A multiple award winner

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By 2017-11-12

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Ceylon Today Features

The common belief is that we are all put on this God's green Earth to serve some purpose. Some find it easily, some struggle finding it and some don't believe in it altogether. This however, is not an article about the purpose of life or how to find your true calling. This is about a man who has found his purpose at such a young age and who has devoted his life to his passion.

G. G. Indika Udayanga knew his calling was wood carving, when he held a chisel for the first time at a very young age. "For as far back as I can remember I have been involved with wood carving. My dad used to say that even at the age of seven I was there in his workshop getting the hang of all the woodcarving tools there," says Udayanga.

His father too was a woodcarver, and he of course, was the one who introduced Udayanga to woodcarving. The influence was enough to awaken the talent Udayanga held within and he too was eager to make a career out of his talent. After finishing his O levels, Udayanga dived in, headfirst, into the world of woodcarving and has never looked back ever since.

Udayanga works from home. His workshop is there in his own house and he is his own boss. With no one hovering over him giving instructions, Udayanga works in peace for the better part of almost every day from as early as 6:30 in the morning until as late as four in the evening, lunch and tea breaks excluded. Four in the evening might not sound that late for many of us but to Udayanga, it is as late as he could work because he prefers to work in daylight. "Working under artificial light is said to be not very good for your eyes. In this line of work, we depend on our eyes, a lot. I generally don't work deep into the evening, but sometimes I do, only if there is a special order that is urgent" says Udayanga.

Athdemata wood
Udayanga uses Athdemata wood quite often as a material. Athdemata, being light and easy on the chisel makes it an ideal material for Udayanga's intricate carvings. "Not just Athdemata but I also use Mahogany, White Sandalwood and Ebony wood. Sometimes the material we use depends on the customer's preference. We carvers have special permission from the State Timber Corporation to use Ebony wood," says Udayanga.

All kinds of wood carvings come out of Udayanga's workshop. The end products are, most of the time, results of customer preferences but Udayanga admits he seeks inspiration in religion and history more than often. Most of his creations reflect this influence.
His work is meticulous, intricate and highly detailed. The smooth and silky finish and the acute symmetry of his creations do create a doubt in the bewildered minds of the average observer whether some sort of machinery aided the process. Despite the popular doubt, Udayanga assures that no machinery whatsoever is used in the process. From the first hammer on the chisel to the last swipe of the sand paper, it is all done by Udayanga's hand, no matter how large the artefact is.

Another attribute of Udayanga's works of art is that he tries to leave the original characteristics of the material as is. He avoids painting details on his statues with colours. A wood preservative is sometimes applied and the most Udayanga would compromise is a single natural wood colour. Udayanga believes the colours and features of the material, wood, complementing the skills of the carver, should be there intact, for it to be a complete artefact. Applying wood preservatives is a precautionary measure but Udayanga says a properly kept statue, away from moisture at least, would last an indefinite time and would not need any preservatives either.
One of his recent creations, a statue of Teaching Buddha (a cross-legged Buddha statue bearing 'Dharmachakra Mudra') has taken two months of Udayanga's labour to be completed. The detailed statue looked as if it came out of a mould rather than carved out of wood. The complete statue made out of Athdemata wood has won the Presidential Award (Gold) in the recently concluded 'Shilpa Abhimani' National Handcrafts Competition.

Trophies galore
Udayanga is no stranger to awards. His whole career is a trophy-laden one. His very first entry to a national handcrafts competition, way back in '97, won a Presidential award. In '99 again he won all island first and second places in the national handcrafts competition and
managed to win the first place in the following year as well. In 2009, he won his very first Presidential Gold Award. He went on to win the Presidential Gold awards in the following two years as well. His hat-trick of awards marks a special record in 'Shilpa Abhimani' history. Organizers fearing the pattern would continue if Udayanga continued to enter the competition, asked him to take a break from the competition so that other emerging talents would have a platform to earn repute. As instructed, Udayanga took a long break after the 2011 competition, which he broke by entering again in 2017. Despite the five-year absence, Udayanga's addition to the latest instalment of the competition won him another Presidential Gold award.

When asked how he prepares an entry for a national competition, Udayanga said that the years of winning the award has polished his 'competition sense' as well. Now he knows what the organizers are looking for and he is almost certain that his piece would go on to win the best prize there is, even before the competition.

Despite having 22 years of professional experience in woodcarving, Udayanga is a 39 years young bachelor. Married to his passion, woodcarving, Udayanga hopes of giving birth to more and more quality works of art. "I don't have many pieces with me now as they get sold pretty quickly. I plan to create more good pieces, collect them and open an art gallery of my own" reveals Udayanga of his hopes.

Udayanga also hopes to go global one day. He firmly believes the talents of local artistes are more than on par with the rest of the world. In 2008, Udayanga got the opportunity to represent Sri Lanka in a global craftsmanship competition held in Russia. The competition saw entries from 61 different countries and Udayanga managed to win a bronze medal for the country. "Despite the bronze medal, I think Sri Lankan craftsmen were the best among all the entries. The only difference is that we don't have proper technology and recognition. If those are provided, our artistes are more than capable of competing at any international level, and can win easily" says Udayanga with confidence.

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