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Friday, July 23, 2021

From the kitchen to the garden: Upali Kariyawasam’s creative journey

Over one year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the world, forcing people to stay home and use their creativity to have some fun.

One of the sculptures in Upali Kariyawasam’s backyard is a lion wielding a sword.

For Chapman resident Upali Kariyawasam, creativity has always been a part of his life, but the pandemic allowed him to explore his artistic side as he made unique garden sculptures to brighten his backyard.

Mr Kariyawasam’s creative journey started in the kitchen when at the age of 24 he moved from Sri Lanka to London, where he learnt to cook European cuisine. With more than 40 years’ experience cooking all over the world, he still loves being in the kitchen.

“I owned two restaurants in the heart of London,” he said.

During his cooking career, Mr Kariyawasam was invited to Buckingham Palace twice and was named the “MasterChef of Sri Lanka” before moving to Australia and working at the Sydney Olympics. One of his favourite memories is riding an elephant in the heart of London and then years later, riding one in Canberra.

“I don’t think any chef in the whole history has ridden an elephant in two capital cities,” he said.

Mr Kariyawasam said he made his first sculpture, a dolphin that once decorated the entryway of his home, “a long time ago”. He explained his passion for sculpting first began when he learnt how to carve ice sculptures in London via his colleague, a breakfast chef from Japan.

Upali Kariyawasam made a sculpture of Don Bradman and a bust of his father, which hangs near his workshop.

“I was head chef those days and I thought I must go and sit with him … he was so talented, so I learnt from watching him.”

“Then when I came to this country, one guy who was the head chef at the Tuggeranong Vikings Club, he said ‘could you do a butter carving?’ Then I made a Viking into a butter carving and that went well,” Mr Kariyawasam said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mr Kariyawasam began to make more sculptures as a creative outlet. A lion, elephant, kangaroo and an octopus on the roof are just some of the art pieces decorating the backyard. Mr Kariyawasam has also made a sculpture of Australian cricketer Don Bradman and a bust of his father, which hangs near his workshop.

Mr Kariyawasam makes the sculptures using chicken wire and cement.

“What I do is, I buy chicken wire and I make the structure out of that. Then I make hessian, I dip it in the cement and put it on the wire. After that I get more cement and make it like a statue,” he said.

“I don’t have a photographic memory but if I see something I can come home and draw it. I’m a bit of an artist actually but I’m not very good at any of these things.”

While his backyard is already full of art, Mr Kariyawasam does not plan to stop in the foreseeable future. His next task is to make a turtle to attach to the roof.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” he said.

Mr Kariyawasam in his workshop.

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