Sri Lanka Residency

 Sri Lanka Residency Samson and Stefanie November-December 2015

UZ Arts has created a whole range of International Residency opportunities in Scotland, Europe and Sri Lanka. UZ Arts develop projects through offering residencies and commissioning art projects.

Sura Medura is an International Artist residency centre in Hikkaduwa, South West Sri Lanka. It was established in 2011 and offers opportunities for both Scottish Artists, funded through Creative Scotland, and European Artists funded through IN SITU. It was founded to continue the artistic programme of the Chandrasevana Centre that was established by the Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund www.chandrasevana.com

Artists from all disciplines are invited to submit proposals to create work that is enhanced by being developed in Sri Lanka.  Selected artists are offered mentorship and opportunities to meet with their peers in the Sri Lankan arts community. There are also opportunities to present the resulting work in Sri Lanka and Scotland.

The Sura Medura residencies are funded by Creative Scotland and the IN SITU Network

Creative Scotland IN SITU Network

 We also want to thank La Strada  the International Festival of Street Art and Puppet Theatre for its support.

 

No problem ;)….Don’t worry, don’t hurry…

Take a Curry… 

Blog I

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With this pace we have been exploring our new environment and its surroundings for the last few days…

Sri Lanka the country of true smiles and its inhabitants have been warmly welcoming us with great respect ever since we arrived.

Going to sleep and waking up with the sound of the waves and view of the horizon over the ocean is nearly unbelievable… wandering around, leaving behind the busy, touristy main road, exploring the country side, the busy city of Hikkaduwa, the sleepy village of Narigama and its surroundings and having tea with its smiling people…. wondering who is more astonished us or them seeing a Nigerian in their country…

The sounds, the smells, the taste, the colour somehow so similar to Nigeria, so familiar but on the other hand so distinct from our life in Austria … same, same but different…..

Give and Take

“The rain needs to fall to bring more sand, which the waves of the ocean take away again…” as I was told by one of the Sri Lankans passing by on the beach.

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Give-Take-Give like the waves….

Samson: “As I am working on the beach I keep on experiencing the cutting and the washing away of the mask relief as I am actually trying to construct it. As the spectators are watching me I keep on building and creating. Being accompanied by drumming and singing and by the sound of the waves my mind is being carried away to the other side of the ocean…

The feeling of loss comes to my mind. Reflecting on leaving someone or something behind as I experienced it as somebody who has relocated… Comparing it to the feeling of being left behind, surviving but something, someone being taken from you…

I feel the power of nature and the strength of the water as I am working. Working with but at the same time against nature. Experiencing construction, deconstruction as well as reconstruction…

Nature reclaiming and actually regaining its space…. The ocean with the help of the waves swallowing my artwork….Water has no Enemy”

 

Finding Materials

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As we are wandering around our surroundings we find several natural as well as altered materials that draw their attention to them. We are fascinated in the various ways the coconut is being used. It is fascinating how one tree can provide so many means of usage be it for cooking, eating, housing, everyday life, gardening, construction, religion, fabric, ropes out of fibre…..

Samson: “The toddy tappers, climbing the trees to tap them, remind me of our palm wine tappers in Nigeria, where the different types of palm trees in general play a very important role, be it for the production of palm oil or sacred, medicinal usage”

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After visiting a coconut farm and watching someone climb a coconut tree we want to find out more about this omnipresent plant asking ourselves who put the water in the coconut?…. it is seen as a tree that gives all that is necessary for living…. Some calling it the tree of life…

Stefanie: As I am usually not painting with a paintbrush but rather using other materials enjoying the direct contact with the paint I am interested in the texture of different materials. Thus I used several parts of the coconut printing and painting with them on canvas. What is important to me when painting is the actual process and the materials used in this process of creating. Working on the veranda, listening to the sound of the waves, feeling and smelling the salty breeze of the sea, soaking the different parts of the coconut in paint, throwing or pressing them on the canvas was a very emotional process. When afterwards looking at the printed shapes in detail drawing the outlines of spotted shapes is a very calming process on the other hand. Sometimes I tend to then go over it with stencils painting images bringing order in this just created chaos.

