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The Hindu

Sri Lankan contemporary artist Muhanned Cader doesn’t like to be ‘definitive’ about anything, including his works. The state of being unsure thrills him no end and he strives to rub the feeling off onto connoisseurs of his art practice.

In Kochi to do spadework for the forthcoming edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale in December, Mr. Cader told The Hindu that while he preferred to keep his works ‘simple’ for common people to understand, he would want each of them to derive her/his meaning of them. Looking at his oeuvre, it is easily discernible that Mr. Cader recreates landscapes — hyper-real landscapes with a hint of politics, that is.

After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1994, he took up teaching at Vaibhavi Academy of Fine Arts in Sri Lanka, only to quit the job 13 years later.

“Hailing from a land that is strife-torn and from an ethnic minority, I did not want to make overt, direct political statements like several others. I learnt self-censoring and made works that are indirectly linked to politics. I’m still learning to perfect it,” says the artist, who created a whole series of nightscapes, ‘as a kind of metaphor’, to depict the darkness that has engulfed his land.

At his impish best, Mr. Cader would mix things up in such a way that the viewer mistakes his beachscapes done in Colombo for the Karachi beach. It did happen when he presented a series of seascapes at an exhibition in Karachi. “When you look at my landscapes done in the U.K., you don’t realise the fact that they all depicted Scottish beaches,” he says with a mischievous smile.

Married to Pakistani artist Mariah Lookman, who just got her doctorate from Oxford and looks at the body at a molecular level in her art practice, Mr. Cader did a residency at the National College of Arts in Lahore.

He divides his time between Colombo and London and tries to ‘abstract landscapes’. “I want to get rid of postcard beachscapes.”

Mr. Cader draws in detail, paints and makes collages to meet this end. One he made detailed drawings of rubbish ashore and painted his beachscapes in their forms. "Rubbish gave the form of the series and the paintings came in." 

At Jaffna, he made beachscapes as if looked at through a cave, an orifice. He worked in collaboration with artists Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Thamotharampillai, Shanaathana and Jagath Weera single and the book, ‘One Year Drawing Project' was born. 

Mr. Cader is unsure of what he’s going to dish out for the Kochi Biennale. “I want it to be about the ocean, but don’t know what its going to be!”

-S. Anandan