Emerging contemporary artist Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan’s first solo exhibition ‘Inequality’ commenced on August 18 at the Paradise Road Galleries.

Born in 1989, Batticoloa, Sri Lanka, he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. His work includes drawing, painting, mixed media, installation, performance and video art.

“Though the armed conflict ended in May 2009, the people of Sri Lanka struggle to confront post-war memories and recover from collective trauma. There are discussions on transitional justice, but there is no proper mechanism to heal these collective wounds and trauma,” said Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan. This is why Pushpakanthan, in his work use art as a tool for healing. His work represents the inequalities that spawned three decades of war.

Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan
Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan

Building peace and reconciliation—thus, necessarily, narrowing the disparities between the communities—is much harder than winning the war, opined Pushpakanthan. “Without first recognizing the inequalities that begot the war, Sri Lanka cannot initiate a reconciliation process in any real or meaningful sense. I try to explore these inequalities through my work, and I believe that my art opens a space for discussing, imagining, and critically thinking about equalities.”

He explained that all his dark shades represent the dark past of the country. He uses triangles to symbolize riots, war and the stolen past. “The triangles also generate energy and power. They signify productivity and with this, pyramids of power and bureaucracy.” Pushpakanthan has chosen to work with triangles to criticize this very power and bureaucracy, which protects and nourishes inequality.

Furniture and other figures fill his triangles. “Furniture constitutes an integral space in our everyday lives and helps us sit, sleep, relax, work and study. The bed—a space where we are born, sleep, have sex—and the table—a space where we study and read—together symbolize our day-to-day happiness and sorrows, which have been shattered or burned by war. To me, the bed symbolizes pain, death, blood and sorrow because my father was murdered while asleep in his bed, when I was four years old. That bed where my father died is carved into both my being and my work which are shaped by the memories of his death and others like him. The beds are bandaged to represent not only the dead but also the wounded, disappeared, displaced and traumatized,” said Pushpakanthan.

He strongly believes that disparities between the communities can be narrowed using art as a tool of healing. By exploring unforgettable memories of death, disappearance, torture and wounds, he tries to use his work as space to lay bare the painful realities of the past so that people can grieve. “The more we explore the hard truths, the more we will be able to open the wounds.  Without first opening these wounds, we cannot treat them, we cannot heal them.”

The exhibition will be open until September 14 at the Paradise Road Galleries, 2, Alfred House Road, Colombo 3, open daily from 10 am to midnight.

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