Co- curator with Roman Berka

15 - 19 February, 2012

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Participating Artists

Aaron Burton,Anoli Perera, Anomaa Rajakaruna, Anura Krishantha, Bandu Manamperi,Chandraguptha Thenuwara,Christian Eisenberger,David Barbarino,Dominic Sansoni,Erik Pirolt,Erik van Lieshout,Hanna Hollmann,Hans Schabus,Janananda Laksiri, Jesper Nordahl, Kannan Arunasalam, Karl Karner and Linda Samaraweerová, Koralegedara Pushpakumara, Kusal Gunasekara, Leo Pasqualge, Malaka Dewapriya, Manori Jayasinghe, Madiha Sikander, Maria McCavana, Menika van der Poorten, Nigel Sense, Pala Pothupitiye, Pradeep Chandrasiri, Pradeep Thalawatta, Sanath Kalubadana, Sujan Chitrakar, Tayeba Lipi, The Fireflies Artists’ Network, Thisath Thoradeniya, Tori Wrånes, Vaidehi Rajasingham, Varatharajan Balamurugan, Vibha Galhotra, Vimukthi Jayasundara, Christoph Schlingensief, Janet Burchill andJennifer McCamley, Murali Cheeroth, Surekha, Max Weber and Judith Rohrmoser

A Biennale between War and Reconciliation - Reflecting on the Colombo Art Biennale

As Founder and Director of the Visual Art Collective, 1 Shanthi Road in Bangalore I believe in fostering interactions between artists, curators, scholars, writers and young students in a local and global context. Serving as co-curator for the Colombo Art Biennale (CAB), allowed me to test this ethic on a larger scale. The theme of Becoming addressed issues of political perspective, geographical and ideational location, social activism and interconnectedness and shared deep affinities with an exhibition in Chennai, To Let the World In, which examined how artistic narratives construct the present. By reflecting on the CAB project here, I hope to develop a better understanding of how artists today might speak out, give visibility to their own contexts and connect to one another - in other words, how they might let the world in.

The Colombo Art Biennale

With the theme of “Becoming”, the last Colombo Art Biennale responded to the demand of the historical avant-garde for the integration of art and life. The scale of the project was ambitious, but resources were limited for a new entrant in the Asian Biennale circuit. CAB had its fair share of shortcomings and critique, but more significantly, it set a new benchmark as a socially and politically conscious biennale in South Asia.

A five-day event with four venues, CAB was a landmark for the city of Colombo. Venues included the National Art Gallery, the JDA Perera Gallery, Park Street Mews and the Warehouse Project in Maradana. Fringe events under the title “CAB Around Town” were located at various sites in the Capital, and included installations, video art, live performances, talks, curated walks and video screenings.

As co-curators, Roman Berka, Director of the Art Association Museum in Progress, Vienna (, and I intended Becoming to be an open-ended curatorial concept. In the post-war climate, we saw this as a catalyst for transformative change in Sri Lankan society. CAB aimed to make art an interactive and participatory part of the social fabric by creating space for dialogue and debate, while questioning notions of artistic process. The underlying question for artists as well as curators became: Can art be a catalyst for change in post-war Sri Lanka? And if so, how?

After-effects of the nearly 30-year long civil war, which has left its marks on generations of Sri Lankans, continue to shape the evolution of society. Wounds must heal and reconciliation take root. Fundamentally, Sri Lanka is in a state of transition, and many Sri Lankan artists are investigating this in their art along with what global and national transformations mean for the individual.

In the post-war cultural landscape of Sri Lanka, we see visual art as part of a third-world radicalism. Art communicates with a cutting edge self-consciousness, speaking from the vantage point of witness to the violence and separatism that has crippled a multi-cultural nation. In the contemporary geopolitical context, CAB 2012 can be seen as the Biennale of Resistance by the Global South. Anxieties around censorship by the government was felt by curators and artists as they worked to move beyond assigning blame to gather cultural fragments and seal reconciliation.

Many works evidenced new iconographies and aesthetics focused on the reality of a fragile nation’s troubled legacy of growing nationalism, religious unrest and social upheaval. Urban artists grappled with the social and economic transformation of Colombo. The artists served as witnesses, free citizens and commentators on the rupture and healing of a nation that has been a vortex of violence. Many have also been victims of violence and loss that can only be redeemed by giving voice to the voiceless. Many questioned masculinity and engaged feminist critique through the subversive use of material and metaphor, addressing loss through recollection.

Text by Suresh Jayram.

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