Questioning and bridging
After the shows presenting work by artists associated with the Indo-Sri Lanka Sethusamudram project, the latest event at 1Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery (April 22 to 29) took a more interesting turn.
"Identity", with its contributions from two local and two Sri Lankan participants, set out to probe and critique as well as link issues of personal, social, political and above all cultural belonging to an ethos that along with its many past and present strata and despite its divergences comes from a common bedrock.
Considering the painful complexity of the current situation on the island and its repercussions in this country, not only was the topic important, but its articulation held the potential of bonding and healing.
One should appreciate these aims which guided the intentions of Suresh Jayaram, the curator of the exhibition and the moving spirit behind Shanthi Road. One tended to understand his role here, though, in terms of the idea as a stimulus for independent articulation by the artists, rather than anything more structured and interpretative from the curator's side, which is a valid method anyhow.
While the predominance of contemporary aesthetic ways was both suitable to the layered theme and held the ability to connect with the matter and behaviour of normal life, the works by the guests had on the whole a greater impact thanks to their imaginative visual aspects poetically suggestive of areas of significance.
Thisath Thoradeniya's multi-part installation had ancient Buddhist-Hindu symbols of the elusive deer of desire and the lotus of purity beyond the mundane contemporised in shiny, perforated metal, both enchanting and ironic against the display boxes with wrappers of low-end addictives.
Lakisha Fernando showed a blouse on a hanger and waves of a richly embroidered sari which, body-less, appeared gentle, sensuous, powerful and simultaneously fragile as illumination shot through the diaphanous fabric completed by thin metallic meshes. If one remembered Surekha's earlier works with bodices and loose sari drapes, there was enough individuality of treatment and effect for the viewer not to mind it.
Similarities to familiar precedents, however, especially Arun Kumar, disturbed in the case of Shivanand B. His references were conflicting lifestyles in the painting with a double cow as the giver of milk and meat, to the muzzling of political opposition and the hypocrisy of leaders in the large sculpture showing a mannequin neta studded by national badges, empty gift pouches but trampling of human hearts.
Although ambitious and well-intentioned, these images relied excessively on literal illustration. The show was summed up in the gestures of Manjula A.M. admitting competition and belligerence between the countries but overcoming the same through playfulness and friendly involvement.
Her performance together with Lakisha had a game of hopscotch transform into a Holi battle using powders of national colours. If one liked the concept and the bright abstract after the mock war, the whole was too basic to become expressive. By contrast, Manjula's video proved visually and emotionally evocative, having in a simple but varied manner explored and linked the game of dice played with little, warmth-generating objects from both lands.