Portraits of Resistance: A Review

By Hemavathy Guha

An exhibition of art works of various artists from the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka was organized by the Department of Sociology, South Asian University at the India International center, Delhi and was on view till 28 August 2016. As it happens with such representative exhibitions, it comprised of works of some of the artists who are well known and established names in their own country and whose works have been exhibited here and that too in Delhi often.

Titled as ‘Portraits of Resistance’, most of the artists presented in this exhibition were and are politically informed with turmoil in the 1990s and, who bore the fractures of society and policy in Sri Lanka during the lengthy civil war which that country faced and endured. They were all  witnesses to the bloody thirty year old war between the main Sinhalese population and the ethnic Tamil minority in northern Sri Lanka. As such many of these artists have dealt with pain, memory, violence, erasing of memory, issues of border and the culture of gun. Some have succeeded in going beyond the rhetoric and produced sublime works which would linger in our own memory while some artists have not been able to do so till now, irrespective of touching upon the topic.


Celestial Fervour-2013, Jagat Weerasinghe

One of the senior most and well known artists in the Sri Lankan art scenario, Jagat Weerasinghe’s  ‘Celestial Fervour’ series (acrylic on paper) successfully brings out the fervour, anxiety and pain by depicting a single male god like figure with bold strokes and a strong drawing. His other works in black (2016) espouse the tension, anger and the inability of the artist or any other person to prevent the violence. The needle-like drawings forming an outer layer to the main sketch in flat black seems like vibrations with the tension building around it. We can also view works from the ‘truck series’ and accordion type artist’s books with sketches of this artist.


White Chair silent sitters, 2014-Anoli Perera

The other well known woman artist of Sri Lanka, Anoli Perera, who is equally well known and lives here in Delhi has exhibited her large scale installation work titled ‘Second Skin Elastic dress II’ and ‘White Chair – Silent Sitters Series’ with a wooden chair, cloth and glass balls. These works have been exhibited in previous India art fair and viewers might be familiar with them. In the ‘I let my hair loose-Protest series’, she brings to the surface the politics of gaze. In the series of photographs exhibited, the female protagonists (who seem to be dressed up to resemble Sri Lankan women of a bygone era) as Anoli says,  were taken from her own personal and family history. They cover their faces with the hair let down and falling over it and one cannot figure out where the gaze is fixed or directed. According to Anoli, reflections on subjectivity, identity, memory and history are embedded in her works.


Untitled, Anura Krishanta, 2016

In this exhibition, if one were to search for works which deal with the subject of the war and the violence associated with it in a very remarkable manner showing lot of restraint, then those are the works of Anura Krishanta, who has worked with ink. The paintings on paper depict beautiful flowers, patterns and hiding behind these idioms of beauty is a gun eschewing everything. Anura talks about the religious violence in society and how religion is subduing violence. Poignant and deeply disturbing, these works aptly bring out the anguish of these generation of artists who were witnesses to the ethnic war which ravaged Sri Lanka for nearly thirty years.

Janananda Laksiri has exhibited videos of ‘tight rope walks’ signaling the tight rope relationship between Sri Lanka and India, but read Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The performance artist, Bandu Manamperi , has exhibited photographs of his performances namely the act of publicly removing his cloths, ironing them and then wearing them again against the backdrop of historical and contemporary buildings. While he compares the act of ironing and removing creases to erasing memories which in this case will have to be the violent past and creation of new history, the very performance itself keeps reminding us of the past wherever it is enacted.

Dhanushka has exhibited a video which is quite interesting. The video depicts his uncle, a retired army man sweeping the ground wearing army boots. He sweeps the ground neatly making patterns while simultaneously erasing his own boot marks. The video subtly depicts the contentious role of the army in the Sri Lankan history.


Landscape Series-I, 2012, Pala Pothupitiye

Pala Pothupitiye has exhibited his map works which have animal forms like crocodiles, tigers and other animals at times devouring certain parts of land especially in the Northern provinces and thus altering the contours of the map or even a little bit misrepresentation on the map often leading to conflicts and violence as he rightly says. This often happens between neighbouring countries having strained relationships. His meticulous work on the maps revel his lineage from a traditional craft and artisan family. Pradeep Chandrasiri, the co-founder of Theerta artists collective in Sri Lanka has exhibited digital prints superimposed on acrylic paintings which alludes to the role of politicians in the war.

Thisath Toradeniya has exhibited minimalistic watercolour on paper which explores the aspirations of the individual poised against the anxieties and calamities of life. K Pushpakumara’s works are mixed media on paper titled ‘barbed wires’, which as he says, “looks at the plight of the Tamil refugees who spent considerable time in refugee camps and the apathy of the Sri Lankan people in the South towards their condition.”

Through this exhibition we do definitely get a glimpse of the works of artists of Sri Lanka, who chose the socio-political scenario in their country as their locus standi and still continue to do so.

acrylicanoli pereraAnura KrishantaBandu ManamperiDhanushkaJagat WeerasingheJanananda Laksiripapersri lankawatercolour