Pettah is the largest commercial hub in Sri Lanka. Located in Colombo, an array of consumers, goods and traders are connected in a rapidly changing environment filled with a wide gamut of characters and social backgrounds.
Over the course of two years I have visited Pettah for various art projects. My resultant artwork discusses, first and foremost, the lives of the people whom I have engaged with. The focus of these works was their personal stories: their desires, sorrows, frustrations, aggressions, joys and dreams. During this point of my research the act of marketing and selling was not a subject I considered.
I am now contemplating the act of selling through my decision to place a commercial value on the works that represent the lives of these people. In this exhibition, aptly titled ‘For Sale’, I approach the ethical considerations of selling my art and the question of what I am selling.
Contemporary art in Sri Lanka is often dominated by the subjects of violence, displacement, cultural taboos, post-colonialism, gender issues, women’s rights and humans rights in relation to the artists outlook and/or opinion. The interest of the international community in such works is often easier to obtain on a global level and in a negative way this response can influence the art practice itself. Artists frequently mass produce works based on this assumption and while there are positive social aspects of these representations this is also a way of opening doors to international art markets. This process of supply and demand is not unlike the trading in Pettah. The increase in supply of both high and low quality products in order to exploit one particular demand and thereby make profit is directly comparable to the art market.
Intentionally or unintentionally, we are marketing and selling the human conditions, frustrations, and aggression of others and ourselves. Can we escape this? The moment an artwork receives a price tag, there is no escape from associating art with financial gain.
In this exhibition, the subject matter captures the struggles and dreams of the people in Pettah from personal, political, social and cultural angles. All this is represented with strong visuals to elicit intensified emotions and attract the collector to the work. As in Pettah, artworks are sold by kilograms; the actual weight of each work is measured by weighing them.
Certain psychological states—cognitive, emotional and motivational—are activated when it comes to buying a product. In this exhibition, you can mix and match several works as you wish, to create the composite work customized to your taste or personality. When you purchase an artwork you are in fact purchasing the representation of lives of people in Pettah. From one perspective you are buying into the exoticism and from another you involved in the trading of human struggle. Through this purchasing process the collector becomes a part of my concept and completes the representation I aim to make. The collector becomes a part of the exhibition and trades oneself, thereby representing my personal struggle with the commercial nature now associated with my artwork. My integrity as an artist is also ‘for sale’.