Disappearance : Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan
Most of my creations depict experiences and discourses that have tragedy as the underpinning, all-consuming theme. Rather than the healthy and pleasant events in life and in society, incidents of intense hurt and screaming, physical and mental suffering compel me more. My creations express themselves as the psychological analyses of the reactions that such suffering evokes in me. Nevertheless, I am trying to observe the ever-present trauma from a certain distance and embed my artistic approach in a globalized context by exploring ideas relating to gender, agency and identity.
Alongside the process of coming to terms with the past, I take part in the post-war space to deal with what comes next. Therefore in my role as an artist, I express my generational outlook, a subtle feeling of being trapped with the burden of a tragic history—of being in search of reconciliation and of experiencing cultural in-betweenness. Though I cannot yet resolve any of these question and tensions, through refined shifts of perception in my art, the spectator is able to empathize with the feeling of loneliness and what it means to be forced to start one’s life all over again.
This ‘Disappearance’ series is about those who disappeared in the last war of Sri Lanka. People are still waiting for their loved ones. Children miss parents, parents suffer for lost children, and spouses grieve for their missing partners. Parents whose children were forcefully recruited to fight continue to suffer as many of them still have not returned. I believe disappearance is more of an emotional torture than a question of recovering the dead bodies of consanguinity. It concerns haunting memories, imagination and fear. Therefore, through this series, I try to express the fear and imaginative possibilities that grip the relations of those who went missing. Did they die a tragic death? Are they still suffering somewhere? The relations of those disappeared now have no answers—nothing, but worries. Though they do not know whether their loved ones are suffering physical torture or not, those left waiting without knowing suffer real pain in their minds and bodies due to this gripping uncertainty.
If somebody says that war was an impediment of peace, then why do analysts define the post war period as a “no war and no peace period”? What is the real meaning of this “no peace”? If transitional justice or reconciliation could make peace in the postwar period, my suggestion is that the first step needed is to solve the problem about disappearance, which is one of the most significant reasons for the suffering of many people. I explore disappearance through my work, and believe that it can help open a space for engaging with issues about which there has been mostly silence.
In particular, I use furniture and figures to fill spaces. Furniture constitutes an integral space in our everyday lives and helps us sit, sleep, relax, work and study. The bed—a space where we are born, sleep, have sex—and the table—a space where we study and read—together symbolize our day to day happiness and sorrows, which have been shattered or burned by war.
The hope is that my work will create a space for marginalized voices, for remembering and healing a silenced past, and for initiating honest discussions about what reconciliation means.