In 2016, I conceptualized an installation titled ‘The Colombo Project,’ for Colomboscope, Sri Lanka. Using both photography and film, the installation tried to capture a vision of the city which holds within itself a potential for ethnic and religious harmony through its built environment and technological advancement. The installation documented further changes in its edition at The Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa in 2019.
The inspiration for the installation came from my own experiences of living in Mumbai during university. After returning to Colombo in 2010, I could see the city struggling to form an identity in the wake of the end of the war.
Having once lived in a dynamic metropolitan such as Mumbai, where a strong sense of belonging existed with residents calling themselves ‘Mumbaikar,’ a moniker that I myself embraced. I started looking for aspects of Colombo that could nurture that sense of unity and belonging. Further, my home in the residential suburbs, made me feel a sense of isolation that I has not experienced while in Mumbai.
The installation was based on the neighbourhood around the Kirulapone Canal, an area that houses ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities of Colombo. Having worked and studied in the area, my own relationship with the neighbourhood spans two decades.
The area around the Kirulapone Canal was recreated through photography, film and light projections to give visitors an experience of the the way in which its inhabitants interacted with one another.
Our interactions are key to formulating perceptions of each other, and as Colombo expands both vertically and horizontally, embracing the aesthetics and technology of a ‘modern’ and ‘global’ city, what could these changes entail for social cohesion and social mobility?
Perceptions and Interactions
In 2016 journalist Megara Tegal, I conducted several surveys and interviews with residents to understand their perception of other ethnic/religious communities and how factors such as social media/physical interaction could influence these. Particular attention was given to how the built environment could impact these interactions.
The places we covered included Havelock City (upscale new apartment complex built on the former Wellawatte Spinning & Weaving Mills), Thalakotuwa Gardens, Park Road, Sri Siddhartha Road and Mayura Place. The erstwhile residents of the land which is now Havelock City are housed at Lakmuthu Sevana (government apartment complex) at Mayura Place. They are mostly descendants of the mill workers from India, and formerly lived in tenement housing.
Physical interaction with residents was higher where the built environment was not walled, particularly down Sri Siddhartha Road where we conducted several face to face interviews with residents. However as we moved to Havelock City, Park Road and Thalakotuwa Gardens, our physical access to the residents was restricted and we interacted primarily through email, whatsapp or facebook. This was demonstrated in the installation through threads. Residents of Lakmuthu Sevana said that after they moved to the apartment complex from their tenement housing, physical interactions with their neighbours was less.
Coloured threads = Physical Interaction
Copper threads = Digital Interaction
One of most recognizable and unique features of this area is the proximity of four different places of worship. Mayura Place is lined by a Catholic church, a mosque. a Hindu temple and a Buddhist monument. Mayura Place was often cited as a place of communal and religious harmony during our surveys and interviews.
For the installation, Mayura Place provided the perfect location for our ‘raft’. visitors were drawn in by the placement of a tv screen which showed video interviews of residents. The interviewees explored relationships with their neighbours and how they used social media. Cushions and cooling fans were placed strategically in order to ensure people spent time on the raft and interacted with other visitors, often strangers.
This installation invites people to create common spaces and embrace interactions that will help people overcome their physical/virtual boundaries with one another.