Muhanned Cader: Artist Voice from Sri Lanka (1997)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This interview was previously published in Asian Art News, 7(3), 57-65 (1997) as part of a large feature on contemporary art in Sri Lanka.

Muhanned Cader

Born in 1966, Muhanned Cader studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated with a BFA in painting and drawing. In addition to his art, he also teaches at Vibhavi Fine Arts Academy in Colombo.

Muhanned Cader: I really got started in advertising as an illustrator. I studied advertising for a year and then I got interested in painting and switched majors. At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw a lot of paintings—both from the [Art School] collection and a lot of student work. It was a free school, and they wanted you to be you; they didn’t restrict you, and encouraged me to find my own style. I didn’t have to be limited, like in Sri Lanka.

Since graduating, my art has become more serious. Yes, my work is still in a period of experimentation. Overall, I’m interested in simplifying my work. I’ve moved into more shapes and forms, and I’m more interested in relationships between shape and color, which are both influenced by my surroundings—especially the trees and plants and the architecture. Mainly, I’m exploring shapes and colors, and tensions and confusion—the feelings I have here about Sri Lanka, the war, and economic instability. I like to work with oils and collages, and sometimes I do sculpture with junk and found wood, particularly skids used for shipping.

I’m not really a Sri Lankan artist. I’ve been here, and I’ve been there, and I’ve seen things. Being in Colombo does not mean I’m here, and it’s very different from the rest of Sri Lanka. Here, they see me as a Western artist because my work is abstract.

In Portraits, the colors and shapes are influenced by Sri Lanka, and I’m influenced by a lot of colors I see in posters, films, and things in India. Here, I’m using deformed shapes influenced by Pop Art. Traditional portrait painting is still very big here for wealthier families, and buyers will ask me if I can paint a portrait or a landscape. I’m offering a portrait in a Pop Art way and I want to show the tension that I feel.

People always ask me what I’m painting. They say they cannot understand because of the subject matter. Few people understand my work; they don’t want to be questioned. However, they get used to it.