How will our future be shaped by the Indian Ocean? Introducing Colomboscope 2019

Jan 08 2019. view 424

From the erasure and replacement of the communities in urban Colombo, to considering the local intersections of global climate change; since 2013, Colomboscope has functioned as Sri Lanka's only festival platform where the contemporary arts and interdisciplinary discourse have met. Here they have entered into critical dialogue to respond to the implications of various shifts occurring within the island. The 2019 edition of the festival is yet another step in that direction; beginning from the shorelines and traveling inward. 

What would it mean to consider the Indian Ocean outside the realm of what resources we may extract, what borders it facilitates and what economic growth we might achieve through it? As its intertwined peoples, can we cultivate a new collective imagination of this region through cultural affinities, linguistic confluences and shared potential as a vital artistic meeting point? Titled 'Sea Change' the sixth edition of Colomboscope speaks directly into these alternative imaginations.

This festival edition is envisaged as a platform showcasing Sri Lanka’s creative community while generating a new phase of experimentation and international exchange. Early editions of Colomboscope made use of multiple venues across the city of Colombo. In its latest iteration, the festival is harkening back to that tradition, by locating itself over multiple spaces of heritage and culture across the city of Colombo. The venues and the art that will live in them, for the duration of Colomboscope 2019, have been carefully considered with the hope of making room for deeply generative conversations. 

Festival Curator, Natasha Ginwala quotes from Derek Walcott's poem 'Sea is History' which notes: "but the ocean kept turning blank pages looking for History." It is through this fragment of poetry that we cross the threshold into the complex conversations of oceanic infrastructural histories, maritime empire, and how speculative futures could be imagined through the seafront as its meeting point.  The works included in the festival explore the micro and the macro by asking: What pockets of resilience and displays of agency we may find in systems of piracy and small time trade? How may we learn to re-think the crossings and exchanges of those deemed illegitimate bodies as they react to changing circumstances along the oceanic frontier? What may we learn about ourselves that we have not come to know through our extractive deep sea mining and the operation of transnational ports? Or perhaps it is precisely through deeper exploration of these familiar machineries that we come to know of the scale of our unknowing? For example, the artistic work of Delhi based Raqs Media Collective traces the transcontinental journey of shipbuilding cranes and Ranjit Kandalgaonkar (Mumbai) mobilizes familial memories aboard cargo ships conflated with engineering drawings that map the vessels. Locally, Mahen Perera’s sculptural work emerges from lost and found fragments by the coastline, connecting desires toward movement and anchored belonging. Jasmine Nilani Joseph’s drawings are a personal document of how waters become a site of passage during wartime political blockages and prolonged displacement in Northern Sri Lanka.

 Natasha Ginawala

Sri Lanka has very little state support for contemporary art and thus initiatives like Colomboscope have historically depended on funding from the corporate sector. The sixth edition of the festival has instead reoriented itself to function as an independent initiative with the hope of garnering support through non-profits, grants, patrons, and members of society. There has been strong regional and  international support from the likes of The Gujral Foundation, Bengal Foundation, Pro Helvetia New Delhi (Swiss Arts Council), founding partners EUNIC Sri Lanka, Goethe-Institut, British Council, Alliance Française de Kotte, as well as Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka, German Embassy in Sri Lanka, and TBA-21 Academy, among others. While forging partnerships with local cultural platforms has been a positive step in the festival’s journey, support from individual local patrons has been virtually non-existent.

Ranjit Kandalgaonkar  

The upcoming festival edition, “Sea Change” hopes to upheave our nostalgic approaches to maritime history by inviting over thirty visual artists, filmmakers, musicians and scientific experts into dialogue with each other. Curator Natasha Ginwala hopes that this intergenerational, local, and the international union would help

"mount a critical reassessment of our future and our buried histories in relationship to the Indian Ocean." 

Colomboscope will be held from the 25th to the 31st of January 2019. For more information visit


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