Meet The Artists of Colomboscope 2024: Fathima Rukshana

Jan 27 2024.

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The eighth edition of the interdisciplinary art festival Colomboscope will be held from 19-28 January across Colombo. Colomboscope “Way of the Forest” is shaped with over 40 Sri Lankan and international artists and collectives and is interwoven with a cross-section of programmes, conversations, excursions, performances, workshops and other experiences. Colomboscope 2024  is curated by Hit Man Gurung, Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Sarker Protick together with artistic director Natasha Ginwala. Meet some of the artists for Way of the Forest as they talk to us about their work for the festival.

  1. Tell us a little about yourself.
  2. Describe your work for Colomboscope 2024 and its ties with the theme - Way of the Forest.
  3. What’s the inspiration behind the work?
  4. What is your signature style in your art?
  5. What are you looking forward to at Colomboscope and what do you hope people would take away from your work? 

 

1. I was born in 1989 into a middle-class Muslim family in the NorthWestern Province of Sri Lanka. Kurunegala, my birthplace, is steeped in a traditional village setup with archaeological roots dating back to the mid-13th century. The artisan traditions of pot making and mat weaving in this historical setting have significantly influenced my artistic journey. My family, especially my grandmother and my father, who practised chair weaving, as well as the local artisans in my native village engaged in basket, mat, and chair weaving, played a pivotal role in shaping my artistic inclinations. 

2. Employing an intergenerationally learned trade practice of weaving, I weave and create ambiguous container structures from neglected and abandoned parts of tree, paper, cloth, and canvas. Weaving with these fibrous roots represents the strength of marginalised women who have lost their identity and agency. These neglected materials are a metaphor for reclaiming that agency and discovering a new identity, thus reframing the lost 'freedoms' in women’s lives. Repurposing familial practices, I question societal conventions around women’s roles in normative kinship. Refuting the dualism of nature and culture, the artist’s work engages with ecological feminism as an active principle and turns to women’s histories in land art.

3. My early education was at a Muslim government school. For many Muslim families, whose native language is Tamil, education in Sinhala language government schools was reserved for male children as better career opportunities could be achieved through fluency in the majority language. Fortunately for me, my family valued me being educated and after completing high school I enrolled in a university in the Eastern Province just as the country’s three-decade-long civil war came to its end. At the same time, as a Muslim student, I was subjected to the increased conservatism of the Eastern Muslim community. When my university education was ending, my family began marriage negotiations. The marriage was an unhappy one, my husband did not accept my job and our case lawsuit under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act is for having violated my husband’s wishes.  Over those years, I had more and more questions that haunted me– Who created the background for these margins of acceptability? Why were child marriages, unconditional divorce/ Talaq procedures, or unconditional polygamous marriages considered proper, while her determination to continue her education and excel as an artist and teacher was deemed problematic?  Around this time, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition, by the artist SP Pushpakanthan and this exhibition became a turning point for me as I saw how the agency can have launching necessary dialogues within the larger society. I persevered – committed to the idea that “art IS a form of life” (Richard Wollheim). Furthermore, I continue to be inspired by the places I live in and the people I encounter; While I still see myself as predominantly a painter, my practice has expanded to include sculpture and installation and my work has been about how women’s lives have been “eaten away” and deconstructed by the men in their lives. At present, I am inspired by my autobiographical life of strength and achievement. So, I am creating a work of art about women’s power of strength and freedom from violence.

4. In my artistic process, I repurpose discarded artefacts as the primary material for my weaving endeavours. The transformed form serves as a metaphor symbolising the reclamation of agency, particularly by women who have experienced a loss of freedom in making personal choices. The amalgamation of diverse identities is visually expressed through the incorporation of fragments from magazines and natural materials, which I subsequently draw on and paint. The creative process involves weaving together these deconstructed parts, including cut and woven paintings, palm fronds, and magazine strips, to construct new identities and a resilient whole represented by the woven sheet or "cloth." I source natural materials, such as roots hanging from banyan tree branches, seed pods, and discarded clothing, with a particular significance attached to representing my community's dress code, reflecting the identity of Muslim women. This holistic approach to art creation aims to convey a powerful narrative of transformation, resilience, and the construction of new identities.

5. My passion as an artist is to share my ideas, experiences, and skills with the public, and this is an ideal exhibition platform to do this. I'm especially looking forward to this exhibition as a way to reach and give voice to victims, like those who do not know the victims's stories or the legal difficulties they face. It will be a kind of awareness-building engagement for many.  My artwork is a healing process: it will be healing not only for me but also it will feel this way for spectators, too. My work is autobiographical and I share my experiences, community and culture gaps. And in sharing my story, my artwork is activism-orientated. I hope my work will reach, and benefit from engagements with, a strong community of people.

Colomboscope 2024 will take place from 19 – 28 January. For more details and information on the lineup visit https://www. colomboscope.lk/ 


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