By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Village female doctor drawn by a child from Gampaha
Art lover attracted towards the village female doctor's painting
"Our village” (Ape Gama) is an art exhibition that
presents the creative results of three community based art projects that
Theertha carried out in Horapawita, Maradana and Gampaha since 2009. This was a
project that thought of art as activism. In this project, the Theertha artists
worked with school children, art teachers, and community leaders of the three
villages engaging them in various creative activities and discussions on places,
memories, and persons that they thought are important to their respective
villages. In other words the project worked as a catalyst for them to visualize
and record their shared and common histories/ memories of the ‘place’, to which
they have been calling “Our Village”. Visualization of the shared memories took
the shape of cultural maps drawn by groups of students. Based on these maps a
final ‘heritage map’ was printed. In addition to making cultural maps, the
students of the project produced a large number of paintings of each other’s
portraits, their homes, and of important people in their respective villages.
In Horapawita and Gampaha, students and adult participants even produced poetry
and essays about their respective villages.
The unique aspect of the “Our Village”
(Ape Gama) program is that it combined art making and cultural mapping as a
heritage management process at village level. The project was envisioned with
the conviction that art is a potent tool to mobilize communities and that heritage
is a cultural process – a way one thinks about entities and experiences
embodying shared histories and memories. Heritage seen in this way is
diametrically opposite to the conception of heritage as objectified past that
is static, which is sanctioned by the authorized heritage discourse. When art
is taken as activism and heritage as process and when the two paths of
knowledge production were combined it could give rise to a sense of community
connection as one can see in the exhibition.
This project’s larger intention was to show that culture and heritage are
contemporary experiences and that they do not merely belong in the past. At the
same time, situations that should be singled out as worthy of preserving and
contemplation do not have to be seen as hallowed traces from the past, but more
as traces of a larger social and cultural network that endows and constitute
collective memories and identities of the village as a complex expression of
the current moment. The program prompted the villagers to endow value to the
heritage expressions/situations that are natural, cultural and non-monumental.
In the course of the program, it was hoped that villagers would come to
understand and appreciate the connectedness of their particular village, in
terms of its heritage expressions/situations, to a larger geo-political region
and to a deeper and varied socio-historic times.
The exhibition “Our Village (Ape Gama) presents selective documentation of the
programs held in Horapavita, Maradana and Gampaha.
The exhibition is
currently being held at the Barfoot Gallery in Colombo, and it will continue
till 28th July. The art exhibition is organized by Theertha
International Artists’ Collective in collaboration with Barefoot Gallery.
Paintings from Maradana
Painting from Gampaha
Walking across Maradana
Childrens' paintings from Gampaha
Art lovers view and discuss
Heritage mapping of Maradana
Children's paintings from Maradana
Art materials shared during the exhibition
Creations by children