Building a historical narrative

by Shilpa Raina
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Varanasi and Anuradhapura, both continue to attract a large number of pilgrims yearly. The histories of both these places are layered with myth, cultural interpretations, intersections of politics and religious upheavals. Visiting both cities stirred my curiosity on the idea of ‘pilgrimages’ and the parallel landscapes and sacred routes people construct. The journeys of these pilgrims reflect a map that is experientially and emotionally rooted than formal mappings of these areas,” says Sri Lankan artist Anoli Perera.
“My work references the idea of how we appropriate spaces in the varied quests we undertake during our lifetime, in our need to belong to a community and a history,” she adds.

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Manisha Parekh’s Home Shrine Series

Anoli is in Delhi these days, to talk about her works and her experiences of visiting Varanasi, which, she says, is a “place where one witnesses the cycle of life”. Her two works are displayed at an ongoing exhibition, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, at IGNCA, along with a suite of Indian and Sri Lankan artists who have collaborated for this project, which was first exhibited at Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, last year.
A Tale of Two Cities is a year-long cross-cultural exchange that brings together artists like Bandu Manamperi, Chintan Upadhyay, Jagath Weerasinghe,  Manisha Parekh,
Manjunath Kamath, Pala Pothupitiye, Paula Sengupta, Pradeep Chandrasiri, Ram Rahman  and Riyas Komu to engage in conversations and relook at these historical sites with a different perspective.
Pradeep Chandrasiri, Return to the Sensory, Travelling Exhibition, A Tale of Two Cities - India and Sri Lanka.jpg (1) copy

Sri Lankan artist Pradeep Chandrasiri’s Return to the Sensory

According to Ruhanie Perera, curatorial adviser, it is a project that engages this collective in a research based art-making process. “It calls on the artist to revisit a city through individual artistic expression born of collaborative seeking and discourse. It demands an act of artistic intervention: an act of re-vision in an ever-shifting present – played out by artists who are socio culturally produced and socially engaged actors – that is a response to the metaphysics of place,” she says.
Manisha’s work seeks engagement with the idea of shrine. “The articulation itself brings into sharp focus the sense of the shrine as intimate, personal, private and familiar. It is an expression absorbed by the sensations experienced walking the sites of Anuradhapura and Varanasi, inhabiting their socio-historic site-specific living sacredness,” she says.
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Similarly, photographer Ram Rahman’s work overlaps texts on Buddhist sites. For someone who has mostly engaged with images, working on this project has been challenging, as well as, informing. Elaborating on his works, he says, “At its core, the work builds itself around the idea of ‘the man – the Buddha,’ and the myriad of texts, symbols and symbolisms that have come to be associated with the philosophy, teaching and practice of Buddhism. In an interpretation of ‘the word,’ text is brought into the work by way of ancient (sermons, edicts, rock inscriptions) and scholarly writings, as well as writing in translation.”
“This extends even to newspaper clippings that both expresses the contemporaneity of text, while interrogating our understandings of textual practice and the assumptions that frame legitimizing claims over text. Bringing in text in the form of overlaid text or using an image next to the text, the word too becomes a symbol, and is thus open to deconstructive visions,” he adds.

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