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Monday, April 20, 2015

In Remembrance: Nihal Fernando

It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the passing of Nihal Fernando, photographer, conservationist and reluctant cultural icon of Sri Lanka.

For his entire life, Mr. Fernando recorded the life and times of his beloved island home with the fervour and passion of a true son of the soil. His photographs influenced countless generations, and opened a nation's eyes as to how beautiful and yet how fragile this jewel of the Indian Ocean was.

He fought for her in times of strife, and celebrated her in times of joy and wonderment. For Sri Lanka, in spite of all that has happened in recent times, is still as close as you'll get to Paradise on Earth, and Mr. Fernando always recognised that fact.

On a personal level, he literally changed the course of my life. He was as close as I will ever have to a mentor; a father figure.

When I returned to Sri Lanka after a lifetime spent in the UK, he took me under his wing and re-introduced me to the country of my birth. I am privileged to have travelled and discovered much of the beauty of Sri Lanka in his company. I have photographed wonderful landscapes and wildlife by his side; I have written stories and helped edit his books into the wee hours; listening to his spellbinding tales as I worked. And I was immensely privileged as a young writer to help put together his masterpiece: Sri Lanka - A Personal Odyssey.

Mr. Fernando had always shunned the limelight; always swept aside any notion of the greatness of his accomplishments. He just loved his country. There is little I can say that hasn't already said about him. But he has had a profound effect on my life. And now it is immensely difficult to write about him in the past tense.

The only thing that I could personally say of him is mirrored in the review I wrote of his amazing book during the time of its original release - it seems appropriate today:

"Now he leaves us to dream with Sri Lanka - A Personal Odyssey. It is the culmination of a voyage that began in high forests among the clouds and led along lonely mountain trails, and down through green valleys of tea and teak. And the path found its destination, at the edge of the waiting sea. It is the voyage of a lifetime, the story of a country's fiery heart, a celebration of all we have inherited and all we have lost. Within these pages, the history of the land unfolds, tightly interwoven with the lives of her people to create a rich tapestry. The book imbues the reader with sentiments of belonging, giving shape to a blend of emotions not easily described, and offering hope for the future."
- Serendib, Vol 17 No 3, May-June 1998

Rest in Peace, Sir. Rest well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Art Project: Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD)

For the longest time I've been wanting to help out and show my appreciation for the work of  Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD). 

They are one of the wonderful groups here in Singapore that rescue, rehabilitate and (whenever possible) re-home feral dogs. These poor animals have often had to face terrifying odds out on the streets and are usually found in varying degrees of abuse. neglect and ill health.

Ricky Yeo and his team have been working tirelessly over the years, with limited resources to give these dogs a second lease of life. I first met Ricky way back in 2001 when he introduced us to a little puppy named Cocoa. For those who know me well, you'll know that Cocoa is the copper-coloured canine that stole our hearts for 12 years, until we lost her last year to cancer.

Cocoa and her siblings were rescued from a construction site and would most probably have been culled had it not been for the ASD volunteers. So in her memory and in gratitude for their work I have decided to undertake and donate a series of portraits of some of the dogs that have gone through particularly harrowing times before their rescue.

I've started the project with one old soldier whose story touched me deeply - Uncle Bernie.

You can read more about him here: http://asdsingapore.com/wp/uncle-bernie-abandoned-because-he-is-old/

Unfortunately I learned recently that Uncle Bernie passed away earlier this year, but at least his last months were filled with love and compassion.

I hope this work will help shed more light on the wonderful work being done by ASD and that they'll be able to use it to raise funds and gain more support.

Find out more about Action For Singapore at their website.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Wildshot: The Bear Monkey

One of my most favourite animals, the elusive Bear Monkey:

Also known as the Montane Purple-faced Langur (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola) this beautiful creature is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List - and can only be found in the highland forests of Sri Lanka.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Artwork: "contact | margay"

2014, pastels

In the heart of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, a stray beam of sunlight penetrates the canopy and illuminates a high branch. Resting in the cradle of its bough, a Margay opens his eyes, and surveys his lofty kingdom. As the Sun becomes obscured by cloud and this green world is plunged once again into emerald darkness, he settles back down - and waits for night to fall...

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

To Have, And to Have Not...

Its a funny old world, isn't it? The circumstances that keep the human race united under the common ties of community - and yet poles apart in terms of commodity. 

A couple of weeks ago a sleak black Lamborghini pulled up along side me in town. This admittedly gorgeous piece of machinery is probably one of the most recognizable statements of privilege and wealth on four wheels that you're likely to come across in public. And although my salivary glands were about to go on overdrive, my thoughts suddenly switched to the absurdity of what was sitting there, growling quietly in front of my eyes.

We all know that the distribution of wealth is spread unevenly across the world - and never more so than here in South East Asia. Where else would you find such conflicting scenes of sprawling urban slums sitting shoulder to shoulder with mansions and manicured gardens? Millionaires and misery living side by side. I've lived in this part of the world for over fifteen years and I'm still not used to it.

Almost a year ago I was back in Sri Lanka, and although a beautiful country that I will always love, its still got enough economic and political obstacles to keep it from reaching its full potential. I recalled another unusual street scene from back then - a working elephant marching along a dusty back street, while close by a street child begged deliriously for food.

What a contrast to the sleek machine purring at the traffic lights back here in Singapore... I quickly calculate that the small fortune paid for this car could easily: finance research on an endangered species, restore the livelihoods of entire communities destroyed by the tsunami, and even help fund any number of medical breakthroughs - the list goes on. Of course I'm talking humanitarianism here - a bit of an antique concept these days.

As we evolve as a species, so our notorious Selfish Genes have become more dominant - it seems to be the way of things, across the board. Now don't get me wrong - this is not a jibe against the owner of said supercar (oh yes... you can almost see the sour grapes spilling from my mouth) - rather its what he stands for; a symbol of where most of the human race would like to be. Its all about possession and prestige - an almost instinctive need that plagues us. Although my aspirations don't include owning a million dollar sports car, I still want that new camera, that computer upgrade, and eventually a nice little farm in the country. There's always something we want, on any given day.

But if we could just manipulate that little piece of DNA - mutate it, make it more malleable - turn it into an altruistic gene with all traces of selfishness spliced out... yes that's all sci-fi - but what if? What if? 

What would it take for us to address the realities of poverty that plague our race even in this so-called enlightened age? What would it take for the millionaire to swap his Lamborghini for a more practical SUV and divert some of his fortune to aid the less fortunate? No, that's not going to happen is it? That's not the way we're built... 

So, in Singapore's thriving business district a stockbroker drives into the sunset on his wheels of fortune and a thousand miles away in a forgotten street corner, someone is trying to figure out how they're going to be able to make it through another day. And someone like me will vent their futile frustrations, knowing only too well that ultimately they have no solution for this contagious human condition.