Hosted on the sand at the Miami Beach EDITION hotel during Miami Art Week, the immersive gallery PLAY by American Express Platinum indulged in nostalgia as a force of inspiration. Unlike at traditional galleries, guests visiting PLAY were encouraged to touch the artwork within the exhibit—thanks to the fact that the participating artists had been tasked with reimagining toys from their past and bring them to life as stand-alone art pieces that were available to purchase. Among the talent involved, Kumkum Fernando, a Sri Lanka-born sculptural artist represented by Jonathan Levine Projects, created special pieces that encouraged guests to explore the ephemeral nature of art and nostalgia. “His ‘Tomorrow’ is a toy robot that sits at the intersection of art and play, with colorful hand-silk screened patterns and wooden shapes fastened together by magnets, inviting guests to play and assemble the robot in myriad ways,” explains Bess Spaeth, SVP, US Premium Products and Membership Rewards at American Express. We were able to sit down with Fernando for an exclusive conversation during art week to dive further into his piece “Tomorrow” and learn more about what the future holds.
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 07: Kumkum Fernando attends PLAY by American Express Platinum at The Miami Beach EDITION on December 07, 2023 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express Platinum)
How did you get into this type of sculpting and art? What was the genesis for this all?
In short, my artistic journey began with mixed media collages. During one project, I explored the patterns of antique window grills documented on Saigon’s streets. As I arranged these elements, the shapes evolved into a figurative form. Witnessing this transformation, I turned a flat object into a three-dimensional shape, giving birth to one of my first characters. I named it “Lotus Face,” inspired by the lotus flower pattern adorning its face. Inspired by this, I made a conscious decision to infuse more figurative elements into my work. Since then, my focus has shifted to creating geometric sci-fi characters.
You’ve worked on huge installation pieces for the likes of Coachella, how was it recreating your work in a much smaller form that is available for sale?
Before Coachella, my artwork was typically small, and everything I created was available for sale. However, I had never undertaken such a large edition before. Preparing for all 50 editions posed a challenge because all my pieces are handmade. I didn’t want to cast or make the toy in resin; I wanted to stay true to my process and keep all editions handmade just like my previous work. To meet this demand, I collaborated with lacquer artisans from Vietnam who I worked closely with to produce all the editions for PLAY by American Express Platinum.
How did your partnership with American Express Platinum come to be?
It was great to be part of PLAY by American Express Platinum at Miami Art Week. Both American Express and PlayLab, Inc. granted me complete creative freedom to create “Tomorrow,” and I loved seeing the interactive installation that was inspired by my toy. When I first started out as an artist, it was my dream to work on projects where I have complete artistic freedom to bring my ideas to life. Being a part of this allowed me to do just that and it’s been something I used to only daydream about.
What do you think people took away from your art?
I think people had various interpretations; during the event a lot of them told me that they felt like a child playing around with the wooden magnetic blocks. They loved the fact that you could keep changing the shape of the robot. For me the intention was exactly that: every time you play with it, you can transform it into a different character, symbolizing a fresh start for the toy whenever you change its persona. That’s why I named it “Tomorrow.” Personally it’s a symbol for new beginnings.
What’s next for you in the future?
I have a few releases lined up and a few projects and shows down the pipeline; however, they are not set in stone. I will be in touch to share with you the new developments as they unfold.