Saturday, August 7, 2021

Vandalism of Dutch Mural Art Project at Kataluwa Viharaya

As the invitation of Ven. Kalyanitissa Thera, the incumbent of Kataluwa Giniwella Nawamuniseya Viharaya in Sri Lanka, three Dutch artists namely, Noëlla Roos, Rachel Dieraert and Eddy Roos carried out a mural art project at Kataluwa Viharaya with the guidance of local artists and experts (Liyanage, 2004; Roos, 2019; Seneviratne, 2004). The project was begun in 2002 when Kalyanitissa Thera prepared the way for more than 70 people to collaborate with it (Roos, 2019).
 
The project was financially assisted by the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo (Liyanage, 2004; Roos, 2019; Seneviratne, 2004).
 
Kataluwa Viharaya
Built in the 19th century, the Kataluwa Giniwella Nawamuniseya Buddhist temple is popular for its old murals of the late Kandyan style. It is also known for the preserved first printing press, brought by the Dutch to Sri Lanka. Some monuments in this temple have been declared as protected monuments by the Department of Archaeology.

Dutch murals
The proposed Dutch murals depicting the Dalada Perahera and the arrival of Sangamitta Theri with the Sacred Bo Sapling in Sri Lanka were decided to be drawn over the vacant peripheral walls of the image house (Roos, 2019; Liyanage, 2004). These walls are said to have had some murals from the 1930s, but they were in such poor condition that the Department of Archaeology could not restore them (Roos, 2019). 
 
The project was carried out for three months in 2002 and some works were done in 2004. More than 70 people were involved in this project as models for the murals, primarily from the local neighbourhood (Roos, 2019). The completed murals finally covered an area of 110 square meters on the wall with 140 figures and many Buddhist symbols, composed using the Golden Mean (Roos, 2019). The paintings primarily had drawn in the Western Renaissance style.

Reviews
S.P. Charles, the curator at the National Museum and the key person at the Department of Cultural Affairs is said to have praised these by three Dutch artists (Liyanage, 2004; Roos, 2019; Seneviratne, 2004). Also, the project also had received some positive attention from several local media outlets (Roos, 2019).
: A news report by Sunday Observer (22 February 2004): Giniwella Purana Vihara (Kataluwa) murals

Criticism
The Dutch artists are said to have received some criticism from a monk in Colombo during the period of the project that was carried out (Roos, 2019). Also, some had accused that the figures in the murals are not in conformity with the traditional Buddhist themes (Liyanage, 2004; Seneviratne, 2004).

Vandalism
On the night of 15 April 2004, an unidentified vandal had damaged 85 faces of the 140 figures in the murals by hacking them away (Liyanage, 2004; Seneviratne, 2004). By 19 April, some part of the murals had been daubed with a commercial yellow colour painting to destroy them further.
 
References
1) Liyanage, K.J., 2004. Giniwella temple mural controversy: Concern for tradition or personal politics? A news article from Sunday Observer, published on 2 May 2004.
2) Roos, N., 2019. Kataluwa temple project. From details in the website by Noëlla Roos, one of the three artists who was involved in this project.
3) Seneviratne, V., 2004. Pain after the paint: Act of vandalism raises questions over the Kataluwa temple project. A news article from Sunday Times, published on 25 April 2004.

This page was last updated on 7 August 2021
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