Image Credit: Life in a Burning Forest - Vijitharan Maryathevathas

Original artworks created by six Sri Lankan artists will be on display at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute as part of a compelling new exhibition called ‘Home/Land’ from 3rd – 10th March 2023. 

Exploring themes of memory, home and loss, the exhibition offers personal insights into the impact of war, displacement and dispossession on the people and landscapes of the Jaffna peninsula of Sri Lanka.

The artworks are being shown in Cornwall as part of an international partnership between researchers at the University of Exeter (Humanities and Social Sciences department, Cornwall), University of Leicester, Museum of London Archaeology and the Arts Faculty at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, who together have been collaborating on a project entitled ‘Identity, place and community: archaeologies of the recent past in post-war Jaffna, Sri Lanka’.  

The project explores everyday historic and contemporary archaeology and heritage of urban and coastal landscapes in Jaffna to understand their meaning and value following the ruptures of war. The aim of the project work alongside local communities with their own history, heritage and identity. Dr Gill Juleff and Dr Deborah Johnson (McFarlane) of the Humanities and Social Sciences Cornwall department on Exeter’s Penryn campus are working with Professor of Fine Arts, Sanathanan Thamotharampillai, and other academics at the University of Jaffna to develop multi-disciplinary approaches in research, crossing archaeology, history, geography and arts.

Professor Sanathanan is an internationally-renowned artist and the project partnership has provided the opportunity to showcase the work of artists he has nurtured.  Sanathanan himself brings to the exhibition his ‘Incomplete Thombu’, a book of artwork that records the floor plans of houses and buildings now lost to war and drawn from the memories of those who lived in them, combined with artistic responses to the stories told by those remembering. The exhibition also includes the haunting line drawings of fences around refugee camps and militarized zones by Jasmin Nilani and powerful depictions of landscapes of war by Vijitharan Maryathevathas and Sundaram Anojan, along with more contemplative abstractions and architectural fragmentations by T. Krishnapriya and Mano Prashath.  

Professor Sanantahanan said ‘Through the images of Home/Land and personal histories and memories, the artists in this exhibition share their feelings of loss during and after the civil war in Sri Lanka. Here the common loss connects individuals as community through empathy and art becomes a site of place making. It invites others to imagine their home/land.’

Dr Gill Juleff from the University of Exeter added ‘Bringing the work of Sanathanan and other Jaffna artists to Cornwall is a rare opportunity. ‘Home/Land’ gives us an insight into the impact of struggle and conflict on the people of Jaffna. Identity and understandings of home are enduring concerns in Jaffna that resonate with the experiences of other peninsula communities, including in many ways, the Cornish.

Alongside the exhibition there will also be a free in person/online panel discussion on the Tuesday 7th March, 2.30-4.30 pm at the Environment and Sustainability Institute’s Creative Exchange. The panel includes Professor Sanathanan, Dr Struan Gray (Falmouth School of Film and TV), Dr Laura Hodsdon (Senior Research Fellow, Falmouth University), and Shibani Das (AHRC Doctoral Student). No registration is required to attend in person, you can register to attend the event online here.

You can view the exhibition ‘Home/Land’ at the Creative Exchange, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn campus, Cornwall from 3 – 10 March 2023 (between 9am-5pm weekdays).

A digital version of the exhibition will also available to view on the Arts and Culture website from 3rd March here.