My Nationalist Paintings

I painted endless variations of the same sunset at school. The powers that be approved. I was capturing the offical ideology in pretty pictures. Celebrating beliefs we kids were expected to swallow without question. The pictures themselves looked harmless.

The sky was always a lush water colour gradient. Descending from a fringe of deep evening indigo to a brief band of pale blue. Then turning ripe mango flesh orange as it slides down the picture.

A third of the way, the orange sky goes behind distant mountains. Described in an opaque wash of cool dark purple as crisp peaks against the hot sky. Then a band of foot hills. Gentle triangles of cooler deeper blue-greens. Ragged edges suggesting wooded slopes.

Sharp against their darkness the stupa glows in white purity. It’s mound dotted by gold lights trailing away into the shadows. A hint of pious goings on without the toil of having to describe anything.

All of this is mirrored in the lake filling the last third of the frame. Some times I would add a tiny boat in black. An after thought to rest the eye amidst all that loose colour. At the very bottom of the frame, weeds of the waters edge. Often a mass of a tree dominates the scene. I never learnt to suggest leaves with paint. So the thing was an awkward mass of greenish brush stokes.

Those paintings captured the ideal Sinhala Buddhist utopia. A visualisation of “Danno Budunge” by a dim teenage mind. The symbolism wasn’t subtle. The Stupa signified Buddhism. The lake meant the dazzling hydraulic works of Anuradhapura and Polonaruwa. Just as we were told to see that history.

It’s brave pure wise kings un-crippled by party politics. Stunning feats of architecture and engineering (without foreign aid or technology). Endless wealth produced by oceanic expanses of golden rice fields. Made possible by merging racial purity with a one true faith.

According to the stirring speeches of “nationalists” that age mocked the current failings of island’s master race. Now weak and corrupted by foreign evils. The South Indian invaders (code for Tamils). The decadent western culture of the “Suddas”. The cunning decisive machinations of the minorities. In certain contexts, such talks slides into ever nasty spirals. I’ve mention those before. So I won’t raise the stink again.

I was clueless about such contexts. I liked painting. Because of my feeble abilities, those paintings gave me a sense of achievement. I even got an award at a temple prize giving. I recall only sweating in the humidity. A fat wet pig of a boy in sweat soaked school whites. Waddling forth in awe to accept his pathetic little certificate.

The only surviving sunset hangs at my parents’ place. An artefact from another world. But’s what the past feels like.

Even the voices have no idea why they made me write this (they never tell me if they know anyway). I suppose this post would have some deeper meaning if it was on one of the better blogs. Not here. Still thank you for reading this far. If you have an inkling of what all this means the comment box awaits your wisdom.


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