Pangrok Sulap’s offering at the exhibition.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
A travelling iteration of Colomboscope’s seventh festival, Language is Migrant, was presented till May first week, in a collaboration between Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, and Colomboscope.
The exhibition explored how language relations form our selfhood and looked into affinities that break the limits and bounds of nationhood and citizenship.
Colomboscope is a contemporary arts festival and creative platform for interdisciplinary dialogue that has grown in the cultural landscape of Colombo since 2013. The exhibition in Abu Dhabi included artworks supported in 2020 as part of Warehouse421 Project Revival Fund.
Curated by Anushka Rajendran and Artistic Director Natasha Ginwala, the festival took its name – Language is Migrant — from a poem-manifesto by Chilean artist and poetess Cecilia Vicuna, by the same title. In her poem, she says: “Words move from language to language, from culture to culture, from mouth to mouth. Our bodies are migrants; cells and bacteria are migrants too. Even galaxies migrate.”
The festival brought together intergenerational cultural practices from across Sri Lanka, South Asia in international contexts that fostered global dialogue.
Artists who took part were Ahilan Ratnamohan, an Australian artist from the Sri Lankan diaspora, whose practice includes his ability to pick up languages while working across contexts and continents, very often with migrant communities.
Palash Bhattacharjee, is a Chittagong-based artist creating photo and video installations as well as performances that explore linguistic expression, memory and time. Lavkant Chaudhary is a Kathmandu-based artist who delves into personal facets, human-animal relations and collective realities of the conflicted Terai region in Nepal.
Liz Fernando treated Hannah Arendt’s text, We Refugees (1943), as a point of reference, while dealing with intergenerational experiences of migration. Three chapters from the project at Colomboscope were derived from the artist’s own memories of her formative years in Germany, along with those of her parents, and also others she encountered in recent years who shared experiences of displacement and making a home elsewhere.
Mariah Lookman’s film Hayy in Serendip was a speculative reading of Arab philosopher and physician Ibn Tufayl’s text Hayy ibn Yaqzan written in the 12th century based on Persian philosopher and polymath, Ibn Sina’s original text from the 10th century, set on an island in the Indian Ocean.
Based on maps, it speculated on protagonist Hayy’s experience of Sri Lanka in the context that Tufayl describes as the cradle of civilisation. Mounira al Solh’s lives between the Netherlands and Beirut: her own relations to different geographies, the aftermath of Lebanon’s civil war and her family’s flight from Beirut to Damascus in 1989, are her scripts.
Her collaborative project, ‘In Blood In Love’, involved groups of women across Sri Lanka, treating as its starting point fifty words that relate to love, compiled by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a thirteenth-century Islamic theologian and writer who was born in Damascus, and translated from Arabic into French by Moroccan feminist author and thinker Fatima Mernissi. The expressions were further translated to Tamil and Sinhala, and shared with a group of 24 women.
Fathima Rukshana observed that the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of Sri Lanka has not been revised since 1951, to take into consideration women’s consent in matrimonial arrangements, proprietorship and also tackled the complexities of unconditional divorce (talaq) procedures.
Pangrok Sulap is a collective of artists, musicians, and activists based in Sabah, Malaysia. The word Pangrok is derived from the local slang for ‘punk rock’ and Sulap refers to resting places for farmers in Sabah.
Their project for Colomboscope involved collaborative research with the Sri Lankan music group The Soul; they exchanged thoughts on the movement of people from the Malay archipelago to Sri Lanka since 200 BCE, and explored similarities between the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka based on ethnic differences and the politics of Malay supremacy, projected in the Malaysian constitution. The Soul also produced a musical composition, reflecting on the exchanges.
Rajni Perera’s installation NC-1107 converged handmade traditions of kite and lantern building in Sri Lanka with extrastellar ambition and a Sci-fi imaginary drawing from starships, conceived as objects in media series such as Star Trek. Shailesh BR’s practice included drawings and kinetic installations from oral traditions, cultural satire and knowledge transfer.
Through glitch, repetition, and truisms that emanate from different schools of thought, he brought together a subversive material vocabulary of everyday objects and illustrated drawings. Vinoja Tharmalingam approaches her artistic role with quiet rigour: her textile art, canvases and installations examined how objects and sites convey experiences of loss, abandonment and broken realities: wheelchair, bunkers, decimated homes, and Sri Lanka’s landmine dangers.
Vijitharan Maryathevathas’s drawings depict monumental and challenging realities in a miniature form. He finds ways of illustrating from lived experiences surrounding him, while choosing a surrealist and ironic approach. In 2009, he was forced to leave his home in Killinochi, Sri Lanka, and move into a refugee camp. Forced migration and displacement were figured in his work through renditions that carry viewers between land, air and sea.
The involuntary transportation became a technique to view his compositions as though from an aerial, ‘eye in the sky’ perspective. In Language is Migrant, the artist reflected on how his relations who now belong to the vast Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, struggle to remain close to their familial lineage, cultural and linguistic inheritances.
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