AP NEWS

WV artist’s work sent to embassy in Sri Lanka

May 6, 2019

CHARLESTON — The message came in October, completely out of the blue.

“I received an email from someone ... They said they saw ‘Gravity,’ loved my work and asked if they could send my website info to the curator for the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka,” said artist Kelly Scudieri.

“I said sure,” she added, then laughed. It was all a bit surreal.

Scudieri had never been to Sri Lanka — still hasn’t been there — and had never heard of the Art in Embassies program. But she sensed the sincerity of the words and appreciated the genuine interest in her work.

The email came from Robert Saul. He and his wife had seen the bigger-than-life painting Scudieri calls “Gravity” on display at Domestic, a Shepherdstown restaurant. His wife, as it turned out, is Alaina Teplitz, the United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Scudieri provided her website information and a few weeks later heard from Imtiaz Hafiz, a curator of the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program. It began under the Museum of Modern Art as part of an exhibition of contemporary art for U.S. embassy residences in 1953, according to the program website. Ten years later, President John F. Kennedy established AIE as an office within the State Department.

“When ambassadors are confirmed they meet with an AIE curator to have a conversation about a theme, and type of art that could be useful for them to exhibit in the public spaces of the ambassador’s residence,” said Hafiz, in an email exchange with the Gazette-Mail. “The art is used as a diplomatic tool to foster dialogue with visitors, dignitaries and the local artistic community.”

The chosen works are loaned to the State Department for a specified time. In this case, three years.

Scudieri sent a number of images back and forth. Ultimately, the Ambassador settled on “Gravity,” the first one she had seen. She had, said the curator, a personal connection to the abstract, figurative style of the piece.

“Ambassador Alaina Teplitz was interested in exhibiting a multi-media themed exhibition that showcases a range of visual styles,” said Hafiz.

″‘Gravity’ was chosen for its representation of strong characters.”

The oil on canvas painting has gold and bronze metallic notes sprinkled liberally throughout, with accents of charcoal. It measures 5 feet by 6 feet.

“I prefer to do large pieces,” said Scudieri. “I just love the movement and the freedom to work on a big canvas.”

There are two figures. The woman, on the right, is a warrior and has a packet of arrows on her back. Both are looking directly at the viewer with an intensity meant to convey a sense of being grounded despite life’s pulls, said the artist.

“The painting definitely has a lot of meaning about the natural flow of life, faith, trust, inner strength,” she said. Later she emailed to expand, writing that, ”‘Gravity’ is packed full of hidden meanings but ultimately is about staying grounded in the midst of the continual pull of the universe.

“The jellyfish is a symbol of protection but also caution,” she added. “Though fragile at first glance they possess secret weapons.”

The curator arranged for a packing and shipping company to prepare and transport the large piece of work.

Scudieri breathed a sigh of relief a few weeks ago when word came that the piece had arrived safely in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“I still can’t quite believe all this has happened. They’re actually painting a wall for the piece to be displayed,” said Scudieri. She paused and added, “It’s really humbling to work with people who give the appreciation to your craft like that.”

“I still can’t quite believe all this has happened. They’re actually painting a wall for the piece to be displayed. It’s really humbling to work with people who give the appreciation to your craft like that.”

Kelly Scudieri

West Virginia artist