Sri Lankan activist art by Chandraguptha Thenuwara to be shown at Frieze London


In the wake of the crisis engulfing Sri Lanka, Saskia Fernando Gallery in Colombo will bring works by one of the country’s most prominent political artists, Chandraguptha Thenuwara to Frieze London later this year. “We are showing Thenuwara, a leading contemporary artist and activist at the forefront of the [democratic] people’s movement for decades,” says the gallery founder Saskia Fernando. “His body of work is dedicated to exposing political corruption in Sri Lanka.”

At Frieze (12-16 October), the gallery will present Covert Drawings, a series of ink on paper works created alongside the artist’s welded metal installation titled Covert, which is on show at the European Cultural Centre in Venice for the duration of this year’s Biennale (until 27 November). Thenuwara created the 2m-tall sculpture by making line drawings, combining motifs such as lotus leaves and guns, that were then welded onto a hollow drum. “The work stands as a monolith representation of his explorations of Sri Lankan politics since 1997,” according to a gallery statement.

Covert was unveiled in April this year as the political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka was deepening. Although the work was made before the crisis, it now “stands as a monument to the dire state of Sri Lanka’s political crisis, a never-ending vortex of the stories and failures that have pushed the country further and further into precarity, that leaves it in the state that it is today,” according to the gallery.

Chandraguptha Thenuwara’s Covert sculpture is on show in Venice Courtesy of Saskia Fernando Gallery

In 1997, Thenuwara began presenting “memorial exhibitions”, which are shown on 23 July every year to commemorate “Black July”, a series of Anti-Tamil pogroms that erupted in Sri Lanka in July of 1983. He appropriated the camouflaged barrels seen at security checkpoints for his Barrelism series, which he started in 1997.

Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on a military jet, amid mass protests over the island’s soaring inflation and food shortages. In a letter from Sri Lanka published earlier this year, Fernando stressed that “our country is in turmoil and facing an economic crisis, with shortages of food and fuelsparking anti-government demonstrations”. She added: “The hope of a promising future still looms, yet the real struggle for artists in the country goes beyond supplies and visibility; it is a struggle that involves hunger and poverty like no other faced by the country before.”


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