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Samson: The materials I have found so far are natural clay which they call meeti and coconut husk, which they call pol leli here. When making masks with the school children we want to use the pol leli as a base modelling the clay upon it as if it was an armature. In sculpturing an armature is a framework around which the sculpture is built. This framework provides structure and stability, especially when a material such as clay is being used as a medium. Clay for me is the key to creativity. Thus I want to use it when working with the children in school.

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We are fascinated with the fact that so many natural materials can be found to produce our work. Even the clay comes from a factory producing natural clay in the surrounding area of Meetiyagoda. When we went there we were shown around the premises of the factory. When we asked if we could buy some clay, they said no problem but why? When we explained our intentions they gave us loads of clay as a present which we transported in a tuk tuk, which we in Nigeria call keke. Transporting it was quite an adventure but it is amazing what a tuk tuk can carry….

Further Steps….

After having spent more than a week in Sri Lanka we managed to make contacts with the people here. We arranged a date for a creative school workshop in which we will build masks with grade 5 children approximately 11 years old. It will be quite a challenge since neither the teachers nor the children speak fluent English and our knowledge of Sinhalese is not yet well developed. Nevertheless the universal language of art will help us overcome the boundaries of language building bridges between our different cultures….

Doing research on Sri Lanka and its people we stumbled across a minority group of Afro-Sri Lankans whom we got in touch with. We will therefore travel to the North to Puttalam and Sirambadiya where we will eventually meet them. Looking forward to an enriching encounter….

Blog II

African meets Afro-Sri Lankans

As mentioned before we travelled north to visit the area of Putallam especially Sirambiyadiya to meet a Sri Lankan community of African descent. Not many Sri Lankans know about these people who were brought to Sri Lanka during the colonial era by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Depending on the route taken places, such as Ghana, Niger Delta, Mozambique, Madagascar etc. might have served as a source for slaves and mercenary soldiers. After the abolishment of slavery in Ceylon in 1845 these people of African descent settled in areas such as Puttalam, Sirambiyadiya, Jaffna, Trincomalee…where their African heritage survived until now.

Our actual encounter with the Ceylon African Manja music group was very touching. They actually invited us to their house and after a conversation explaining their songs and dances with the help of an interpreter they performed some of their songs and dances afterwards inviting us for food and tea. Despite their shyness they were extremely amazed that we came all the way from Africa and Europe to meet them. Samson: In the beginning they couldn’t believe their eyes but when the grandmother of the family dared to touch my hair giggling and saying: “same, same…” the fear of the unfamiliar but somehow very familiar disappeared and we were warmly welcomed by an African family abroad. They were curious, asking many questions about Africa, Nigeria and explaining also their connection to this continent which some of them actually visited.

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Samson: “I felt very much at home. During their performance of their Portuguese Creole songs intermingled with African rhythms I felt the urge of sharing a Nigerian song in Edo with them. As I started the drummer immediately joined in and although they didn’t understand Edo they immediately tuned in singing the chorus along with me.” It was a beautiful experience sharing our cultures from three different continents Africa, Asia and Europe through singing and dancing together.

When asked about her heritage Shereen, one of the members of the Ceylon African Manja music group stated: “We are the branches. Our roots are in Africa”.

Samson: “Since I as a relocated Nigerian still know my roots, my intention is to act as the ‘connecting trunk’ between their African roots and Sri Lankan branches. As I usually use my art as a bridge between cultures and as a voice for people, I see my art as a means to strengthen these people’s voices which can still be perceived through their music which itself is seen as a hope that keeps culture alive. Impressed by their touching music we would like to invite them to join us in the final presentation.”

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Now back in Hikkaduwa the experience and the impressions gathered will be expressed in an artwork. The artwork is supposed to be a stylized trunk of a tree or rather a column portraying the multiethnic Sri Lankan society focusing on the Afro-Sri Lankan culture.

Samson: “The roots representing ancient African history thus our common roots are supposed to reaffirm mine as well as the culture of the Sri Lankans of African descent. The “connecting trunk” between our African roots and the Afro Sri Lankan culture will consist of cultural heritage that we have in common. I see myself as a possible “connecting trunk” bringing the African culture closer to them.” Through this artwork entitled “The Past is Present” we would like to create awareness for this culture by reaffirming their African heritage that has survived many centuries.

