Inextricably Bound Futures - Colomboscope 2019

Jan 29 2019. view 109

International Artists at Colomboscope 2019

The Sri Lankan coast is in part, defined by struggle. The struggle between gravity and sea water as it is evicted to invent terrestrial contours for fast extending post-war cities. The skirmish between frustrated fisherfolk and unpredictable shifts in coastal development. The contest between sweating urbanites and their attempts to circumvent the rise of looming superstructures. Memories of colonial violence being re-assembled in the form of new global promises. The voices of these struggles are muffled and scattered. This sixth edition of Colomboscope titled Sea Change positions itself to summon these voices toward action, education and ultimately transformation. These conversations, however, cannot happen in a vacuum, and are by no means unparalleled. It is precisely for this reason that curator Natasha Ginwala invited a host of international artists to bring with them hopes of a nuanced re-distribution of knowledge and shared struggles to reimagine regional futures from the Sri Lankan coastline. 

Closest in proximity, Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective inextricably tie the personal narration of shipping imagery with geopolitical transit, through disruption and desire. Featuring found footage, The Knots that Bind are the Knots that Fray draws the coast of England and the coast of India together as they sit on two ends of the haunting journey of industrial Titan cranes. The artists’ note: “Like sweethearts bidding farewell to men in sailing ships, the world watches its own histories float away. Sometimes, as when finally falling in love, only the silences of loss and longing remain.” This personification of industrial machinery is reversed in the vignette Short Leave, which unfolds a visual story about forbidden attraction between a vagabond sailor and the longing for home while encountering a local sex worker. A story of unrequited intimacy marked by transnational trade schedules, here intimate traveling bodies entwine with the territorial bureaucracy that separates peoples who share a common ocean. 

Filipa César is an artist and filmmaker interested in the fictional aspects of the documentary and the politics and poetics inherent to the moving image. Louis Henderson’s work dwells upon creole identity, sonic investigations through dub and reggae music, and anti-colonial legacies active in the contemporary milieu. César and Henderson’s film Sunstone track the role of lighthouses from centuries of imperial voyage to them becoming obsolete monuments by the sea as global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) take over. In this film and accompanying installation, we see fresnel lenses curving light and bringing close the abstract conditions of oceanic journeys. The lighthouse beam fundamentally connected the seawater and the territory, to this relationship the filmmakers add a narrator: the lighthouse keeper as a literary protagonist. The film emulates technological evolution by using photosensitive celluloid all the way to 3D CGI, reflecting  the intricate transactions between trade routes, maritime communities and technological advancement in perceiving the mainland from sea. 

Other works in Colomboscope speak to those that history never considered. Molla Sagar’s work follows labour struggles, folkloric tradition and revolutionary actions in the everyday lives of the subaltern class. In 1973 Ritwik Ghatak directed the epic Bengali film Titas Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas), which explored the life of the fishermen on the bank of the Titas River in Brahmanbaria. Inspired by the film, Sagar created Titas - The River as a participatory documentary that sees the river as a mythical entity while documenting the daily relationship between landscape and local communities. Made over a number of seasons Sagar journeys along the riverbank by boat, at points plunging the camera underwater, discovering the river as a site of dreaming, sacred celebrations, nourishment, and strife. The film sequentially exposes the entanglements between the river as a living source and the communal ethos of fishing and agrarian cultures that surround it. 

The hyper local considerations of communities becomes interwoven with vast systems of wealth accumulation in the performance work of Thai artists Henry Tan and partners. They explore infrastructural desire and the future of maritime ports seen through the meshwork of greed and possessiveness both individual and corporate. Through researching unfinished projects like the Kra Canal situated between the Andaman and South China Sea, the artists study complex relationships between China, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Using the motif of the pearl as a symbol of ambitious strategizing and predatory economics, Tan and his colleagues invite audiences to enter into a contract based on trust, mutual desire and business-minded collaboration. 

The burden of the critical is matched by an even greater burden: To chart a new relationship with the ocean that resonates with and simultaneously subverts marine networks. Curator Natasha Ginwala often quotes the fact that “we know less about the ocean floor than we know about the moon or mars.” What knowledge about the matrices of colonization, migration, and correspondence, of lost objects, drowned bodies, and deep histories may be revealed by delving deeper into the ocean? Fissures in the Deep by Fazal Rizvi, speaks to these questions by carrying the listener underwater on a walk upon the seabed. In this 30-minute sound piece and accompanying publication, the viewer descends into the ocean floor – home to all that the surface of the sea renders invisible. Rizvi’s responsive sketches compel us to come to terms with the historic and living depths of blue waters as well as our individual mortality. 

What impact can these conversations have on a greater understanding of the Sri Lankan coast and its relation with the Indian Ocean world? The manner in which these international dialogues have been facilitated at Colomboscope brings to mind the words of Aboriginal elder Lilla Watson, who said “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Colomboscope will be held from the 25th to the 31st of January 2019, 10am to 7pm at the Rio Complex & Barefoot Gallery and the festival night venue, B52 at the Grand Oriental Hotel from 6pm to 11pm. For more information visit

Sandev Handy


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