Becoming – a view from India

Can the aesthetics of art be a catalyst for change?

This is a challenge for artists to reflect on issues that have confronted them; a time for contemplation, to question the role art can play. What meaning does it hold for people enduring anxieties of a post war situation? Can artists be the catalyst for change?

The Colombo Art Biennial brings together local and international artists under one roof for five days with exhibitions, public art projects and art outreach programmes. The multiple public and private galleries and venues will play host to a multi-media works by some of the best talent of the 21st Century.

Can art play a role in reconciliation?

In the context of India and Srilanka, the region has seen many political shifts and a lot social unrest; the issue of linguistic nationalism is a matter of concern. The fragile boarders and troubled waters are a constant reminder of our common geography. The conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils has scarred the landscape leaving us with grief and trauma of loved ones. It is through regional interaction and dialogue that we hope to redeem the trauma. Art connects, heals and is a catharsis for change.

When artists move from the familiarity of the everyday in search of transgressions, there is change. Where the mind floats into fluid spaces beyond linear logic of thought, artists map liminal zones that are challenging. "Becoming" is an act, a pregnant moment of possibilities and opportunities to change the self and the surrounding. . Gandhi addresses the self "Be the change you want to see in the world" and one can also recollect his campaign for peace as a foundation for progress. "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind".
As we look beyond the veneer of the picture post card view SriLanka projects, the post war situation in Lanka has many unanswered questions. Rebuilding may be an easy option but establishing faith in the process that is inclusive is both daunting and an uphill task. The process is challenging and will need a comprehensive strategy that is democratic, fair and transparent. The artists of the country are addressing these issues through their representations, and share the anxiety of a nation in transition. They are confronting the insecurities and their identity in a period of a long civil war by separatist politics that rocked the island nation. The memory of violence has scared minds and bodies, making the body a receptacle of tensions, anger, hopelessness and pain.
The war made violence a part of everyday reality. This obliviously had a decisive impact on the minds of people, who were caught in the crossfire of these tragic circumstances.

After the war, the moment is poised and poignant as the world watches in anticipation the efforts of the government. The situation in Colombo seems to be “normal” as we see less barricades and the building activity that suggests a buoyant economy.

In the past visual art has been part of the transactions of contemporary art practice in the subcontinent. Alternative art networks that emerged have had a decisive impact on the production, consumption and dissemination of visual art. The cultural politics of individuals and institutions can be seen as a subversive strategy to confront our predicament.

Official cultural diplomacy between countries may be a great photo opportunity for political leaders and the media. But to create conversation across cultures, dialogue across differences and create opportunities for a more personal and human interaction that can’t be quantified, contemporary art has become the only way to transgress authority and obliquely speak about situations that fail to find mention when leaders pose for their golden handshakes.

The potential of this short event is a challenge for each one of us to be the change we want to see, both in Sri Lanka and the world at the cusp of social and political transformation.

Suresh Jayaram
Curator, BECOMING 2012