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For the production of the artwork we started to cooperate with the local community of Hikkaduwa. In order to build the armature for the column we started a cooperation with a local welding and fabrication workshop. After receiving curious, not really understanding looks and shy smiles by people passing the hardware store and transporting the materials by tuk tuk the news had already spread that a Nigerian and an Austrian Artist are actually producing something in the welders’ workshop and a whole crowd of people gathered asking: “you from? Your country? Nigeria, Austria? What you do?” Stefanie: “When I asked a Tuk Tuk driver to take me to a nearby bicycle- and motorbike repair workshop, he told me that he was asked to take people to several strange places but he never took a woman to a motorbike repair workshop watching her dig in the scrap metal looking for old rusty chains, nobody ever thought of using anymore…. “Despite all the spectators we were able to start the production of the column.

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Sculpture “The Past is Present”

During our residency in Sri Lanka we had an enriching encounter with a minority group of Afro-Sri Lankans in the area of Puttalam and Sirambadiya whose roots are believed to be in Mozambique brought to Sri Lanka during the colonial era by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in the 16th century.

When asked about her heritage Shereen, one of the members of the Ceylon African Manja music group stated: “We are the branches. Our roots are in Africa”. Since I as a relocated Nigerian still know my roots, my intention is to act as the “connecting trunk” between their African roots and Sri Lankan branches creating a statue entitled “The Past is Present”.

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This artwork represents the multi-ethnic Sri Lankan society focusing on the Afro-Sri Lankan culture. Portraying ancient African history thus our common roots reaffirming mine as well as the culture of the Sri Lankans of African descent. The “connecting trunk” between our African roots and the Afro Sri Lankan “branches” represent cultural heritage that we have in common.

Combining realistic, abstract as well as semi abstract elements in one sculpture allows intermingling of the past, the present as well as the future thus stating that it is of great importance to know and understand your past in order to cope with and redefine the present thus creating a better and more stable future. You need to know your history in order to understand your current position in the world and other people’s perception of you. It is of high importance to carry on the traditions in order to allow knowledge and culture to live on.

The round shape of the column depicting different generations draws on close family bonds and the passing on of traditions practiced by Africans as well as Sri Lankan families of African descent. The connecting chain not only reminds us of these strong bonds but also refers to the era of colonisation and slavery which relocated many of our ancestors spreading our culture and tradition abroad.

I see myself as a possible “connecting trunk” sharing my culture with them through singing and dancing together thus bringing the African culture closer to them creating awareness for this culture by reaffirming their African heritage that has survived many centuries.

Music in Video by Ceylon African Manja

Colombo University

                After our visit to the North we had the opportunity to visit Colombo and meet students of the Visual Art Department of the University of Colombo. We were invited to present our artistic work and our plans concerning the realization of our work during our residency in Sri Lanka. After our presentation and a lively discussion with the students we were shown around the campus. Some of the students introduced us to their works produced in their studios whereby we had interesting conversations concerning the similarities and differences of their and our artistic work.

Mural in Ranjith’s Beach Hut

                We were asked by Ranjith to add another mural to his collection and since when traveling the country we saw so many beautiful wild peacocks and listened to so many Sinhalese love songs praising women in their colourful Saris as peacocks we decided to portrait one of these animals on the walls of Ranjith’s Beach Hut. Sefanie: “Furthermore I am still experimenting with the different parts of the coconut tree. Trying out different ways of printing and painting with it and on it contemplating of maybe combining it with the masks we will produce.”

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The Fish, the Fishermen and the Sea

As I come from a country that has a lot of high mountains at the moment even covered by snow I enjoyed spending a lot of time in Dodanduwa watching, hearing, smelling and feeling the sea, the sand, the waves, the colourful boats and the fisherman at work. This inspired me to portrait some of the observations in paintings even adding some found fish scales.

