Glitch: Chandraguptha Thenuwara

23 July - 20 August 2016

In 1983, thirty three years ago, an organized mob led pogrom to humiliate minority Tamils living in Colombo and the south of Sri Lanka in revenge for the killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna by the LTTE led to this moment in time in our history being referred to as Black July. My annual exhibition in commemoration of the un-commemorative moment and events thereafter that accelerated the ethnic conflict to ethnic war. After twenty-seven years of blood baths, massacres, bombings, suicide killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, explosions, malpractice, abuse of power, etc. the war ended in May 2009. In my opinion, neither the root causes of the ethnic problem nor the consequences of this protracted war have been addressed adequately. Many commissions have since been set up and their reports are available to the public. Anti-minority mind sets, Sinhala chauvinism and religious extremism is now nurtured by corrupt, political opportunists of the previous totalitarian regime who still believe this is a route to wrest back power into their hands. For this purpose they fabricate mythologies, falsify stories of heroism, they blame the West, invent conspiracy theories and are constantly looking for scapegoats. Most of all they are not willing to work together for a secure future for this country. Glitch, the title of this years exhibition, presents a series of work that describes the current political context and situation.


We normally see glitches when we are watching electronic visual devices such as television, computers and multimedia projections. Even though we buy or hire good quality devices this can happen at any time when issues of voltage or other glitches arises. We see distracted, distorted corrupted images. This technical term used commonly in the context of electronics now covers a wide variety of malfunctions and mishaps.


We can apply the term ‘glitch’ to the current political situation. Sri Lankans elected a new government with new hopes. More than one and half years have passed since the January 2015 Presidential election, however the government is not working as wished for by the people who elected them. Despite electing a better government it too is malfunctioning. The new government was elected to solve economic issues, as well as issues around the socio-political and cultural contexts of more than three decades. Today the families of those disappeared are still waiting for the truth. Extra-judicial killers have yet to be revealed. Restless souls haunt us every day. Transitional Justice is necessary for post-war reconciliation efforts and to build a peaceful country. There must be political will and accountability, not a state of fear of power hungry wolves. The country must question what happened to promises of truth, accountability, and reparation and how we can guarantee nonrecurrence.


We have to go beyond this glitch, gathering the necessary democratic energy to build the beautiful and peaceful place we all dream to live in.


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Chandraguptha Thenuwara is an artist cum activist whose entire body of work is dedicated to his plight to expose political corruption in Sri Lanka. In 1997 he began a series of work titled Barrelism in response to the change in the cityscape of Colombo during the war; the work focused on the use of the barrel as an object used in construction that transformed into a an object used for obstruction. Thenuwara’s work is made up of the juxtaposition of objects and witty paronomasia’s that he continuously exhibited even during a time when Sri Lanka’s freedom of speech was strongly inhibited. The artist is also known as the island’s best portrait artist and completed his Masters training at the Moscow State University. His series of work often transform themselves to represent the current times using transformations of symbolism the artist used to illustrate a previous state of affairs.


Over the years Thenuwara’s show has evolved to represent the current political situation in the country. In his newest exhibition titled ‘Glitch’ the works presented are an abstract presentation playing on the malfunction of contemporary politics and society represented in canvas paintings hidden within the pixelated linear paintings of glitches. This is the third of Thenuwara’s solo exhibitions to be presented at the Saskia Fernando Gallery. After working with the gallery since 2009 this marks the artist’s move from his annual presentation at the Lionel Wendt Gallery to his representative gallery in Colombo. This is the artists self-curated show which falls on 23 July every year to commemorate Black July, a day in history where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ambushed the Sri Lankan Army killing soldiers resulting in seven days of riots across the country and the Tamil people were murdered and many of their homes destroyed.


He has presented solo exhibitions at Maroondah Gallery Victoria, City Gallery Russia, Colombo National Art Gallery as well as group shows including Art Dubai 2016, Colombo scope 2015, Colombo Art Biennale, Bengaluru National Gallery of Modern Art, Breese Little London, Asia House London, Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and the Devi Art Foundation.