‘Watch this space: Framing the past, untying the future’ – an exhibition featuring Sri Lankan art and work from the Artraker “Art of Peace” series, theatre and public discussions – was an attempt to interrogate how we see the past in order to envision a better future.
Full programme here.
Facebook event page has all the updates.
Podcasts of all the panels and keynote addresses here.
If and when asked, many would say they are interested in finding the truth. Truth seeking, whether through faith, a political process, debate, research, investigation, introspection or whatever other means, is not on the face of it a process many will oppose. And yet, counter-intuitively, few are really interested in truth. Asking questions that seek to contest what novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls the ‘single narrative’ risks upsetting partial and partisan history, beliefs and powerful myths ingrained in a group, community or nation. Accordingly, there are ‘truths’ we hold on to, knowing they are untrue. There are ‘truths’ we believe in because we haven’t questioned enough, and don’t know how to. There are other ‘truths’ that even just to question marks one out as a traitor or a terrorist supporter, and out of fear and fatigue, we just allow the lie to take flight.
And therein lies the rub. Largely as a result of an education system and pedagogy in Sri Lanka anchored to rote learning and mindless regurgitation, many of us do not have the capacity to critically question what we are told or consume. As a result, the worst lies and distortions are blithely accepted, indeed even vehemently championed. The inclination to question is seen as deeply subversive – an entirely unnecessary aberration, best quashed quickly. The willing suspension of disbelief, a phrase from Coleridge, becomes the socio-political norm, with truth seeking as a fringe lunacy that only seeks to open wounds, memories and histories best left untouched or at the margins.
Post-war Sri Lanka is defined by an enduring struggle between memory and moving on, between recalling the inconvenient and violent erasure, between those who seek to probe and those who want to cover up. Working at the intersection of politics, art, theatre, media, technology, memory and subjectivity to create a space for reflection, ‘Watch this space’ looks at a country in transition, where a just peace remains elusive and the space(s) to remember the inconvenient – the ‘Other’ – still results in hostility and violent pushback. The art frames conversations in response to violence and the conversations allow perspectives on the art that would otherwise not have been generated or acknowledged. The emotive, complex, divisive, challenging issues the art responds to, is framed by or is a product of are what discussants, speakers, actors and panellists will robustly interrogate over a week. The questions are provocative, the art will unsettle and the theatre will jar with what many consider the truth. This is deliberate.
No greater truth was ever arrived at by sloth or servility. ‘Watch this space’ is an invitation to ask questions. Rude questions. Hard questions. It is an invitation to reflect, a space to not just passively hear, but actively listen and respond. It is platform that brings perspectives on violent conflict from outside of Sri Lanka and juxtaposes this art with work located and produced in the country. I am indebted to Saskia Fernando for first introducing me to Artraker and their amazing collection. I am deeply thankful to all the speakers and the Floating Space theatre company for respectively agreeing to speak and perform at the exhibition. The curation of this exhibition benefitted hugely from the intellect, experience, courage and insight of those who are associated with it. I can only hope the selection and pairing of speakers on the panels, the keynotes, original theatre, art and resulting discussions will help us all question more, and more deeply, what kind of country we really want Sri Lanka to be post-war.
Sanjana Hattotuwa, 30 July 2015