A collaborative project between theertha and No1 Shanthi Road
Historical and conceptual background to the project
South India is only 22 miles across the Pork Strait from North of Sri Lanka. Archaeologically, it can be demonstrated the links and cultural similarities that had existed between Sri Lanka and the southern regions of India, from as early as 6th century BC. The megalithic burials of 6‐7th century BC from Sri Lanka shares so many common characteristics with those found in Southern India. However, it can’t be suggested that a single ‘ethnic group’ inhabited Sri Lanka and the southern regions of India from these burial data, as has been argued by some extreme thinkers. Nevertheless, one can surly argue for the fact that there were shared cultural practices amongst the societies/ cultures that inhabited this region in the 6‐7 centuries before Christian era. Even without much hard arguments it is obvious, considering the proximity of South India to Sri Lanka the possibility of cultural exchange and human migration between the two geographical zones for millennia. There are all the reasons to believe the existence of a real ‘sethusamudra’ – a bridge across the ocean – between the two geographies in the ancient times, both physically and conceptually. The ancient bridge that is supposed to exist between the two countries has also been called ‘Ram sethu’ indicating the fact that it is Rama’s bridge, and the current geological studies have shown that this bridge is a natural formation. However this bridge was conceptually dismantled at a later time distancing the two geographies from each other as imagined proximities; reinventing the neighbor as a stranger .
For the majority of Sinhalese today, who make the majority of Sri Lankan population, South India is, conceptually, a distant and an alien place. The Sinhalese believe that they are descendents of the North Indians, who are supposed to be ‘Aryans’, as opposed to non‐Aryans of the South of India. Two distinct historiographies have contributed to this popular belief amongst the Sinhalese. The ancient chronicle of the Sinhalese, titled ‘Mahavamsa’ compiled in the 6th century AD, in v arious ways links the Sinhalese and their royalty with the North Indian civilization and the Gautama Buddha. Thus metaphorically speaking the ‘Sethu Samudram’ was first dismantled conceptually in the 6th century AD by the ancient chroniclers of Sri Lanka . Then the European philologists who developed the myth of Aryans as an ethnic group and incorporated the North Indians into this mythical straight jacket in the 19th century did a second dismantling of this bridge.
Now, the ‘Sethusamundram’, the mythical bridge is under physical threat with the scheduled construction of a real bridge linking Sri Lanka and South India on the same place where the ancient bridge supposed to have been and is drawing critical attention from various interest groups, mostly Indian regarding potential or imagined ecological, social, political, and cultural threats that might ensue from the building of this bridge. As mentioned earlier, this ancient bridge is a natural formation, which has thru millennia acquired mythical dimensions. This bridge has retained its alluring potential for myths as late as the 19th century as can be seen by the fact that the first survey or general o f the East India Company named it Adamas Bridge!, thus adding more to the theological complexity of this mythical bridge.
In many ways SETHU SAMUDURUM project will be a point of departure to go into a process of analysis and inquiry of the contemporary socio‐cultural and political anxieties and issues that Sri Lanka and India mutually share and bare. The two countries, India and Sri lanka, share more than just a geographical affinity ; we have always been intertwined with history, mythology and a turbulent geopolitical situation. In the contemporary context the ‘cause of the Tamils’ and the violent political past trying to grapple with it has been a major factor that created many political, cultural and social issues. Throughout history the geographical, political and imagined boarders of two countries have been porous and therefore shrouded with suspicion and circumspection. This is also because of the close affinity India and Sri Lanka share with regard to their historical connections, exchanges and experiences that in many ways reflected in the contemporary mediations in politics and culture in both countries.
Sethu Samudram, the art project that Theertha and No 1. Shathi Road has developed collectively is envisioning to engage with and address this highly complex and variegated history and emotions surrounding the concept of Sethu Samudram and foreground the links, similarities, and shared anxieties, emotions and histories between the two geographical areas. The overall research area will cover a wide area of study that include society, politics, history, religion, mythology as relevant to Sri Lanka and India. The SETHU SAMUDURUM project would like to engage in the wider discussion of history navigating through the contemporary dynamics of art (involvement with, and discussion on ideological and methodological innovations of visual arts) within the region.
Art historical and art practice backgrounds of the project
‘Sethu Samudram‘ the Art Project will reflect, represent and als o interrogate the recent developments in art- making in South Asia. Following broad themes will be addressed/ dealt with or simply taken on stride within the Project:
The SETHU SAMUDURUM project will unfold on collaborative and dialogue making platform where Theertha and No.1 Shanthi Road will respond to each other. As such all their programs will be reciprocal and will be a continuation and progression from one to the other. The thread of each program me will be carried to the next wit its own variations and discussions. Each partner (Theertha/ No. 1 Shanthi Road) will have a team of artists connected to project working with a coordinator. The programs will be executed by the 2 teams. The selected members of the team will meet each other in either Sri Lanka or India every year. All programs will contribute to the final documentation and exhibition which will present the SETHU SAMUDURUM project as a comprehensive history writing project at the end of the 3rd year which will be shown in both India and Sri Lanka. The possibility of making it travel to other countries will be explored.
The project will use following type of activities:
3. Seminars/ discussion forums
4. Book art projects
5. Writing projects
6. Video projects/ web publishing
7. Community art projects