Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Monument and Other Works ~ An Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings

"WE are NOT at PEACE!"

The Monument and other works” ~ An Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings by Chandragupta Thenuwara is currently being held at Lionel Wendt Art Gallery in Colombo and will remain open till 31st of July 2012. A week long exhibition displays a sculpture representing four women from the communities (Tamil ~ North, Muslim ~ East, Sinhala ~ South and Burgher ~ West) and drawings depicting the post war development in Sri Lanka. A dark sculpture stands tall in the middle of the gallery. Loved ones (father or husband or son or brother) of these four women have disappeared in Sri Lanka. This sculpture is made of cement and bricks while depicting the ethnic identity of each woman.

An abstract by Chandragupta Thenuwara:~

On May 19 2009, the ethnic war in our country came to an end through a military solution. However, the only thing that has been silenced is the sound of guns. The end of a war should be accompanied by a process of peace-building. This is one of the most profound challenges that confront a country that reaches the end of a conflict. A conflict is not something that can be resolved like calming down a sudden outburst of temper. What happened in our country is the result of a conflagration that erupted from embers of injustice and unrest that smoldered under the ashes for decades. The ethnic unrest in our country did not arise in 1983 for the first time. Even though those were times when the electronic media was not active, when the media was not that strong, and when cameras did not show the reality of what was happening on the ground, at the very same moment that it actually happened, this unrest lay under the surface, festering. 1983 became a decisive and defining year, because neither the causes nor the incidents that had taken place during the riots of 1958 and before that had not been resolved. From 1983 onwards, we battled in front of the electronic and print media, and in front of sophisticated cameras, making them witnesses to our actions. The Black July of 1983 and the era of Terror in 1988-1989 are intrinsically inter-connected. The fear, the suspicion, the despair, the killings, the violence, and the injustice did not end in May 2009 with the military solution to the war.

Those who are in power, those who rule our state, what they should have done is take steps to eradicate the fear and mistrust that has become embedded in people’s minds over decades of war. We are being told that one form of terrorism has come to an end. But what we can see taking place today is that there is another equally terrible system that is being put in place, with invisible forms of anti-democratic and coercive practices that protect the political regime and guarantee their grip on power; this system is being maintained in a very artificial manner. In the past, people lived in fear because of the uncertainty they had to live with, because they could not know whether the person who left home in the morning would return home or would be blown up somewhere, somehow. The environment in which we live today is far more terrifying. A culture of lackeys is being cultivated at the highest level. There has been no reduction in the terror wrought by ‘white van’s, nor in the intimidation of the media. Systems that are in place either terrorize us with the threat of death, or else give us royal treatment and then intimidate us. The Emergency Regulations have been relaxed but the invisible ‘regulations’ remain in place. There are more unidentified gunmen, rapists and assassins in our life than there are identifiable members of the security forces or the Police. In the past we heard only the lamentations of mothers; today, we hear them curse and call for vengeance. Today, silence has indeed become golden. The art of living today is one of tolerating injustice, remaining silent and remaining alive. As those who live in such a fear-ridden society, we should certainly not become party to the act of sweeping what happened in 1983 or during the war under the carpet.

Our people have forgotten that to live means to do more than breathing and keeping your body alive. Freedom does mean remaining within the four walls of your home and maintaining silence. I believe that every artist has a historical responsibility to fulfill. Today we spend our time looking for external and internal ‘enemies’. We have returned to an age of being migratory hunters. In the midst of all this, we cannot erase 1983. Nor should we try to do it. All that has happened is that the issues raised by the incidents of July 1983 have been temporarily rendered powerless. These issues will remain like embers under ashes until such time as we are able to transform our social and cultural structures and build a society that is truly free in every sense, one in which there is respect for principles of justice. State politics that allow for the will of the majority to prevail at all times, while crushing the wishes of the minority, and that only focuses on survival from day to day, is not true governance.This is why it has become impossible for us to commemorate July 1983. This is why we must remember it and talk about it. This is why our society must remain on guard at all times.

The memories are transmitted into the future, from generation to generation. We are familiar with the Samadhi Buddha statue in Anuradhapura, the Buddha statue in Aukana. And in more recent times we have the SWRD Bandaranaike memorial Samadhi and the Olcott Samadhi.

