Sri Lankan painters next two generations

Its been over a month since I was at the DSI Sithuvili Sri Lanka 2007 Art Competition award ceromoney held at the BMICH. The event was carried off with un Sri Lankan precision – timed to the minute. The cultural show included dance numbers that involved a bravely risky (yet successful) fusion of Sinhala and Tamil dance traditions. Yet the images that stick in my mind a month later are from the core of the show – the kids from grades (possibly 2 or 3) all the way up to A’level age walking on stage to recive their awards. They had been picked from 156000 entries which included the North and the Eastern provinces. The majority of these kids were from rural schools. A string of Mahavidyalayas, Madya Maha Vidyalayas, and simple Vidyalayas. Words not heard among us Colombo types used to abbreviations of Visaka, Ananda, Royal etc.

There were two kids who seemed to be particularly emblematic – both were from the youngest age group from their respective provinces. One was a little girl from Kyts island in the North. Given the grim news associated with that island (couldn’t find a non grim link on Google) it seems that DSI went through quite a bit of hoop jumping to get her and her family to Colombo. The other was tot from Kanda Kapuwa Ulpatha (literal translation is case my transliteration is messed up: “spring that cut the mountain”) Vidyalaya in Uva (or was is Sabaragamuwa?).

Both were stick thin, in white ankle length socks and kit that were a detergent marketer’s dream. They marched confidently and happily across the boards to the camera flashes. The roar of applause makes me wonder if the audience was cheering at a rare sight of hope 0r if I was caving into mushy metaphors.

The awards those kids got were not small change. I hope it is being put to prudent uses (won’t make any cynical speculations here).

The older winners were gravely respectful. Perhaps they knew something about the prospects of a career as a rural artist in Sri Lanka. I wonder what they all thought of the whole event – the glitter of Colombo society, the applause, the hot TV lights and the chilly air conditioning such things live on.

Better stop now. Its easy (and tempting) to slide into airy gallows humor about the future. There’s enough stuff in the air (real and imagined) already.


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