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"The Disappearance of Disappearances" Artist Talk by P. Pushpakanthan and Reception

Friday, November 9, 2018 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Goldwin Smith Hall, History of Art Gallery
232 East Ave, Central Campus

My work explores the disappearances that occurred during the course of Sri Lanka’s civil war. My art is fundamentally about the emotional torture these families are enduring, because of their persistent questions that continue to go unanswered. Haunting memories, imagination and fear fill my work -- those suffocating mental constructions and deep-set emotions strangle those imagining the suffering of their family members and their own inability to help them. They are trapped between surrealism and reality through these memories. While viscerally ever-present to those left behind, deeply ingrained in the everyday lives of mothers, wives, children searching for their loved ones, disappearances themselves disappear. They vanish from political discourse as they are appropriated for political agendas, from collective memory as the public moves on to other topics, from communities as those unaffected go on with their own lives. They disappear behind ethnicized politics and hatred, yet lurk as specters of the injustices of the war, testifying to the ongoing misery and agony of families and friends.

My work recognizes the human need to situate and share this suffering within the context of the suffering of others. Only in this way can we move forward. My drawings seek to articulate the disappearance of disappearances by filling a white space that signifies the void left by the whitewashing of history, of landscapes, of everyday lives from disappearances. Abandoned furniture, along with discarded traces of ordinary life, and roots bespeaking the missing bodies sown in the soil will integrate the mediators between our body and the happiness and sorrows of our day to day existence with what has been shattered and burned by war. Furniture is drawn modelled on the human body to represent not only the dead but also the wounded, disappeared, displaced and traumatized. This will give the viewer the opportunity to experience the work from multiple perspectives and to render the suffering of others visceral, of others who may be divided by nationality, ethnicity or religion but who are incarcerated by the same trauma of disappearance.  

The hope is that this work will create a space for marginalized voices, for remembering and healing a silenced past, and for initiating honest discussions about what reconciliation truly means, both within the context of my country, and war-torn societies elsewhere. 

P. Pushpakanthan is a visual artist and Lecturer in the Department of Visual & Technological Arts, Eastern University, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, who is at Cornell as a South Asian Studies Fellow and Visiting Scholar with the South Asia Program. Pushpakanthan’s artwork has been on display in India, Britain, Nepal and Sri Lanka.


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program


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