Sri Lanka - Re-Imagining Ceylon

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Sri Lanka

Deconstructing the Past, Creating the Future
Rain is bouncing off streets, off roofs, and off my thoughts as I stare across treetops towards the Laccadive Sea, imagining the Palaeolithic settlements from 300,000 BP and their ancestral Homo erectus inhabitants. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples further strengthen the island’s foundations while the colonial histories of the Portuguese and the British can still be found in names and monuments across the island, where a multi-ethnic population welcomes the settling of dust from a Civil War that seemed as though it could split the island in two.

Alex Stewart - The Second Son Arrives (2016)

Today, the process of deconstructing this island nation’s traditional and modern histories, excavating both a collective pride in the ancient, coupled with a desire for understanding the more recent past, can be felt almost as intensely as the moisture in the air. The Civil War in Sri Lanka officially ended as recently as 2009, and so the search for truth and the desire to know what went wrong are part of an on-going process of healing and rebuilding.

Chandragupta Thenuwara - Untitled (2015)

Asvajit Boyle - Untitled (2016)

But that process can be complex, manifesting itself, both real and imagined, in political, economic, social, and deeply personal ways within multiple contexts, not the least of which, is contemporary artistic dialogue and practice. But what exactly does truth and reconciliation mean when it comes to contemporary art and the discussions that surround it in Sri Lanka today? I believe the answer or answers could be equally complex. But what is important is that the question is being asked. And whether Sri Lankan, expatriate, immigrant, or returnee it is being asked by a wide range of artists and other creatives throughout Sri Lanka – painters, writers, musicians, curators, fashion designers, architects, graphic designers, poets, and sculptors. All of whom have participated in, and contributed to, the Imago Mundi, Sri Lanka collection.

Janani Aludeniya - Untitled (2015)

Kavinda Silva - Untitled (2015)

All of them are actively participating through contemporary artistic forms, in not only understanding the past, but in mapping a future for Sri Lanka that re-imagines the nation in new ways. There is a creative energy felt in Sri Lanka among both the younger and more senior generations of artists, that serves as a spotlight on how individual artists approach the very act of creativity. What does the artist create? What are the subjects explored? What are the messages, if any, intended through the work? Even whether an artist does work about the war or not, it is largely a conscious decision that has been made one way or the other.

Chinthaka Thenuwara - Untitled (2015)

Sabeen Omar - Goodnight (2015)

But what is an artist’s responsibility towards future-building in a country like Sri Lanka? Must their art be reflective of society and its concerns? Or can it be free to see the world through abstracts that do not specifically attempt to draw attention to, or provide a voice for, societal issues? While there are important art spaces such as Theertha in Colombo, that are pushing and promoting a conscious, reflective, and dialogue- rich artistic practice, there is simultaneously a small, but dedicated market push through a handful of galleries located in Colombo. Besides the more established senior artists, young artists are being drawn into the largely market-centred gallery world very early in their artistic careers. This is of course not necessarily a negative trend, but it is relevant in terms of how that relationship may affect the type of work that will be created.

Firi Rahman - Solitary Confinement (2015)

Malika Sanjeevani Kodikara - Untitled (2016)

Chani Antoinette Perera - The Missing Scowl (2015)

As artists across the country are experiencing a relatively new found freedom of expression, able to make work that is critical, including about the conflict that is still fresh in their memories, it is unclear whether what the galleries want to see produced, will be so out of sync with what the artist wants to create, that he or she will not get the exposure they perhaps deserve, or whether it will be so singularly in-step with what the artist wants to create, that the artist ends up reproducing the type of work the galleries deem “marketable” in order to participate within a system that may not see the freedom to create as a principal reference for creation.

Ruwangi Amarasinghe - Climb Your Way to the Stars (2015)

Kumudini Perera David - Untitled (2015)

Minal Naomi Wickrematunge - Language (2015)

But these are reflections on a complicated divergence of different interests and varying perspectives when it comes to artistic production in Sri Lanka today, and the reality may very well be, as so often it is, somewhere in-between. As mentioned above, the sheer creative energy being exerted by a wide range of artistic actors speaks to a significant movement in creative and cultural production in the country, particularly in contemporary art. The collection here stands as yet another testament to that movement, and reflects a pivotal time in contemporary artistic production in Sri Lanka. I believe at no other period, before nor after, could one have achieved such a rich diversity of expression, not only in the works being created, but also in the artists creating them.

Asanka Manjula May - Pathok (2016)

Hashan Cooray - Untitled (2016)

Pushpi Bagchi - Untitled (2015)

It is also significant that a project such as Imago Mundi would present itself here, now, with its vision of egalitarianism merging seamlessly with the nation’s vision of reconciliation; attempting to remove constructed differences and imagined borders, so that the lessons learned from deconstructing the past can be used as building blocks for creating the future.

Buddhima Perera - Untitled (2015)

Credits: Story

Art Direction, Photography and Production

—Aman Mojadidi

—Valentina Granzotto
—Barbara Liverotti

Editorial coordination
—Enrico Bossan

—Luciano Benetton
—Aman Mojadidi
—Priyantha Udagedara

Editing and translation
—Emma Cole
—Sara Favilla
—Camilla Mozzato
—Vijayan Sinnasamy
—Pietro Valdatta

Tamil Proofreading
—Selvaraja Rajasegar

Additional Layout Work and Proofreading Coordination
—Asvajit Boyle

Art Direction
—Marcello Piccinini

—Marco Zanin

—Marco Pavan

—Muhanned Cader (Untitled)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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