Art exploring the borders of 'identity'
Human habitation tends to draw lines across geography with specific
motives that seek to define ‘what’ a particular community of humans is
in opposition to another. The ‘Theertha International Artists’
Collective’ is an independent collective of practitioners in the visual
artists who can be regarded as pioneers in ‘performance art’ in Sri
Lanka. They have presented collaborative work in various forums and
The latest endeavour by this collective to take life in the form of
performance art will be the ‘Borders and Lines’ project. The Borders and
Lines project will be a ‘performance platform’ taking place from March
13 to 16 under the theme: ‘Borders and Lines: the temporality of
Two artists Godwin Constantine and Bandu Manamperi are two core
members of the Theertha collective. Bandu is a practitioner of the arts
who does not limit himself to one genre. His works include sculpture,
drawing and painting, and installation art. His approach is to create
highly personal art experiences based on the transformation of his own
Godwin is a medical doctor with a BA in Philosophy from the
University of London, BA in Social Sciences from the Open University of
Sri Lanka, and is presently reading for an MA in Tamil at the University
As a practitioner in the arts he is a pioneer in performance art in
Sri Lanka and has participated in many exhibitions locally and
internationally. The two artistes presented some insights about their
project and what can be expected by the public on the scheduled
performance dates when their artistic endeavours will unfold in the
Borella junction area in Colombo, starting at 10 a.m. In an interview
with Montage the two artistes aired their views. Excerpts:
Question: What is the membership base of Theertha
International Artists’ Collective? Can you give a brief idea about what
kind of artists and practitioners of the arts are involved in it?
Bandu: Theertha International Artistes’ collective is an
autonomous, artistes’ led, non-profit visual arts organisation that
works to support the needs of the contemporary Sri Lankan art community.
Theertha started in 2000 as an informal group supporting art exchange
across artistic, geographical, and ethno-religious borders. While the
initial objectives primarily focused on artistic exchange, Theertha has
over the years expanded to ensure its impact in the artistic community.
Theertha also has a strong education focus that integrates art
history, theory and research.
To this end, we’ve published articles and books that bring into
discussion art history and theory. We run teacher-training programs that
are driven by imparting contemporary knowledge of art practice for
We design and conduct community art projects that are committed to
heritage management. (The Red Dot Gallery in Borella was set up as an
exhibition and expressive space for experimental works for artists and
emerging artists in the field. The exercise of organising a performance
platform has many objectives.
At the most fundamental level, there are the general objectives that
have historically existed in relation to the practice that extend to
this event: How do we bring into focus this art practice that uses the
body as language, and how do we bring it to a wider audience?
Q: ‘Borders and Lines’ is described as a ‘Performance Art
Event’. Can it be approached as a form of drama or theatre, or dance?
Can it be likened to a form like outdoor ‘street drama’?
Godwin : Historically, performance art evolved within the
visual art context; theatre actors, dancers, musician also explored
performance art as an exploration of ‘the contemporary’ in their
Performance art is a form where the artist uses his body as a
representation of thought and/or a concept. It is also different from
street theatre in that while it may engage a community, the nature of
the space/environment engaged with is important to consider in
performance art. There is no fixed distance, or clear demarcation
between the audience and the performer – so there is a constantly
Q: Sri Lankan society is highly stratified and segmented.
Apart from the socioeconomic class lines of ‘hierarchy’ there are the
ethno-religious factors and also active political alliances that form
‘active divisions’. What is the level of public engagement hoped to be
achieved by this event? Do you think that people from all walks of life
find something in this event that will spark interest in them to
appreciate Borders and Lines?
Godwin : ‘Borders and Lines’ is actually an archaeological
concept, when translated into cultural studies context, it revolves
around questions of identity and social meanings.
Q: that are important for all of us. The event is also
important because of its potential to create other questions; those that
revolve around art and art practice. From simply, ‘what is happening
here’ to, ‘what is art,’ ‘what is the context of art.’ This will be an
art interaction that thrives on its engagement with people who don’t
come to galleries usually, or can feel excluded from/not have access to
Bandu : When the artist travels to a public space he
immediately engages with this place that is filled, as you say, with
these divisive thoughts, and placing one’s body within this space is
already an expression – as the body exists within the environment and
the meanings invested in the environment. And these meanings can be
called into question in performance art.
In the gallery you would have a separate set of meanings around a
body; on the street these meanings are very different because of the
environment, and exist within certain ‘risk’ factors.