by Shaahima Raashid
Jaffna-born poet Rudhramoorthy Cheran is most known for his heartrending literary works expressing the numerous paradigms having resulted from the civil war in Sri Lanka. Decades later, his words serve as inspiration for the title of the exhibition showcasing Sri Lankan art at the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) this month. For independent curator and publisher, Sharmini Perera, these words struck a chord:
“…bridge, strengthened by its burden
of a hundred thousand tales collapses
within a single tear.”
– An apt representation of what Sri Lanka as a country has endured, and so the ideal theme for a global event? How was this motif conceived, and how do you hope to have this conversation transcend beyond the canvas?
The idea for the show came from this poem by Cheran in which he describes how a bridge collapses due to the weight of a hundred thousand tales. I thought this was an evocative metaphor for thinking about the history of art in Sri Lanka and how and to what extent the weight of such a history can bring about a collapse or a tipping point.
The many artworks chosen for display include not just works on paper, but paintings, photographs, film, architectural models, sculpture, and animation as well – each artist expressing narratives bearing witness to the events that occurred from the lead up to independence to the present day.
– This exhibition involves the participation of over forty Sri Lankan artists. Was there a need for this many brushstrokes/artistic voices in order to relay the underlying theme of ‘Cheran’s bridge?’
This is indeed a large-scale group exhibition involving many artists, and to take on the idea of one hundred thousand tales the show is full and there is a density which was intentional.
More than anything, this show pays tribute to those exhibitions that came before it because it only includes existing works by contemporary artists, and also includes many works from notable names of the past.
– Are you pleased with how the numerous individual styles and modes of artistic conveyance tie together in the portrayal of the theme?
Each artist’s recollection of this time period is a unique story in this collection of one hundred small tales, pulling equal weight among the others. The idea of an inventory of artworks rather than a selection of artists aims to put a focus on recording art production. It raises questions about why the period of the 60s and 70s appears to have produced far less than the 90s. And yet how the 80s, particularly 1983 produced almost no notable artworks. Those that were made around this time are chiefly photographs and the responses that came to the 1983 riots came almost 10 years or more.
– What have you found to be particularly challenging in the curation of this show?
As with any collection that represents an elapsed period of history, there is the challenge of locating artworks. Known works may have gone missing over the years of conflict. Those that have been unearthed may require urgent preservation to allow for exhibition.
The enduring burden of any exhibition is also the fact that it can never represent everything, however much it aspires to.
– What do you hope to achieve out of the Dhaka Art Summit?
The DAS brings a substantial spot light on Sri Lanka for the first time. Museum curators and directors visiting DAS from around the world will have a chance to look at the country’s art production on an equal footing with artists from the rest of the South Asian region. Compared to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka has not received as much international attention. Something that will begin to change in due course as more knowledge and understanding about the history of art in Sri Lanka becomes more evident.
The fourth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit will take place from February 02 to 10, 2018 in Dhaka, Bangladesh with a view to exhibit artworks from South, and South-East Asia. Sharmini Perera is one of ten curators participating at the summit.