Today marks the last day of sessions at Open Talk and an exhibition at the Park Street Mews of the 16 artworks made in response to the Mobile Library and the Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Architecture & Design. Featured below are four interesting new artists: Monuments to Lost Memories, 2013 For his piece, [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

An empowering experience


Today marks the last day of sessions at Open Talk and an exhibition at the Park Street Mews of the 16 artworks made in response to the Mobile Library and the Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Architecture & Design. Featured below are four interesting new artists:

Monuments to Lost Memories, 2013

For his piece, M. Vijitharan created 15 stories about the Kilinochchi water tank. He explains the tank, which was a vital source of water to the town, was always high on the list of targets when the fighting erupted. It was destroyed twice in 1996 and again in 2008 as the

Students working on the road exhibit

LTTE withdrew from the area. The artist who lived in a village close to the Kilinochchi would pass it on his way there, and found a quiet horror pervaded the place, turning the former water tank into a “monument of grief.” His compulsive drawing and redrawing of the tank was his way of engaging with memories he could not escape.

His own personal history also came into play. In 2009 Vijitharan was in a refugee camp. In 2010 he was enrolled in Jaffna University’s Fine Arts programme, and in 2013, he is a 3rd year student, preparing to exhibit his work in Colombo alongside far more established artists. These leaps are a “very real miracle” to him and herald a very happy and meaningful phase of his life. Yet, he retains vivid memories of the fear and despair he felt in the camp, the absolute conviction that he would not be able to leave. Speaking over the phone from Jaffna through a translator, Vijitharan says that in the years since he has struggled to put his past behind him but has found it returns to haunt him both in his waking hours and his dreams. However, he has found that he is able to confront and express these complex emotions through his art, and that may be the most empowering discovery of all.

Roads, 2013

Pradeep Thalawatta collaborated with 12 of his 1st year students from the Fine Art Department of the University of Jaffna and built on his previous exhibition – A Different Road – to create this new work. It is an extension of his interest in roads and how they navigate both a socio-political and, in a sense, an emotional space. “This was another way to represent the change in the landscape,” he told the Sunday Times. Pradeep and his students used moulds to capture the texture of the surfaces of various roads, with the exact location chosen by the students who were asked to select places of personal significance to them. 13 pieces are the result and will be on display at Open Talk. The art pieces have a particular archival significance since many of the Jaffna roads they document so intimately are in the throes of a development programmes – some are being expanded, others tarred over – and as things change so rapidly around the community, each pothole, bump and familiar stretch of road takes on a historical and personal significance.

Introducing Our Village, 2013

For her artwork, G. Samvarthini chose to immortalise her village in Puttalam. Inspired by Barbara Sansoni’s ‘Viharas and Verandas’ she used pen, pencil, chalk and charcoal on an improvised canvas of newspaper collage to sketch images of the landscape and the daily lives of the villagers. To depict the continuity of village life, in spite of the many challenges that face the community, Samvarthini’s piece takes the form of a hand rolled scroll that is viewed using a commercially available plastic sheet dispenser.

Samvarthini is the daughter of a fisherman. When she and another girl from the area enrolled in Batticaloa University, they became the first people from their village to attend university, all the others having quit after basic schooling to take on jobs. Her community sees her as something of trendsetter, she tells the Sunday Times, explaining that local parents now seem more eager to have their children study further. She’s pleased now to have the opportunity to represent her village in Colombo. When Samvarthini first joined University it was with the intention of becoming an art teacher. This exhibition however, has convinced her she may have a chance at a real career as an artist.

Artefacts from Jaffna, 2013

When T. Krishnapriya finished reading Colonial Period Furniture in the Geoffrey Bawa Collection by Channa Daswatte, she found herself curious about what had become of similar artefacts that once adorned Jaffna temples, homes and public buildings. Where had they disappeared? To find her answers, Krishnapriya visited friends and neighbours, spoke with people who had ancestral property in the area and even visited local collectors. Then she chose to create a book of records – on each seemingly blank page is a piece a piece of furniture, an object or curio, delineated as a hand-embossed line drawing. It is as if the shape of the thing lingers, still occupying space, while the physical object itself has vanished. On the reverse of each page, you will find the trace of the work, left behind by a carbon paper.

Krishnapriya, who lost her mother as a young girl and was raised by her grandmother, says she encountered some of these pieces when she was still a child. Some were very common then in the homes around but are not so now – having been sold on the antique market by their owners or lost to looters during the war. Both for people who voluntarily parted with their antiques in lieu of more contemporary, functional furnishings and those who still invest a certain nostalgia in their stolen property, this book serves as a record. Now, people who have looked at the book are able to appreciate some of the artistic value in these old objects, says Samvarthini, adding that by documenting their loss, they have conversely succeeded in establishing a kind of ownership over the work. S.D.

Open Talk is on this weekend ( July 6 and 7) at the Park Street Mews. It is the closing event of Open Edit: Mobile Library, a collaboration between Asia Art Archive and Raking Leaves in partnership with the Goethe Institut, Groundviews, and the University of Jaffna’s Fine Arts (Art History) and Art and Design Departments.

The exhibition features a mix of aspiring and established artists among whom are: J. Abiramie, Muhanned Cader, Marisa Gnanaraj, S. Hanusha, Sharni Jayawardena and Malathi de Alwis, T. Krishnapriya, S. Puranthara, P. Pushpakanthan, G. Samvarthini, N. Savesan, K. Suresh, T. Thajendran, Pradeep Thalawatta, Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Thisath Thoradeniya (working with Kumari Kumaragamage and Janananda Laksiri) and M. Vijitharan. The project is funded by Burger Collection and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.

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