The 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival opened its doors to immerse visitors in a world of vibrant art installations. Among the four new designers joining this year’s art program is Kumkum Fernando, a Sri Lankan-born artist known for his colorful sculptures of gods and robots. Fernando’s newly commissioned works were created specifically for the California festival to add a touch of Hindu mythology and retro-futurism to the iconic Coachella landscape.
‘The fusion of Asian cultural elements with futuristic designs in my sculptures is a natural expression of my artistic vision. I am not attempting to impose any particular meaning or message onto my work, but rather to explore the possibilities of combining different elements to create something entirely new and unique,’ Kumkum Fernando tells designboom. Dressed in bright tones and playful patterns, the otherworldly totemic creatures are titled ‘The Messengers’ and deliver their own message to each passerby. ‘I anticipate that (visitors) will experience the artwork in their own unique way. Some may be drawn to the intricate details and vibrant colors, while others may be captivated by the underlying themes and cultural references.’ the artist explains. To learn more about Fernando’s giant robot god sculptures, his sources of inspiration, and his artistic process, read the full interview below.
designboom (DB): Can you tell us a little about your installation for Coachella 2023?
Kumkum Fernando (KF): My installations at the festival draw a parallel resemblance to my previous sculptures of gods and robots. These new works are by far the biggest I have ever dreamt of making. The festival will showcase figurines, which I have created solely for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The inspiration for these works comes from a combination of South Asian art/architecture, Hindu mythology, personal memories, as well as imagery of retro-futurism.
DB: You are known to transform found objects/ motifs into artworks. Can you tell us a little about your artistic process? How do you incorporate your background into your work?
KF: My artistic process mainly involves repurposing old motifs, stories and designs into futuristic/ surreal forms, giving them a new life. As part of this process, I collect and document the shapes and motifs that capture my imagination. As I arrange shapes and patterns in specific ways, a face often emerges, serving as the foundation of my creative process. Each of my works begins with this as the starting point and gradually evolves as the design process unfolds, eventually taking the form of a complete being. Growing up, I was steeped in the rich cultural traditions of Sri Lanka, where I was exposed to ancient folk tales, myths of flying machines, and stories of divine and demonic beings from other realms. These childhood experiences along with my personal stories continue to inform and inspire my creative process, as I draw upon these narratives to shape and give meaning to my art.
DB: In your work, one finds a series of futuristic robot-like sculptures that are influenced by the colors, shapes and ornaments of Sri Lankan and other Asian Cultures. Is this a conscious attempt to combine the past and the future?
KF: My intention is not to force a connection between the past and the future, but rather to create a new world where they can coexist. The fusion of Asian cultural elements with futuristic designs in my sculptures is a natural expression of my artistic vision. I am not attempting to impose any particular meaning or message onto my work, but rather to explore the possibilities of combining different elements to create something entirely new and unique.
DB: Many of your works are presented together with your poems. What does poetry mean to you? Will the Coachella piece be accompanied by a poem, too?
KF: My writings for the characters I make are more like a window into a moment of their lives. The words together with the sculpture hope to capture the feeling that I am trying to create for the world the characters live in.
DB: What do you hope your new installation will bring to this year’s Coachella? How do you expect visitors to interact with it / what do you think they will take away from it?
KF: The stories behind some of the artworks that will be showcased this year are very personal to me.
As for how visitors will interact with the installation, I anticipate that they will experience the artwork in their own unique way. Some may be drawn to the intricate details and vibrant colors, while others may be captivated by the underlying themes and cultural references. I hope that due to the immense scale of these works, the audience experiences a sense of awe and feels transported to a world where these characters exist in their midst.