Meet Kumkum Fernando, an artist who expresses his creativity through very unlikely means – by collecting seemingly random objects. His personal bio proudly states, “as far as he could remember, he had been a collector. Be it stones, spoons, bottle caps, ostrich eggs, and much more.” By reinterpreting the intended functions of these common everyday objects, Kumkum is able to combine them cohesively into something completely new. He takes these ordinary items, and through a process of meticulous rearrangement, transforms them into quirky unexpected pieces of art.
Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Kumkum was fascinated with collecting random objects even as a child. Despite having no real purpose for collecting these things, he just considered it something fun to do. As he grew older, Kumkum finally realized why he was so fascinated with collecting these random objects. He was intrigued by their untold stories: where they were from, who could have used them, and where they had been. Neocha recently had the opportunity to speak with Kumkum about his inspirations and creative approach.
Neocha: Tell us a bit about who you are as an artist, and the general concept and philosophy behind your work.
Kumkum: My work is about capturing the beauty and mystery of the forgotten, by telling stories that will bring them to life. I have always made art, even at a very young age. However, I only took it seriously about ten years ago, that was when I started investing money to collect more expensive objects and equipment. Even though it was only a hobby at first, I became more serious about it after receiving requests for a few commissioned projects. So I took my hobby out of my bedroom and into an actual workshop. Since my first show, things have been gaining momentum. I am in the process of putting together a team and establishing an even bigger workshop in order to create more complicated pieces of work.
Neocha: What inspired the idea of combining your collection of items together into pieces of art?
Kumkum: I’m inspired by a sense of longing – it can be a longing for something or someone. It’s actually quite sad, but I’m inspired by it. For me, bringing these objects together is like bringing lovers together, who if left alone in the real world would never meet. After I realized this, the entire process became quite addictive, so that’s why I kept doing it.
Neocha: How does Sri Lanka influence your work?
Kumkum: Sri Lanka is filled with many mysterious tales that everyone there grew up listening to – from demon kings, to giants, to strange flying machines, and magical hidden treasures. These strange and magical tales definitely influenced me. I would say I try to capture a bit of Sri Lanka in every piece of my work.
Neocha: Those magical Sri Lankan childhood tales that you grew up with sound intriguing. So how would you say your childhood has affected your work?
Kumkum: When I was a child, my grandmother used to wake me up early in the morning and take me for walks around her garden. She used to tell me all these magical stories about fairies, singing trees, and fireflies as we slowly took our stroll. Sadly, I have forgotten most of the stories, but I know how I felt when I heard them. I attempt to capture that very same feeling when I make my art. I want people to feel a sense of magic and mystery when they see my artwork.
Neocha: Would you mind telling us more Kiko’s Secrets and Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller?
Kumkum: Mr. Bastian The Time Traveller was my very first show. It was held in November 2014 at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts. All of the artwork in the show was created around quotes from a journal. One of my favorite quote is, “the color of time is yellow, I feel like I have eaten everything in the universe, sometimes windows are better than what’s on the outside.”
Kiko’s Secret was commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum, which was a part of SG50. I was asked to create a concept for a story that would inspire children to become interested in contemporary art. The entire concept stemmed from the idea of this phrase, “the moon must travel twenty times around the sun before you can tell these secrets to anyone“. The tale was about a boy who keeps a girl’s secrets for twenty years before revealing them to the world.
Neocha: Having worked in Vietnam for so long, and having held exhibitions there as well. Could you share with us what the creative community out there is like?
Kumkum: There’s a growing creative community in Ho Chi Minh City. I notice it growing everyday, from the time I arrived six years back until now. More and more young people are getting into art and music. I get to see portfolios a lot, and the newer portfolios I have been seeing are quite awesome compared to the ones I saw when I first got here.
Neocha: What do you have in the works for the near future?
Kumkum: I’m working on my second solo show at the moment. I’m attempting to create much larger pieces, larger than any other ones I’ve made before. However, it’s taking a lot more time and money than originally anticipated. I expect everything to be finished sometime within the next two or three months.