In conversation with: Krishnapriya Tharmakrishna

October 11th 2018

Krishnapriya Tharmakrishna is a symbolist unfazed by paint; its potential for artistic expression seemingly insufficient. To her, the paintbrush wields no power, and the easel disappoints as a medium worthy of conveying any real emotion.

Preferring instead her own unorthodox arsenal of choice -nails and tracing paper-, Krishnapriya creates optical and textural contemplations derived from the point-directed lines. Employing mellow undertones -deceptive for pieces so conceptually charged- these artworks reticently project imagery alluding to the theme of maternal love, or the lack of it thereof.

Membrane promises a display of Krishnapriya’s most striking work thus far.


 What can we expect from ‘Membrane’?

I am excited about ‘Membrane’ because this will be my first solo exhibition in Sri Lanka. This will be a collection of 74 new artworks, all of them are nail drawings.

I lost my mother in Jaffna to the civil war in 1987 when I was just three months old. I was then left in the care of my grandmother, who then became not just my guardian, but my closest companion. Even though I was not deprived of affection throughout my childhood, I’ve always strongly felt, -and still feel- a void where the love of a mother should be.

On a personal note, this collection is one of my many attempts at filling that void. I hope that all my emotions transcend through the works, enough to be comprehended by the viewer, and hopefully even empathised with.

So, while my compositions are often minimalistic and appear simple enough, I urge anyone to delve deeper, for the emotions behind the works are strong, and most certainly tangible.


Did you always know that you would eventually decide to dedicate your life to the pursuit of artistic expression?

I suppose so. After my schooling, my family attempted to persuade me into seeking a government job, but I wanted to do work that would allow me to pursue -and eventually express- my inner feelings.

I enrolled at the Jaffna University, and graduated in 2012 with a BFA in Art & Design. There, my lecturer at the time, Dr. T. Shanaathanan, greatly supported me. He guided me through my choice of tools and style, and encouraged me to take part in exhibitions.

I have since taken up many projects and residency programs, one of which even gave me the opportunity to host a solo exhibition in Yamamota Gandai gallery in Tokyo, Japan. Locally I have been given the opportunity to exhibit alongside other talented artists at spaces such as the J.D.A Perera Gallery, The Lionel Wendt, and at art forums both locally (Colomboscope) and abroad (Dhaka Art Summit).


How did you come about to straying so far from convention with your tools of choice?

I have lived my life constantly in expectation of some semblance of what I perceive motherly affection to feel like. This I know, is an emotion not easy to express with words. I have also come to understand that -for me at least- no other tools nor visual aids do justice to all that I am trying to convey. I want to describe painful longing, but expressed as softly as possible. This isn’t a harsh sentiment, but one that can reverberate delicately enough to be understood.

There is some inexplicable satisfaction that comes with pressing these nails onto paper; tracing paper more specifically. It is almost as though its ability to perforate is in itself breathing life into the memory I never had.

It is not as time-consuming a process as one would think. I often sit down with an idea in mind -often driven by some great emotion- and am able to complete a piece in a few hours.

So, while I do make time for experimenting with acrylics, nail-work will most likely always be my preferred medium of expression. I take inspiration from artists who do similar work such as Yuko Takada Keller, and Hassan Sharif, who are also comfortable with straying from convention to serve emotion the justice it deserves. On a more local front, I am a fan of Muhannad Cader’s work.


Considering that your choice of theme comes attached with a deeper context, would you say that your work is political as well?
Do you hope to experiment with other themes?

I don’t outwardly have any political inclinations when I create, nor do I choose to focus solely on that, but it is the message of loss that I hope those involved in politics will be moved by.

Although I have been directly affected by war through the loss of my mother, it is the message of love that I seek to evoke. The sentiment behind my theme means a lot to me, and I feel that there is a lot more I can offer in pursuing just this for the time being.


Is the Sri Lankan art circuit encouraging of new artists -especially from out of Colombo- in your opinion?
Where do you feel it stands on the global stage?

Personally, I’m quite pleased with the Sri Lankan art scene as it stands now, and I feel that recognition of our country as a hive of contemporary art is growing. More specifically, now that the country situation is smoother, I feel that what Jaffna has to offer the art world is developing at a surprisingly fast pace. This has become increasingly evident from the many collectives we have organised in the city to promote the arts.




‘Membrane’ by Krishnapriya Tharmakrishna

will be free and open to the public

from the 18th to the 31st October at Art Space Sri Lanka


– Article by Shaahima Raashid