Special series exploring the themes and works at Colomboscope 2021

STIR presents exclusive interviews and features on the festival scheduled to take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the edition focused on ‘Language is Migrant’.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jun 06, 2021

Colomboscope is a contemporary arts festival and creative platform for interdisciplinary dialogue that has grown steadily within the cultural landscape of Colombo since 2013.

The festival has worked with a range of intergenerational artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, social theorists and scientific researchers from Sri Lanka and internationally delivering a focused programme with each festival edition held at key historic sites in Colombo. Several of the cultural practitioners participating in Colomboscope have gone on to show their work within regional and international exhibitions.

The festival organisers are committed to building a sustainable and context-responsive environment for cultural producers to continue generating path-breaking, collaborative and genre-defying approaches in the field.

Curatorial Note: Language is Migrant

The seventh edition of Colomboscope journeys from a poem-manifesto by Chilean artist and poet, Cecilia Vicuña, titled Language is Migrant. She writes: “Words move from language to language, from culture to culture, from mouth to mouth. Our bodies are migrants; cells and bacteria are migrants too. Even galaxies migrate”. Artists compose, decipher and perform as vital travellers and storytellers of our times. Often, repairing relations by drawing material articulations from deep losses, silence and erasures while inventing language forms as bridges between communal narratives, official records, and submerged histories.

The festival brings together intergenerational cultural practices from across Sri Lanka, South Asia and varied international contexts fostering global dialogue. Curated by Anushka Rajendran with artistic director, Natasha Ginwala, several commissioned artworks and long-term projects will mobilise acts of transmission that embrace collective synergies and refuse parochial attitudes that are on the rise while dwelling in place. Instead, the channeling of sonic frequencies, live acts and spaces of reading become elemental instruments that sustain the traffic of creative processes, biographical timekeeping, engaged listening and diasporic belonging.

Circulation is primordial to all forms of life, yet we don’t often consider the ways linguistic bodies traverse geographies and shape social worlds composed of polyphonic tongues and fragmented memory fields. Since mobility and immobility are the common condition of planetary existence, we ask, mindful of the historical error of forced movement: Can we consider radical mobility across political and economic barriers today as a unifying feature of animated life forces? As the world has been composed of itinerant flows beyond human experience: from tectonic shifts, nomadic species, to oceanic drifts. May listening to such amorphous languages too pave migrant futures that embrace pluralistic currents sustained against great odds?

The tides of social alienation and weaponised language leave us hungry for a lexicon toward generative life. Poet and novelist, Ocean Vuong, remarks, “You are a participant in the future of language”. This notion slices open the potential for stepping into the river of past chronicles, conceiving new structures of “schooling” beyond administered curricula and rescuing the body as an agent of self-determination. Language is Migrant invites embodied narratives that are written into lived rhythms and evidence framed by the senses; restorative forms of correspondence amidst estranged kin; the muscular task of learning a foreign language, song lines leaking over border zones and losing one’s mother tongue while crossing an ocean. In the mode of a pitchfork, such encounters emerge from states of witnessing and testimony, they are relational pursuits that flow into each other, for we realise, one ceases to be without the other.

1. Seventh edition of Colomboscope explores the theme 'Language is migrant'

Connections and Divisions | Colomboscope 2021 | Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah | STIRworld
Connections and Divisions by Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah Image: The artist, Courtesy of Colomboscope 2021

STIR speaks with Anushka Ranjendran, the festival curator, and Natasha Ginwala, the Artistic Director of Colomboscope, on the curatorial framework of the upcoming edition and the how the programmes are evolving as a run up to the launch later in the year.

2. Palash Bhattacharjee’s ‘Link Road’ connects dialect and time at Colomboscope 2021

‘Link Road’ at Chobimela exhibition, 2021 | Farhad Rahman | STIRworld
Link Road at Chobimela exhibition, 2021 Image: Farhad Rahman, from Chobi Mela Exhibition

Bangladeshi artist Palash Bhattacharjee excavates language and memory with Link Road– a three-channel video installation at Colomboscope 2021. Link Road explores cultural history and personal and projected identity through the spoken dialect, as it is encountered on a boating trip up the river Karnaphuli, which flows through Chattogram. 

3. Hema Shironi explores identity as a transitionary idea at Colomboscope 2021

Bundle of Joy, 2021| Hema Shironi | STIRworld
Bundle of Joy, 2021 Image: Hema Shironi

Sri Lankan multidisciplinary artist Hema Shironi talks about her creative practice questioning the ideas of migration, home, and identity. Speaking on her recent work for Colomboscope 2021, she says her work work "is a reflection or a narrative of my own life and the life of many others like me for who home has become a temporary place". There is a temporality in Shironi’s work which is reflective of the fact that the idea of one’s ‘home’ can take on new meaning for those who cross geographical and cultural borders.

4. Pinar Öğrenci’s ‘Turkish Delight’ at Colomboscope muses food history and war

Image of historical lokum packages from Industrial Museum of Ermoupoli in Syros | Pinar Öğrenci | STIRworld
Image of historical lokum packages from Industrial Museum of Ermoupoli in Syros Image: Courtesy of Pinar Öğrenci

The Berlin-based artist and writer, Pinar Öğrenci’s latest video-installation 'Turkish Delight' at Colomboscope 2021 relooks at its culinary history to talk about the manifold experiences of migration and war.

5. Areez Katki discusses craft, heritage and memory in his text and textile

Some Retained Delights (2019) by Areez Katki | Colomboscope | Areez Katki | STIRworld
Some Retained Delights (2019) by Areez Katki Image: Areez Katki

Areez Katki is an artist whose practice delves into the world of diaspora, exploring the meaning of discovering one's roots in the midst of tangled inherited culture. As a Zoroastrian in India, Katki's ancestors are part of a group of historically displaced Persians. Tracing this history, Katki renders his thoughts on politics, sexuality and postcolonial identity through threadwork and embroidery on textile. Katki also uses fabric to create sculptural installations, which encourages and enables more engagement by the viewer. Katki's practice is supplemented by his writing, a response to his keen interest in art history and creative writing.

Katki is currently based in New Zealand and is represented by Tim Melville Gallery in Aotearoa and Tarq Gallery in Mumbai.

6. Ahilan Ratnamohan examines reclamation of culture through language as instruction

Klapping, like much of Ratnamohan’s work, speaks perfectly to the artist’s love for football | Ahilan Ratnamohan | STIRworld
Klapping, like much of Ratnamohan’s work, speaks perfectly to the artist’s love for football Image: Ahilan Ratnamohan

Ahilan Ratnamohan is an artist with a fascinating practice that sits at the intersection of Football, Dance Theatre and language. Ratnamohan comes from a Tamil-speaking family in Sri Lanka, and is currently situated in Belgium. His performance piece, titled ‘The Tamilization of Ahilan Ratnamohan’ invites viewers into an intimate space of learning, wherein he engages over webcam with his mother, who is in Sydney, Australia, in order to learn Tamil. The fact that both parties are remotely located, with neither of them being situated within the locus of their culture, adds an interesting dimension to the piece.

Watch this space for more.

STIR is the exclusive international digital-media partner of the seventh edition of Colomboscope 2021, which is scheduled to take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from January 20-30, 2022.

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