Chandragupta Thenuwara is one of Sri Lanka's most well known artists - he has been known since the 90s for creating art that speaks boldly about Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. Three decades after the Black July massacre of 1983, when Tamil civilians were mercilessly killed in their homes while a government watched on, he commemorates the anniversary of that horrific period in our history with another installation at the Lionel Wendt art center.
Nine men, incarcerated and mouthless
The exhibition features a series of plain paintings in monotonous greys, blacks and reds. If you stop for a minute you'll recognize the colours as familiar shades used in Colombo's recent beautification scheme.
"We keep saying we are now becoming a developed nation - we talk about development - I call it dhiva-lop-ment." Dhiva
is tongue in Sinhala and he feels our tongue, our speech, has been lopped off. He has been incredibly vocal in his interviews about his disdain for the Sri Lankan government's autocratic style of rule, and its dubious role in communal violence. He referred to the recent attacks against Muslims this year as Black June.
Besides the paintings in the installation, are two sculpted exhibits. One is of nine men trapped in pillars of bricks, they have eyes and ears but no mouths. The nine men, said Chandragupta, signify our nine provinces. The other sculpture is that of a haunting, faceless soldier, standing and holding a batton and shield, while behind him cowers a creature made of thuggish arms - arms holding knives and sticks.
The faceless soldier
Chandragupta's Black July retrospective is, as usual, brilliant. The horrors of war and the silence of a government in the face of violence, eerily pervades the exhibition. Art has a responsibility to play, to speak about things people don't want to speak about, or bring to the fore issues that are being suppressed, dangerous as it might sometimes be - we applaud Chandragupta for his boldness in speaking his mind and speaking the minds of those who can't.
Whether or not you want to dwell on our country's past and present racial issues, this haunting, thought-provoking art installation is a must-see. It will be up till the 31st of July, from 10AM to 7PM and you might be able to catch the artist himself for a chat if you go in the evening. He's also got his paintings up this week at Saskia Fernando Gallery.