The Incomplete Thombu by T. Shanaathanan and The Speech Writer by Bani Abidi launches

Saturday, 3 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

For the first time in Sri Lanka, one of Colombo’s most established galleries will jointly host a unique art event with one of the city’s newest up and coming galleries. Together they will play host to Raking Leaves, a new breed of curatorial publisher to emerge on the international arena.

As part of the event’s interest in developing audiences in both cities, The Jaffna Heritage Hotel will play host to Raking Leaves for the launch of the organisations new book projects in Jaffna.

Saskia Fernando Gallery, which opened in 2009 and Barefoot Gallery established in 1991 will come together to co-host a two-venue exhibition event that will open to the public on the 2 December [closing on 12 December].

The event begins on the evening of the 1 December with an exhibition preview and book launch taking place across both gallery spaces. People are invited to attend both events through the course of the evening and to experience the opportunity of seeing artworks, across a range of media, by T. Shanaathanan and Bani Abidi that are being shown in Sri Lanka for the first time.

Speaking of the collaboration, Saskia Fernando, Director of SF Gallery, said, “We are excited about working with Raking Leaves, T. Shanaathanan and Barefoot Gallery in staging this one of a kind event. The launch of both books alongside the video installations and an exhibition of T. Shanaathanans work gives our audiences the chance to see a more in-depth presentation of the artists behind both of these Raking Leaves art projects.”

As one of Colombo’s only gallery book shop venues, Barefoot Gallery and Book Shop Director Nazareen Sansoni says, “Raking Leaves has impressed me from inception with their thought provoking publications. The intention to detail by the publisher both in design and content is commendable. We are especially excited by the Incomplete Thombu that architecturally gives voice to a community that calls to be heard. The Speech Writer, by Bani Abidi is a wonderful, joyful interactive book — a clever way of translating a complex idea—in the form of flip books, reminiscent of the books we use to make as children. Pure joy in the form of a beautiful book.”

At Barefoot Gallery, The Incomplete Thombu by T. Shanaathanan will be launched. This is an artwork that has been commissioned by the curatorial publisher Raking Leaves. The artwork by the artist exists in the form of a book which people are able to buy and own.

T. Shanaathanan first worked with Raking Leaves in 2005, when Raking LeavesDirector Sharmini Pereira came up with the idea behind The One Year Drawing Project (2008) which also involved the participation of the well known Sri Lankan artists Muhanned Cader, Chandragputha Thenwara and Jagath Weerasinghe.

In 2009 T. Shanaathanan, who lives and works in Jaffna, was invited by Raking Leaves to conceive an artwork in the form of a book. His book project is one of two commissions the organisation commissions, supports and publishes annually. The inspiration for T. Shanaathanan’s project comes from the Dutch word for Land Registry, Thombu.

It’s an unlikely source for a contemporary art work that explores the stories of displacement faced by Tamil-speaking civilians from the north. Yet on closer inspection the inspiration and use of Thombu is entirely relevant when one comes to look through the File document of lands, properties and homes, the artist presents us with.

With book in hand, the audience can turn through pages of drawings that include images showing ground plans of houses drawn from memory by people who have been displaced during the conflict.

Excerpts of their experiences are printed in the book and form the basis of a drawing that the artist has created and placed at the start of each section of this extraordinary book, which has been designed to resemble a file document. The Incomplete Thombu is a transpiring account of a situation that raises awareness about many topics related to the conflict presented in a form like no other.

Speaking about The Incomplete Thombu, T. Shanaathanan Comments, “There was a constant challenge of how to work with the limitation and possibility of the book as a form. How to make the popular idea of a book different as an art-work, was the persisting question throughout the project. The other experience that came with this project was the creative collaborations with the curator, designers, draftsmen and facilitators who helped me to approach the people whose stories appear in The Incomplete Thombu. The most inspiring part of this project was the chance to work with the civilians who have witnessed one of most cruel wars in the century. It gave me chance at least to partially fulfil the role of an artist living in a conflict zone.”

To accompany the publication and launch of The Incomplete Thombu, Barefoot Gallery will also be showing a video-based work by T. Shanaathanan called Untitled, 2011. The work takes the form of an abandoned holdall resting on top of a suitcase placed on the gallery floor. Inside the holdall appear images of objects that were given to the artist by the members of the Tamil diaspora living in Vancouver.

The artist asked people to give him an object that reminded them of home. The idea behind the project was to find a way to document the idea of home, using a method commonly used by museums when they collect artefacts. The collection of objects gives rise to a physical presence or archive that takes the place of what cannot be retrieved or is lost.

Alongside T. Shanaathanan’s two projects, Barefoot Gallery will also be launching The Speech Writer by Pakistani artist Bani Abidi and showing a video projection by Abidi titled Reserved (2006). The Speech Writer is commissioned and published by Raking Leaves and forms the second of its two book project commissions for 2011/12.

Speaking from Berlin, Pakistani artist Bani Abidi, says, “It’s a privilege to be showing my work in Sri Lanka, a country I still have not had the opportunity to visit. Sharmini Pereira, has been the curator and commissioner of two of my most important works, ‘Reserved’, a video made in 2006, and ‘The Speech Writer’, the book currently being launched in Colombo and Jaffna. I am thrilled that I can finally share my work with the community of artists in these cities and only wish I could be there in person.”

The Speech Writer is a fictional documentary presented in the form of ten flip-books. Speaking about the work, Abidi, says, “The Speech Writer’ is a short story about a retired speech writer. Saddened by memories of censored and often, misinterpreted speeches, he has created his own way of overcoming this dissatisfaction. Everyday he enacts a peculiar ritual from the familiar confines of his study. The story is a reflection on the generation of post-colonial intellectuals across South Asia, who opted to work within the system and devote their lives to institutions and to various forms of ‘nation building’. This generation that represented a heady spirit and thought, eventually slipped into marginal invisible spaces, having itself lost hope. This is a work that should have resonance in many societies, which saw revolutions and nationhood in the mid twentieth century. In particular however, I had South Asia in mind when I was planning this work, as my own history is the one that I always take my cue from.”

Reserved is a video projection that ponders the predicaments of contemporary Pakistan, through a fictionalised portrait of a city - and by extension a nation – which in waiting for the arrival of a VIP is subjected to fall into line through the dictates of officialdom. The nine-minute film unveils a view of a city, visibly under siege – a euphemism perhaps for the dutiful way Pakistan accepts whatever comes her way. By contrast the identity of the visiting dignatory remains under-wraps as a shrouded reference to the workings of officialdom at play in Pakistan today.

Showing alongside, Barefoot Gallery, Saskia Fernando Gallery will be presenting a solo exhibition of T. Shanaathanan’s work entitled Mismatches (2011). The work is comprised of a series of nine paintings that take the form of a jigsaw. “The mismatch between one story and another can also be seen as the location of new found being and a space of becoming.” says T. Shanaathanan.

“In these particular works I have made nine landscapes or locations depicting the Hindu cosmos of nine planets (the navagraha) in the form of nine jigsaw puzzle pieces. The pieces of the jigsaw represent experiences related to time, place and memory.

However the form and the imagery that appears within a piece of jigsaw suggests too that these cannot be assembled as a unified whole. Like the individual stories that appear in The Incomplete Thombu, the single jigsaw piece represents the experience related to a particular moment or person, but as a whole they are in constant contradiction and tension created by the mismatches of realities.”

The book projects will be available to buy at Barefoot Gallery and Saskia Fernando Gallery for a special launch price Rs. 3,200 (RRP Rs. 4,500).