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Maskworkshop at “Sambodhi Home” in Baddegama

Believing in the universal language of art we seized the opportunity of building masks with the people with special needs residing at “Sambodhi Home” in Baddegama strengthening their courage and hope by inviting them to express their creativity and potential in a non-judgemental way.

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During this workshop we not only cooperated with our fellow artists but also involved to two girls from Australia and France who had helped us to get in touch with the lady taking care of the women residing at “Sambodhi Home”. This special collaboration allowed us to extend the workshop to not only producing the masks but also using them in a little dance performance accompanied by music and singing. This wonderful encounter filled the hearts of everybody involved with unspeakable joy.

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The masks produced during this workshop were part of the final exhibition at Sunbeach Hotel. After creating awareness and trying to raise some free will donation with the help of “Art to go”  during the exhibition the masks were later returned to their creators and we hope they will use them in further activities .

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 Blog III

Moving Through

An international art residency based in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka 

Moving Through is a collective site-responsive performance engaging with the fishing community of Dodanduwa that utilises masks, ritual, installation, music, costume and audience-participation. By inviting the audience on a journey through the fishermen’s environment, the artists offer an alternative experience of this already atmospheric location where the lagoon meets the ocean. Each encounter along the way becomes an active strand that ultimately interweaves into a collective net. The seven international artists have been developing individual projects as well as this ensemble performance. The event starts with an installation of this work at Sunbeach Hotel before moving on to nearby Dodanduwa.

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Final presentation of “Roots and Branches: Let me be the connecting Trunk!”

A project by Samson Ogiamien (Nigeria) and Stefanie Öttl (Austria)

International Artist Residency 2015 Sri Lanka

The Nigerian Sculptor and Installation Artist Samson Ogiamien and the Austrian visual artist and art mediator Stefanie Öttl have been cooperating over the past 10 years in Austria, Europe combining artistic traditions from both cultures. “Since we perceive our art as a bridge between cultures and as an opportunity of bringing people together we tried to enable an encounter between the local people of Dodanduwa, Narrigama, Hikkaduwa, the people residing at “Sambodhi Home”, our fellow artists and the Ceylon African Manja music group thus sharing our cultures from three different continents Africa, Asia and Europe through singing and dancing together. Through our exhibited artworks as well as a cooperative performance and installation we would like to strengthen their voices creating awareness for the people with special needs as well as reaffirming African cultural heritage in Sri Lanka that has survived many centuries”.

Intervention at Hikkaduwa Sunday Market

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Exhibition at Sunbeach Hotel

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Final Performance with Ceylon African Manja

This intercultural encounter was a very enriching experience. We are very happy to have traced and actually found the Ceylon African Manja music group in order to be able to share this cultural exchange with our fellow artists, the inhabitants of Dodanduwa and all the visitors  by inviting this music group to our final performance. This incredible cooperation joined two parts of “relocated Africa” alllowing an intermingling with Sri Lankan and European culture creating a lively performance evoking a feeling of togetherness, a mutual understanding, overcoming boundaries using the universal language of dance and music.

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Final Performance in Dodanduwa 

The final performance of our collaborative project which we developed throughout the whole residency in cooperation with our fellow artists not only gave us a great insight into the work of the other artists but also allowed each and every artist to contribute creating a great overview of what evolved during this artistic residency. The cooperation with some students from Colombo University as well as the involvement of the local fishermen community of Dodanduwa turned this performance into an unforgettable experience for everybody involved.

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After this enriching experience and this wonderful cooperation we are looking forward to meeting our fellow artists again developing more ideas together and putting them into practice maybe in Ireland, Scotland or any other place.

Furthermore we want to thank everybody from the bottom of our hearts who made this enriching, unforgettable experience possible. We are very thankful that we were given the possibility to seize this unique opportunity.

Since our sculpture “The Past is Present” is still in Sri Lanka we are considering applying for the Colombo Art Biennial in 2016 hoping to be able to return to this amazing country.

Videos, Photographs and Press Report of the Final Performance Moving Through

Video © Douglas Kahan and Tamara Whittle

link to Photographs by Douglas Kahan and Tamara Whittle.

link to Press Report download pdf. Press Sri Lanka.