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Pala Pothupitiya

Sri Lankan Contemporary Artist
Born 1972, Deniyaha, Sri Lanka
Lives and works in Korathota, Colombo, Sri Lanka

A thoughtful and subtly political artist, Pothupitiya has established himself as a vital exponent of '90s trend' Sri Lankan art. He confronts the compelling political issues raised by the war in Sri Lanka and explores questions like caste, distinction between art and craft, tradition and modernity in his works. Coming from a background of traditional craft artists and ritual specialists, he incorporates and reinterprets certain material and philosophical contents of traditional art in his work.



Training program in Pakistan traditional jewelry, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan


Study and training, Pakistan traditional metal work methods and techniques, craft-villages, Lahore, Pakistan


Study and training, traditional Pakistan sewing methods and techniques, with craft men, Lahore, Pakistan


University of Kelaniya, Institute of Aesthetic Studies, BFA in Sculpture, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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UNDERSTANDING Pala Pothupitiya

Pothupitiya explores interpretations of identity in his works

Ancestral Dress, is part of a series of works that has consumed Pala Pothupitiya‘s artistic energy for a long time through which he explores a number of interpretations on identity within a discourse of  ancestry, tradition, authenticity, urbanity and the dynamics of contemporary art practices. The initial form of Ancestral Dress could be seen in work titled Self Portrait where Pothupitiya paid homage to his own ancestry coming from a family of traditional ritual dancers. Photocopied images of his father were repeated a number of times as a motif within the same work, and parts of the map of Colombo were pasted in the background making a collage.

Pala Pothupitiya, The Ancestral Dress, 2005, LED bulbs and other materials

Shift from conventional to everyday objects in Pala's work

Pothupitiya's work can be understood within the changed status of Sri Lankan sculpture that transformed in the mid 90s from being a representation of comfortable 'modern' ideals and tenets of art making to that of an intensely unsettling socially engaging endeavor. This new genre of sculpture largely investigated identity, politics of gender relations, and manifestations of global - local tensions, youth anxieties and enigmas of the consumer world. The raw material changed from conventional to the everyday objects and industrial waste material, and methodologies questioned the art-craft hierarchies. In his work Dress Made to My Measurement (2004), he reinterprets identity in directions such as that of nationality and citizenship while understanding the notions of identity, authenticity, tradition, respectability of the art culture.

Pala Pothupitiya, The Dress made to my measurements, 2004

He captures the essence of life in small towns and villages

Pala carries with him a memory of life in the village and in the town. The situations and incidents he had gone through during that time had an impact on his mind and body. The artist says “I look back at those experiences through the material world that exists around me. In other words, my material world is the result of the likes and dislikes that have taken root inside me unconsciously”. Using metal scrap and chains of discarded bicycles, Pala creates masks of traditional ritual dancers, tracing his roots back to his family of traditional dancers.

Pala Pothupitiya, Shiva 1

Pothupitiya explores geopolitical context of Sri Lankan civil war using cartography

Pothupitiya explores the geopolitical context of Sri Lankan civil war through the language of cartography. He reworks a map, printed on paper or canvas, to create images with multiple layers of meaning that reference symbols of authority such as the lion and the tiger (the national flag’s emblem and the LTTE), nationalist songs, pop imagery and the artists’ memories. Through these maps,Pothupitiya challenges the history of cartography in South Asia as a colonial project. In “Provinces”, black men’s underwear overlaid with district maps straddles the southern part of the country, highlighting the masculine nature of military rhetoric.

Pala Pothupitiya, World Underwear II, 2013, maps, collage & acrylic, 40 x 35cm

Pothupitiya's works are a blend of modern and traditional art forms

Pala Pothupitiya’s works address issues like caste and its challenges, the boundary between art and craft, modernity and tradition. Pothupitiya’s works ensure that what gets labeled as traditional is as new as the modern; and the modern gets its root from the traditional, accepted within a larger social structure, which an individual’s stamp cannot erase. Pothupitiya uses discarded objects in his series of works like ‘The Ancestral Dress’. The discarded objects that form Pothupitiya’s masks have their own life cycle, indicating an everyday life they were once a part of. They remind us of the social thread of all art.

Pala Pothupitiya, Ancestral dress 02, 2008