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Saigon-based Sri Lankan artist makes waves at Coachella via ‘The Messengers’

Kumkum Fernando ties poetic stories to his towering installations inspired by ancient & South Asian art

  • Words: Miki Kitasako | Images: Lance Gerber
  • 25 April 2023
Saigon-based Sri Lankan artist makes waves at Coachella via ‘The Messengers’

Showcasing ancient and South Asian art through a geometric world, Kumkum Fernando’s giant robots make their way across the oceans from Vietnam to Coachella’s grounds.

After two weekends of music and art, we bid farewell to this year’s Coachella. Social media has been all the craze about the best of the best and not-so-unruly events that occurred at the dessert, such as the debacles of Frank Ocean’s performance causing an overtake from Skrillex, Fourtet and Fred Again.. (we’re not upset about this), breaking curfew and Diplo sharing his love for Diljit Dosanjh. However, one thing that has not been mentioned quite as much as how Burning Man would have it is the art.

Those who were able to make it to Palm Springs would have witnessed the artist's giant robots known as ‘The Messengers’. Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but based in Saigon, Vietnam, Fernando’s artistic flair has travelled with him from his upbringing through Hinduism and Buddhism, adventures in India, cultural traditions, ancient mythology and personal stories through passing.

‘The Messengers’ come as a triple threat standing about 65-80 feet tall; the largest scale he’s ever gone. Prior to this, the tallest he’s gone was 6 feet.

Each of the three giant robots has a story of its own. ‘The Empress of the Garden’ is a tribute to Tibetan temples that are adorned with floral patterns, while ‘Lotus One’ pays homage to his artistic vision as it was one of his earlier pieces as an artist. Last but not least, ‘The Flying ilo’ is a tribute to his son, Kai-ilo.

Each piece is accompanied by a poem, another facet of the artists’ visual storytelling process. His beliefs of having a story through each of his creations derive from the idea that each object has a soul that has a representation throughout history and its past.

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"(The installation) has a lot of Southeast Asian iconography embedded in it, and it feels great that side of the world is represented at Coachella. I'm humbled and proud,” explains Fernando via Desert Sun.

The colourful and unique combination of patterns in geometric shapes is a staple in Fernando’s artistic creations and have travelled with him through his journey from South Asia, Vietnam, Singapore and the U.S. Back in Saigon, the artist has made a home for himself for over a decade, fostering his creations and working with traditional Vietnamese artisans. He is also the co-founder and creative director of an award-winning creative agency ‘Ki Saigon’ and ‘Reborn Design Studio’.

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Read the poem for ‘The Flying ilo’ below:

The Flying ilo
This artwork is named after my son Kai-ilo.
Ilo lives thousands of miles away from me.
The first artwork I made for Kai- ilo was called ilo the dreamer
But it never had wings and ilo couldn’t fly.
This time it’s different.
I gave ilo a jet pack, faster than a billion comets.
The next time you see a shooting star,
A streak of light going across the sky.
That’s ilo
Coming to see me.
This is dedicated to all the missing parts of our hearts
that cannot be with us right in this moment.
May they all get jets packs powered by a billion comets
so they can fly to you from where ever they are.
Long live love.
This is the flying ilo

Learn more about Kumkum Fernando’s art here.

Via: Mixmag Asia Vietnam

Images by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Coachella

Miki Kitasako is Mixmag Asia’s Social Media and Content Producer, follow her on LinkedIn.

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