Free Traditional Sinhala Motifs and Designs

I added digitised drawings of traditional Sinhala designs and motifs to my Flickr account. They are licensed as public domain works. You can use them for any purpose without needing permission from me. Due to time constraints I haven’t been able to name them yet. That will be another project. So is cleaning these up a bit more. Perhaps even converting them to vector graphics. If you got the time and the knowledge go for it.

The digitised drawings come from an old drawing book. The fact that it’s covers have classical European motifs is an accident not irony. The drawing book is a gift from my late Jaffna relative. A person with a particular love for the Kandian period’s art and crafts. A few of the designs seems to come from Ananda Coomaraswamy’s Mediaeval Sinhalese Art.

Poring over that book’s beautiful reproductions were a feature of my childhood. I grew up with the shapes and swirls in these drawings. Copying those designs from various reference books was a favourite holiday pastime. Seems I wasn’t alone in that.

Family from both sides in my grand parents’ era made art part of their lives. It was a conscious act. Flaunting one’s native culture wasn’t helpful to personal advancement in colonial Ceylon. From the stories I have overheard these people we rebels in there own way.

They documented and collected artefacts. The aim was not academic. What they learned got woven into curtains, painted on chairs, and carved into book case doors. I doubt there were plans for books or formal research. The drawings were a way of enjoying the art. Something we digital types cannot understand.

These drawing remind me how privileged I am for such an informal exposure to art. Where the visual arts were part of the furniture. Where Ves masks hung next to reproductions of Sigiya frescos and temple paintings.

The greatest gift of that upbringing was the idea that declaring a love for art was normal. It wasn’t restricted to the Kandian period. Or to Sri Lanka. I was introduced to Michelangelo’s use of perspective, Hiroshige’s eye for detail, Solias Mendis’s line work, the composition in Hokusai’s majestic mount Fujis, the Ajanta paintings, and the Taj Mahal’s symmetry with the same fervour.

The rest I picked up from the books that circulated though the extended family. Tomes on Chola bronzes, the Dalada Maligawa, Dutch masters, Impressionists (Van Gough – not just for his ear), and Edo period Wood block prints shared shelves. Many vanished. Some “lent” and forgotten. One of my grandmothers grumbled about thieves. A fact acknowledged with a hope (excuse?) that “somebody must be enjoying them no..”.

Later school taught me to shut up about such pansy stuff. The pecking order, porn, cricket and exams were the supposed accepted interests for boys getting ready to be men.

Yet in the spirit of my “real” early art education, I’m releasing these drawings to the wild. A small offering of thanks. Inadequate but all that I can ever offer.


3 thoughts on “Free Traditional Sinhala Motifs and Designs

  1. This reminds me of the post from the Nidahas blog, from years ago, about Coomaraswamy’s book.

    He found a copy sold off cheaply by the library.

    Ironically enough, a few years later Coomaraswamy’s name was wiped off the street map too by the last regime.

    There is a serious cultural problem in Sri Lanka about art, it is considered something for children but only before starting their serious studying.

    Only crafts are allowed to be practised as a profession by the lower castes.

    Having seen graduate shows from private institutions I am seriously unimpressed with the standard or graphic design and illustration that they are mimicking, and there are no references to their on culture in any of the work.

    Ena De Silva is still alive, but you would not know it – the lady who revived batik printing and so many people make a living off that now.

    She and her workshop is in Aluvihare on the A9, just outside Matale.

    Most of her output is for 5 star hotels.

    It’s as if we don’t know how to appreciate our own culture anymore, apart from may be religious art.

    In most countries art and crafts are produced by the working classes and ‘consumed’ by the middle classes. A system of patronage I guess.

    It is not as widespread here as it should be. The only time I see very beautiful things in domestic settings is when I have blagged my way in to a swanky hotel.

    There are sculpture and a tapestry in Bawa’s Kanadalama hotel that is better than anything I have seen touted as modern Sri Lankan art in galleries in Colombo.

    If I can find pictures I took around 2012 I will put them on Flickr and send you a link.


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