BEING AND BECOMING | CURATED BY T. SHANAATHANAN

04.05.18 - 11.05.18

This exhibition brings together the work of ten artists who graduated from Jaffna University in 2016.

The exhibition emerged from a year-long discussion with each of the artists about the process and

questions that surround working as an artist after the security and structure of the academy are

no longer there. In their professional quest to pursue careers as a full time working contemporary

artists, exhibiting their work and being part of a network of discussions remains key. Curating and

participating in this exhibition arose as part of this pursuit. The exhibition is the last in a series of

exhibitions that includes ‘Self-Portraits’ curated by T. Shanaathanan in 2017 and which began in

2015 with Seven Conversations, jointly curated with Sharmini Pereira. The first exhibition outlined

the curatorial framework as a series of related questions. These questions have remained in play

throughout all three exhibitions.

“What does it mean to be a practicing contemporary artist? Beyond motivation, techniques, influences

and intention what else is involved? To be an artist today involves sustaining a practice

where you are actively involved in the process of art making. Though this sounds straightforward it

is probably one of the greatest challenges facing any artist no matter how outstanding they may be.

It is probably too the reason why so many artists end up choosing to move onto more stable career

paths after they graduate, favoring a job in advertising, teaching or IT rather than enduring what it

means to set up a practice and sustain it. Yet why should the process of making art end up being

any different to any other profession? As an audience we are accustomed to seeing the final artwork

by an artist, often in a gallery; on occasion in a studio. But what does it entail to have a studio, let

alone a gallery, least one that acts on an artists’ behalf, represents you to collectors, nurtures your

creativity, exercises your critical sensibilities and supports your professional development through

discussion, opportunities and introductions? What are the mechanisms that encourage you to take

risks when you are outside the freedom of an educational structure? How do you research your

work be this watching films, travelling, reading or any other number of activities that develop ideas

when you are not supported to do so? Such are the questions that face all new graduates when

they complete their Fine Art training. When we decided to curate this exhibition these questions

informed our starting point.” (‘Seven Conversations’, curated by T. Shanaathanan and Sharmini

Pereira, Saskia Fernando Gallery, 2015)

All the artists in ‘Being and Becoming’ undertook a yearlong critical practice after their completion

of their degree, with the express purpose of committing themselves to a learning experience that

would in time, train them to work as professional contemporary artists. Coming from 5 districts

across the country, Jaffna, became their home, and was the location of a collective learning experience

that involved self-reflection, dialogic learning, critical thinking and an intellectual immersion

into issues involved in contemporary art making in today’s society. In the process of their learning

experience, three main questions continued to be discussed: what to express, how to express and

why to express. The title of this exhibition emerged from the works that these young graduates’

produced and the ideas, views and experiences they shared in their journey. Together, they represent

multiplicities and complexities of being and becoming in post war Sri Lanka, attentive to art

histories, lived experiences, family pressures, gender inequalities, the politics of the art market and

the dynamics of patronage.

T. Shanaathanan 2018

Saskia Fernando Gallery