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Tuesday, 21 February 2012






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Kishani's unique art of teaching art:

Child artists in a delightful brush with fun

Kishani Wikramanayake

The best things in life are often impromptu. Indeed, there are times when delightful surprises are sprung on you when you least expect them. But then it could also depend on your timing and the venue. No matter when you happen to visit the swank Park Street Hotel it seems there is always something going on. The exclusive boutique hotel which is a haven for well-heeled tourists and affluent locals has become a popular setting for its cuisine and various events.

I happened to stroll in quite by chance recently to observe that the entire hostelry had been transformed into an art gallery and a delightful one at that. While sauntering in I could not fail to observe that the place had been transformed into an enchanting showcase of children's compositions. There were works of art displayed everywhere from its posh lobby and spilling over into its expansive outer verandas.

Some 1500 exhibits adorned the walls and specially set tables. Almost every niche of the venue, which has retained its old-world colonial charm, was replete with paintings and objets d'art. I had unwittingly strayed into the debut exhibition of Kishani Wikramanayake's art academy. Christened 'Studio K' and established some 18 months' ago it provides innovative concepts in teaching. The students' ages range from three to 16 years. Wikramanayake conjured up the apt theme title 'Dreams in Colour' for her exhibition. Apt because the dreams became a reality for her talented little innovators when hundreds of guests visited the two day display

The hotel turned art gallery with paintings
Some exhivits at the gallery

Wikramanayake emphasises that her teaching technique encourages each student to develop his or her own individuality bringing out the innermost ideas and expressions into colour and form. The 1500 works of art all blending in vibrant colours were displayed in the images of butterflies, flowers, spoon puppets, paper dolls, paper masks, wood craft, mosaics, handloom appliqués, coconut fibre creations and paintings ranging from water colours and pastels and tin foil art to caricatures among others. The assorted works of art clearly displayed the intricate details which Wikramanayake encourages in each of her students.

Wikramanayake says: "Special talents and skills are recognized anywhere in the world. They hardly see racial, national or geographical barriers on their way." Clearly, the artistic talents of Sri Lankan born Kishani Wikramanayake seem to have transcended all such barriers.

Hailing from an artistic family Wikramanayake was born virtually with a paintbrush in her hand. Her talents developed when she was in Kenya with her parents where she attended school. It was in Nairobi where her artistic talents were first recognised and nurtured. She benefitted immensely from the instructions in art she received both at primary and secondary school at the Nairobi Academy where she got the opportunity to specialise in art and craft.

On her return to Sri Lanka, Wikramanayake established an art school for both children and adults which she ran successfully for several years. After her marriage she left to the United Kingdom to continue her studies.

She attended the Open College of Arts in Barnsley to study (Art and Design) and Cardiff Open University to study (Two and Three Dimensional Design). While in the United Kingdom she also resumed her teaching career. She held her own exhibition in Cardiff in 1994.

Having both academic and practical experience in the subject of artistic endeavour, Wikramanayake opened her own art school 'Studio K' exclusively for children. She has devised a curriculum that teaches tangible and useful skills to students in a way that is understandable and fun. Wikramanayake says: "These skills enable students to both improve the quality of their work and to gain confidence in their abilities. Ultimately, these skills increase their self-esteem and guide them down a road to an enjoyable, creative and expressive pastime for the rest of their lives."

More encouraging is the fact that Wikramanayake insists that children must be guided in art, not forced to follow set patterns and rules. It seems so very apparent that being quite familiar with all kinds of art, Wikramanayake has a significantly broader view of what constitutes art than most teachers of the old school. The work of her students amply suggests that she does not place any such constricting values on either realism or the metaphor of symbolism.

Clearly, the work on display had encouraged an eclectic mixture of realism as well as the abstract artwork, which has allowed the child to learn about art without simply being intimidated about drawing ability. Wikramanayake instead encourages them to use their imagination and creativity by allowing them to explore with different mediums and see which ones they gravitate towards, and most importantly, have fun with.

Astonishingly diverse types of media are offered, so that kids have been given latitude to explore all kinds of options, and find their own connection with art. Doubtless, it augurs well for the future because the teaching techniques will be certain to carry children from experimental beginnings as artists to full-fledged, deep expressive competency in art. Wikramanayake's perception of developmental growth is matched by her inspired motivational methods for teaching skills. Above all, she never loses sight of each child's personal view.

I was struck by the realisation that the exhibition smacked of the highest type of dedication to opening impressionable young minds to the greatest of gifts - creativity. Studio K emphatically provides kids with the opportunity to explore the arts hands-on through drawing, painting, and a mind-boggling mixed media of inventive techniques employing the simplest of available materials.

It was quite evident by the exhibits on display that she makes her art lessons entertaining and exciting. She has inspired the inner-artist in her charges by creating splendid ideas that motivate and get the inventive juices of the children going. One cannot but fail to observe that the finished products have certainly helped these tender minds present projects that encourage communication, that stimulate inventiveness, that invite a child to have enjoyment with art.

But most of all, Wikramanayake's unique art of teaching art has led a child to the heady realisation that he or she is indeed an artist in the truest sense.

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