letting go,” she explains, “but also definitely an embracing and coming to terms with.”
Each piece in the collection is inspired by a distinct and intensely personal memory from the past two years or so.
“It might be difficult for people to figure out what I’m trying to say, but to me, it’s definitely snapshots of moments in my life.”
While her previous dream-inspired exhibition was more 3D, in the artist’s words, this is “more flat”.
“There is no case of interpreting it in a different way ... Maybe not for the viewer, but for me, there is no room to go anywhere else. There is no room to change colour or design, it will always be that for me.”
Knowing the exact memory the pieces spring from, imbues the colours, textures and other details with greater significance for the viewer. All the more so, since the installations are very much a literal translation of visual and auditory memory to visual and tactile symbols. One does not need a sophisticated understanding of line and light to interpret the collection. But this literalness also opens the possibility of making things concrete.
Needless to say, Gonaduwa is bold. Her glittering pottu and nose-stud testify to that. The current collection grew out of diary-entry like pieces of writing that she scrawled randomly, making it a huge emotional investment. She is not sure how she will deal with a public response and therefore it seems necessary to cement her art in this way.
The collection is also intentionally colourful, because, as she puts it, laughing, “I’ve had a very colourful life!”
With each set of pieces, Gonaduwa exhibits the writing that inspired it. Again, snapshots, abstract, but not too obscure.
“I have kept this [project] very close to my heart,” she admits. “My kids have seen some of it, but otherwise I’ve been very closed with this.”
As the project is very personal, so is the process of producing it.
“It’s an intensely physical process,” she enthuses, “and that physicalness is addictive.”
Gonaduwa works with a 50-year-old electric kiln. Once in her studio for the day, she switches it on, and while it heats up to around 1700 degrees Celcius, works through the concepts for the pieces. She first fires the copper sheet and then plunges it in water, to purify it, repeating the process until she’s happy with how it looks. Then she lays powdered glass on the copper and fires it again. This is the tricky part.
When the glass powder is laid on, Gonaduwa knows how she wants the colours and the textures to materialize. But they don’t always come out how she plans, so she’s apprehensive until she sees the final creation.
On the flip side, “there is always the chance that things might come out better than you expected” she laughs.
The glass is fired repeatedly and layer upon layer of powder applied until the depth of colour and texture she wants are achieved or even approached. In the process, the copper and glass layers are also infused into each other. Sometimes she adds fabrics, precious metals and other organic materials to the pieces as she works. The final result is a sheet of glittering, textured, patterned, brilliantly coloured glass on copper.
These sheets are laid out, in linear progression, like mosaic tiles, to tell the story of each memory.
Through great physical exertion, she has forged a technically innovative visual representation of the electro-chemical patterns in her brain. The collection is more the artist than one might expect. The installations are uniform frames of tradition barely containing rebelliously brilliant colours that mask, if only minimally, depth and sometimes rough texture.
Layla Gonaduwa is an artist and single mother of two children without whom she would be “nothing”.
The exhibition is ultimately a flamboyant display of maternity and femininity forged, literally, in fire, declaring “look at me, this is who I am.”
“And who I am, constantly changes” she laughs.
MemoryScape is open for public viewing at the Barefoot Gallery from October 5 to October 15.