Review of ‘Rag: The Musical’

The Distance between the Wendt and University: A Review of Jehan Aloysius’s Rag … ලයනල් වෙන්ට් රඟහලේ සිට සරසවියට ඇති දුර: ජෙහාන් ඇලොය්සියස් ගේ ‘රැග්’ ගීත නාට්යය

This review of Rag: the Musical is absolutely brilliant and articulates spectacularly (and bilingually) the poor treatment of ragging culture in the musical. Only issue is that it fails to address the absolutely cringey gender politics of the production. The article promises another writer’s article on the subject, though, hope that comes through!


Citizen Memory and ‘Demons in Paradise’

Demons in the plural

Demons in Paradise is neither the only creative work that provides a critical introspection of the Tamil community, nor the only one that constructs the image of the perpetrators of violence as otherworldly ‘demons’. In 2014, Neervai Ponnaiyan, a veteran Sri Lankan Tamil writer, published a collection of short stories called Devils and Demons. The stories are creative fictions but based on situations and stories rooted in reality. It is critical of violence, as perpetrated by all sides, giving primacy to depicting the suffering caused to ordinary people. However, the fame of Ratnam’s work and recognition at the Cannes Film Festival, the immediacy and easy dissemination of the film medium, and perhaps the aesthetic and storytelling, will eclipse other similar works such as Ponnaiyan’s. This critical introspection is also sure to capture public attention and imagination for a while; there was consternation amongst the audience whether this would be co-opted or cherry-picked to suit convenient political narratives. It is important to note, then, that Ratnam’s movie treats demons in the plural: colonial legacies, ethnic violence, community violence and more. As Ratnam deals holistically with his own critical introspection through the movie, he challenges the audience to do the same.

Our stories

Ratnam’s film is part of a wider trend in the artistic community towards using citizen memory and art to fill in the gaps in our history books and media sources. Radhika Hettiarachchi’s Herstories exhibit used stories from women across Sri Lanka affected by conflict-related violence, drawing upon commonalities in their shared experiences. Ruwanthie de Chickera’s Dear Children, Sincerely…, a play and series of monologues, is based on stories narrated by older generations about happenings in Sri Lanka from the 1930s onwards.

Perhaps the preoccupation of the arts sphere with citizen memory stems from a desire to fill in the silences that we grew up with. Where we do not have clear information or hard facts, we still seek stories. Nearly 70 years from 1948, official sources are still not able to look truthfully at the multiple violences of our post-independence years. Yet, our desire to know motivates us to listen to the stories of our elders, as Ratnam does in the film. But are we then, especially young people, to rely on the arts to fill in these silences? Must the arts shoulder the responsibility of providing to the Sri Lankan community what official sources still refuse to?


This is an excerpt from an article first published by Roar Life. See the full article here

Review of Mesh Academy’s ‘Deconstruct the Embody’

(pix courtesy Malaka Premasiri)

On April 1, the crowd at the Lionel Wendt gallery kept buzzing, ‘What do you think it meant?’ They had been captivated by Mesh Academy of  Dance’s Deconstruct the Embody but were struggling to make head or tail of it. Different ideas floated amongst people: some believed the dance had a storyline about escape, others connected emotionally with the frustrated, screaming bodies, others yet remained gobsmacked and chuckled to themselves about the shock of the performance.

Deconstruct the Embody was a multimedia performance combining the choregraphy of Umeshi Rajeendra with photography by Malaka Premasiri. As an abstract, experimental piece, it was a much-needed addition to Sri Lanka’s artistic landscape. It thoroughly disrupted the audience’s expectation of neat storylines or clear messages and demanded instead that you connect with the tensions of lighting and movement. Continue reading

Artist & Empire: Facing Britain’s Colonial Past @ The Tate Britain

This article was originally published in the SOAS Spirit, the newspaper of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, U.K.

Firstly, ‘past’ is a misnomer, no? The tactical use of Britain and not the ‘U.K.’ hides the fact that the empire still continues in Northern Ireland. Interestingly enough, to align with this historiography, there are no exhibits of any aspects of empire in Ireland in the exhibit.

So does the exhibit do what it claims to? To ‘Face’ Britain’s colonial past? Of course not, even though other popular reviews in the media call is daring and blunt and other words associated with bravery. Continue reading