PANEL DISCUSSION: ‘Drawing power: Framing the inconvenient, imagining the impossible’, 5.30-7.00pm, 21st September

JDA Perera Gallery, Horton Place, Colombo

Free & open to public. Parking available inside the venue. Seating limited.

Framing violence, and drawing an audience’s attention to it, can be powerfully achieved through the arts. In this reading, art inhabits a space under constant risk of expiration or asphyxiation – licenses can be revoked, scripts can be censored, art can be banned and artists can be silenced.

On the other hand, art is also resistance – a space for contestation. If the pervasive architecture of authoritarianism is invisible to most, and society’s capture is through the power of deceit, art serves to decry, dissent and deconstruct. The most critical art risks pushback, whereas art that offers the illusion of critique often flourishes the most. As panellist Gehan Gunatilleke avers in his review of a very popular English play during the Rajapaksa regime, art can by design or inadvertently help strengthen the status quo:

“Pusswedilla is damaging our political culture… Instead of compelling audiences to question the absurdity of their reality, Pusswedilla encourages them to accept the current political dispensation as the best on offer. This is dangerous because there can be no change without discomfort. Pusswedilla is… cleverly packaged propaganda.”

How can art frame the violent without giving rise to more violence? How can, in a context of hopelessness, art contribute to a triumph of optimism in the capacity for change, over bitter experience? In critiquing loci of power, do artists lose their agency or independence by accepting funding from various interest groups, who hold and seek to expand their own power? Or is the choice contextual? How does one cultivate the imagination within repressive terrains, and frame the necessary, even when violence reigns? How can critical art’s power be strengthened, its appeal expanded, its production strengthened?

Panellists: Jagath Weerasinghe, Gehan Gunatilleke, Kaushalya Fernando

Moderator: Gihan Karunaratne

Drawing power- Framing the inconvenient, imagining the impossible