Tissa De Alwis

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Buddhism, flight, history, memory, war
Design and Crafts (ceramics)
Visual Arts (sculpture, wall picture)
Asia, Southern and Central
Sri Lanka
created on:
July 17, 2003
last changed on:
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Miniature Worlds

Tissa De Alwis was born in 1956 in Pitakotte, Sri Lanka. He is a potter, ceramicist and modeller and lives and works in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His idiosyncratic miniature scenes created of plasticine and found materials draw on contemporary conflicts, imagined worlds and military history. He has exhibited at the Fukuoka and Asia Pacific Triennials.
The artist Tissa De Alwis was born in 1956 in Sri Lanka where he lives and works in the capital, Colombo. Described as a potter, ceramicist and modeller, his idiosyncratic assemblages, mobiles and ´sets´ of plasticine soldiers draw on an interest in military history. They provide an absurdist commentary on contemporary war and violence. His work relating to the Sri Lankan conflict was selected for the prestigious Legacy Project, a website including works by artists around the world commenting on historical tragedies of the 20th century.

Tissa de Alwis trained as a ceramicist with the Ceylon Ceramic Corporation and worked with the Department of Small Industries in Sri Lanka. He has used plasticine since the early 1990s and also includes terra cotta and found materials such as combs, cloth and various ephemera in his sculptures. He describes his intricate and detailed works as ´Persian miniatures in three dimensions´. The work was selected for the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial in Queensland in 1999, the 1st Fukuoka Trienniale in 1999 and he was included in the 2002 ´Crafty Thoughts´ exhibition in Liverpool which presented contemporary artists from Sri Lanka.

From ´Crafty Thoughts´ 2002 exhibition catalogue:

Standing no more than twelve centimetres in height, Tissa de Alwis´s plasticine figures present a miniaturised and deeply fantastical view of military history. Whether arranged in armies or piloting mysterious wire flying machines, his figures portray a sharp wit and command that outweighs the modesty of their material form. Ranked according to a specific colour code in a carefully crafted theatre of found object ´props´ and ´costumes´, each set of figures suggests playful imaginings that interweave military and cultural history, sci-fi novels and boys´ comics.

Artist´s Statement (from the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial catalogue)

I first got my hands on clay or to be more accurate ´Plasticine´ in Nursery School when about 4-5 years old. Today most of the work I do with Plasticine, has to do with maintaining my ´sets´ or groups of figures, colour coded in green, blue, red, and yellow or making a figure or a group on personal request. Most of my time has been spent making Terra Cotta or Ceramic Work. However, the fascination with plasticine remains probably because of the ability to mix colours here and now, like with painting rather than doing it in stages, and the fact that you can use plasticine to juxtapose two or more objects to make a new picture.

My subject matter originates to a great extent from an interest in Military History and also, I am sure, influenced by Films I have seen and Books I have read as well as Current Affairs in my own country and the rest of the world.

The green set is made up of mostly modern Military Prototypes drawn from all around the world. Time frame the present. The blue set is European/Napoleonic. Time frame late the 17th Century to late 19th Century. The red set is Middle Eastern, Arabic, and the same time frame as the blue set. The yellow set is Sri Lankan or Kandyan. Time frame late 16th Century to the present.

While these sets are basically self contained, two sets can be grouped together to make a surrealist picture as with the green and blue sets. I also back up, enhance or elaborate on sets with red clay (Terra Cotta) or Glazed Ceramic Works and Mobiles, for example the Tank, Submarine, Helicopter and Aeroplane with the green set.

In today´s Electronic World with its proliferation of imagery I feel free to use printed images sometimes of other artist´s work as backdrops or to give exact location to my sets or assemblages. Sometimes I do this. With the intention of taking photographs and blowing them up to make big pictures!

I also hope to use figures from one or more sets as characters for the purpose of making a story board, with a time machine flavour for a series of Video Cartoons or Audio Visuals that I believe, will be a popular medium for all Visual Artists in the future.
Author: Judith Staines


Tissa De Alwis was born in 1956 in Pitakotte, Sri Lanka. He is a potter, ceramicist and modeller and lives and works in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He trained as a ceramicist under the Ceylon Ceramic Corporation but is now best known for his miniature sets of soldiers, airplanes and other models made of plasticine. He has exhibited at the Fukuoka and Asia Pacific Triennials.


Forthcoming exhibition

Exhibition / Installation,
Solo exhibition planned in Colombo, Sri Lanka


Exhibition / Installation,
Recent exhibition - images from this show.

1st Fukuoka Triennale

Exhibition / Installation,
Selected to represent Sri Lanka at Fukuoka, Japan

3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial - apt3

Exhibition / Installation,
Selected for apt3 in Queensland.


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Crafty Thoughts

(19 July 02 - 09 September 02)


Legacy Project

Project featuring world artists work related to wars and conflicts of 20th century.

3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial

1999 triennial in Queensland, Australia

British Council - Sri Lanka

Report of education project involving artist.

Art Today - Sri Lanka

Artists page
Oh say, it´s a small island
Yellow Set
Oh say, it´s a small island