Exhibition of Fareed Uduman’s paintings
Fareed Uduman(1917-1985) was an unknown but extraordinary artist. During his lifetime he painted dozens of startlingly original, vibrant and (at times) surreal paintings. They remained untitled, undated, unsigned, unframed and ended up behind cupboards and doors cobwebbed, dusty and forgotten.
Most of his early works have sadly perished. Some were gifted and now hang overseas. In the 60’s he was fleetingly captured by Nihal Fernando who exhibited some of his paintings at “Studio Times”. Amongst the European painters that seem to have influenced his works are Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Cezanne.
Eight years after he died, Laki Senanayake happened to see some of these paintings which had been retrieved. He could not believe that they had not been exhibited or seen by genuine art lovers in Sri Lanka. He gave his son Jomo the courage and confidence to hang these paintings up for view at the 706 Gallery in 1993.
Laki aptly named this posthumous exhibition ‘Odd Man Out’. Exhibition visitors were truly amazed that such a painter had remained unknown throughout his lifetime. Some even felt that he may be the only truly expressionist artist that Sri Lanka had produced.
Ellen Dissanayake reviewed the exhibition and this excerpt may sum up his profile as a painter:
“Of the Sri Lankan painters, Uduman’s work reminds me most in certain respects of that of Justin Deraniyagala. Both are “expressionistic” in their concern with emotional expression; both use paint as a language; both are more concerned with their own vision than with pleasing presumptive viewers, and thus make bold use of paint and of formal distortions that may or may not ‘succeed’.
Neither signed or dated their works, nor were interested in selling them.
Both artists show a predilection for single figures with animals and objects, or for animals (especially bulls and birds).
Both artists convey a personality that could perhaps be described as turbulent, introverted, and sensitive, no doubt finding in the art of painting a kind of release from the torments of self imprisonment and certainly the satisfactions of giving some shape and external expression to their inner worlds.
Uduman’s works do not have the sophistication of Deraniyagala; in any case he did not have the opportunity to learn painting in foreign art academies nor to devote his entire life to his art.
Yet in Uduman’s best work is a sensitivity and expressivity in the use of paint that I think Deraniyagala would have recognised and admired. I speak, for example, of the fluttering garment of the pregnant woman in Flight, or the overall treatment in Carter washing Bull.
Another work that uncannily recalls Deraniyagala, is Girl with Bananas, which could almost have been painted by the older artist. Yet I do not have the impression that Uduman was consciously or unconsciously imitating Draniyagala. Perhaps it is that both were aware of the same European modern painters and also were both giving voice to similar personal predilections and artistic concerns, thereby achieving a family resemblance in one of the work. To my mind, the comparison is high praise indeed.”
Fareed was quite an enigma to his family and friends and remained a zealous non-conformist right up till the end. Although born a Muslim he called himself a humanist, an atheist, a communist and a rationalist.
Essentially an urbanite he rarely ventured out. Most of his paintings thus seem to be manifestations of experiences and images captured in the city. And, he was a voracious reader of science, politics, philosophy, religion, medicine, literature and art.
During the Sirimavo Bandaranayake Government of the 1970’s he was the cartoonist for the LSSP weekly ‘The Nation’. Some of these cartoons will also be on display and shows his remarkable awareness of local and world politics and his (obvious) communistic leanings.
Ellen Dissanayake’s closing comments in her review will perhaps inspire genuine art lovers to visit this rare exhibition at the Lionel Wendt Gallery on 6th and 7th January – where 40 of his paintings will be on view: “I would hope that in the history of Sri Lankan art, painters of such intense and original accomplishment as Fareed Uduman will not be overlooked or dismissed simply because they did not happen to be a part of the acknowledged avant-garde of their time. It is important to rescue and preserve works like his in order some day to chart comprehensively the course of 20th century painting here. Though a self styled odd man out Uduman deserves that place in history.”