The monument in this exhibition is a new Samadhi. This time my exhibition has two parts. The main feature is a sculpture. It consists of figures of four women looking out in four directions. It calls to mind the hopes of the many mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, friends of the disappeared in Sri Lanka, the hopes that die and are reborn every day. It is the hope that the beloved son, husband, brother, grandson and friend will return home at some moment, or that there will be some news of him. The act of making someone disappear is designed to break the spine of a society. This tactic renders the family members helpless and inactive, leaving at their doorstep the hope that if not today, then tomorrow, the disappeared one will return. This Samdhi is dedicated to all women who have the capacity to give birth. Four women whose wombs bear the hopes of bringing forth life stand looking out in four directions. They hold the outline of an empty space in their hands. They are waiting to hear some news about their loved one. They represent the four major ethnic communities of our multicultural society. She who looks south represents the Sinhala community. The Tamil woman looks to the north. Looking westwards is the ‘Burgher’ woman, and looking east is the Muslim woman. It is the government in power at the time that has the Constitutional power to safeguard the lives of its citizens and the primary responsibility to do so. Therefore, if a government is accountable to its citizens, then the facts about these disappearances have to be brought to light.

How can a society in which disappearances take place be identified as a society that is at peace? Today disappearances are taking place at a time when there is no longer a war going on. Can there be areas from Point Pedro to Dondra Head that we do not know about but that are under government control? At a time when the government has secured control over the entire island? Can there be unidentified and unidentifiable areas and forces that are active anywhere on this island? The disappearances that took place before May 2009 can be laid at the door of the ‘terrorists’. The disappearances in the 1988-1989 period were attributed to the so called ‘patriotic’ forces. Today there are neither terrorists nor patriotic forces. So who can be held responsible for the disappearances that are taking place today? The government has to hand over to the people the power that the Constitutional bestows on them.

This is not a WHITE VAN ~ Ink on Paper ,2012

The other part of my exhibition shows a series of line drawings. They depict barbed wire entangled with the debris of nature. There is also a set of hidden shapes and forms. These hidden forms are guns, knives, pistols, swords and so on - it is this set of drawings that I refer to as the ‘other works’ In these drawings, I feel that the images of barbed wire acquire new meaning.

Untitled #1 ~ ink on paper, 2012

It is something that entered my mind as I watched the images of people who had been trapped in the areas controlled by the LTTE as they crossed over into the ‘No War Zones’ in May 2009. The borders of these ‘No War Zones’ had been defined by barbed wire. We saw people running along the corridors marked off by barbed wire in order to enter the ‘No War Zones’. This was a journey supposedly between life and death. These people who fled from the war zone into the ‘No War Zone’ were once again herded into temporary camps, surrounded by barbed wire. No family members or opposition politicians or well-wishers were given permission to visit them there and to inquire after their situation. They came from far away; they were once again placed at a distance. Nobody in the outside world could know what was going on in those camps. It is only by following the news that flowed from these camps, that were in place for several years, to communities outside Sri Lanka that we were able to know what was going on. I imagined that the barbed wire that was there for so long would, in time, intermingle with the natural thorny bushes and scrub from that area and generate an entirely new landscape.

A Landscape ~ Ink on Paper,2012

Harbor ~ Ink on Paper ,2012

There is a history to barbed wire in our country. In the 1960s I remember that in many houses you did not have big walls. They had fences, made of coconut thatch, bamboo, palmyrah leaves, branches of trees like albeesia and so on. We used barbed wire to prevent cattle and goats from straying into our gardens. From the 1970s onwards you see that houses begin to be surrounded by high walls. People placed barbed wire on top of these walls. Barbed wire which had been used to keep out cattle now began to be used to build walls as high as those around any military encampment. The barbed wire that I knew has evolved into something that is very sharp and pointed today. The barbed wire that I knew as a boundary marker has today become part and parcel of the state’s security apparatus. It encircles the camp housing people displaced by the war. It is unclear to us who is actually being separated from whom, by the barbed wire. This is the new struggle we have to wage, to tear away these barriers that continue to keep us trapped in our silent voiceless world.

Untitled #3 ~ Ink on Paper,2012

"Disappearances continue in post war Sri Lanka. How can we say there is peace?. Who can be held responsible for the disappearances in post war Sri Lanka?" ~ Chandragupta Thenuwara

A Tamil woman is looking towards the direction of North, whose loved one has disappeared

A Muslim woman is looking towards the direction of East, whose loved one has disappeared

A Burgher woman is looking towards the direction of West, whose loved one has disappeared

A Sinhala woman is looking towards the direction of South, whose loved one has disappeared

An Island ~ Ink on Paper,2012

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga views the exhibition

Thorns #5 ~ Ink on Paper,2012

Untitled #2 ~ Ink on paper, 2012

Untitled #4 ~ Ink on paper, 2012

Camouflage arabesque #1 ~ Ink on Paper,2012

Viewers are seen lighting the candle to commemorate

New Camouflage #1 ~ Ink on Paper,2012

Viewer at the venue


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