When he was 10 years old, Senaka Senanayake held his first exhibition at New York’s Asia Society Gallery. While he remembers dressing the walls with his works “inspired by life of the people of Sri Lanka”, little did he know that he would turn his passion for art into his profession. Coming from a political family (he is the grand-nephew of Don Stephan Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister), his parents did not approve of his artistic aspirations, but Senaka was focussed on the world of art, introduced to him by a teacher in primary school.
One of Sri Lanka’s most prolific artists for over a decade now, he has been painting the country’s rainforests. Dominated by bright colours, his depictions capture the details — from wild flowers to chirping birds and butterflies. “I believe the only way you can attract the attention of the young to the need for saving our rainforests is to show them the beauty that is being destroyed,” says Senanayake, 66.
The Colombo-based artist is showing over 20 of his recent works at an exhibition at Delhi’s Saffronart. “When I paint positive images of the forest, people want to see the real thing. When they are told that most of it is gone, they want to do something about it. Nobody really wants to look at dead trees and burnt forests,” says Senanayake, who was first apprised of the fast-disappearing rainforests by a cousin about 15 years ago during a holiday at a tea garden.
Back home, he started researching the issue, understanding the reasons, including going back to the colonial era. “After Independence, many of the forest lands adjoining the plantations were given to local cultivators who did not understand the importance of preserving the forests.They felled the trees and destroyed the remaining rainforest cover. All this has led to our present situation,” says Senanayake.
Over the years, his works have travelled the world over — if a 1965 work hangs at The White House, another is at the UN conference hall.
The exhibition is at Saffronart, The Claridges, from January 12 to 24