The Fearless Collective

Apr 16 2024.

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Embodying the fearless spirit of their name, artist Minal Wickramatunga has joined forces with Vicky Shahjehan to create a fabulous mural on the walls of the Rio Complex in Slave Island. As an aficionado of street art, it fills me with joy each time I spot a new piece of street art. This mural further resonates with me as it depicts the power and resilience of journalists.  Colombo, with its rich tapestry of cultures and vibrant architectural landscape, serves as an ideal canvas for street art. The addition of such artwork enhances the city’s vibrant ambience. It is to the credit of the Fearless Collective that they use street art as a medium of visual storytelling to relate stories of the oppressed, and marginalized and change the way women are perceived. 

Q WHAT INITIALLY DREW YOU TO THE ART OF MURAL PAINTING, AND HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THIS FIELD? I love the idea that art can be democratised. Mural art or public art is able to cut across any different cross-sections of society. It enables people from all walks of life to appreciate and enjoy art. I began painting a few murals indoors for various commercial projects. I then got accepted to join the Fearless Collective, alongside Vicky Shahjehan. This is when our murals turned into more socially engaged work.

Q CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS WHEN CONCEPTUALIZING AND PLANNING A NEW MURAL PROJECT? It depends on the client and what the purpose of the project is. If it is for the Fearless Collective, we begin with a minority community we would like to spotlight. We then follow the Fearless methodology, which includes a workshop that is an intimate sharing circle that uses the act of custom-curated rituals as a method of knowledge sharing. We then get the workshop participants to decide how they want to be represented and create the image. This is the image we then paint on the murals.

Q WHAT INSPIRED THIS PARTICULAR  MURAL DESIGN, AND HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE LOCAL CULTURE OR COMMUNITY THEMES INTO YOUR WORK? The particular mural spotlights female journalists. The idea was to honour the lives and work of these trailblazers, some whom have been working in the field for over thirty years. These women, across various genres of media, have been pioneers in their own right. The mural is an ode to them and their often tumultuous careers - we all know that working as a journalist in Sri Lanka is a rather dangerous profession. We feature tri-lingual affirmations and paint their stories into the mural using symbols that come up in the workshop. I was inspired to paint stories of resilience and the power of journalists. This is because I was raised by a family of journalists and media workers myself and know all too well the challenges faced by this community.

Q WHO COLLABORATED WITH  YOU ON CREATING THIS MURAL AT RIO? We partnered with South Asian Women in Media. They helped bring together all the participants in the workshop. Vicky was my artistic collaborator and of course, we were awarded a seed grant from the Fearless Collective. We had Venuri Ranasinghe help document the process of the mural as well and Siobhan D’Almeida and Aadhi from Slave Island helped us with the painting.

Q CAN YOU SHARE ANY MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES OR CHALLENGES YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED WHILE PAINTING MURALS? The act of painting in a public space becomes almost performance art - especially when it is a group of women coming together and jumping on the man lift. Every single mural I have ever completed has always been met with some sort of alarm. Oftentimes we have had men come up to us and grill us about what we are up to. Why are we painting women this way and whether or not we have anything better to do? We always meet these questions with a smile and chat with these men about why we need more female representation on the streets. One instance in particular comes to mind when I was in residency in Jaipur painting a mural. One man came up to the man lift operator and told him not to help us - that we were witches and he would be cursed forever! He smiled and went on manning the machine, much to the man’s bewilderment!

Q HOW MUCH SUPPORT DO YOU GET FROM THE LOCAL COMMUNITY FOR THE WORK YOU DO? We get so much support from the community - usually, they bring us refreshments around the clock, even when we don’t ask for them. This time they really helped us with getting permission from the authorities, cleaning up the empty plot of land (without us even asking for it) and even sometimes fending off any naysayers who came our way.

Q HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE LOCATIONS FOR YOUR MURALS, AND WHAT CONSIDERATIONS DO YOU TAKE INTO ACCOUNT? With the Fearless murals, we are intentionally focusing on the Slave Island area. This is because of the threat this area has due to gentrification and increased development in this neighbourhood. We want to raise awareness of this imminent threat by focusing our murals in this area. The Rio Complex has a very sensitive past as a result of communal violence in our recent history. Because of this, we thought it would be fitting to paint the stories of the women who continue to report on these topics.

Photos courtesy Nazly Ahmed


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook,¬†Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]

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