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