The First Human Rights Arts Festival 2017, Arts Council of Sri Lanka 10th -17th December at J.D.A Perera Gallery

The Festival is to showcase Creative Arts practice related to all themes of Universal human rights declaration. December 10th UN celebrates the Human rights Day. Human rights activists and human rights commissions are normally involved in the celebrations annually. But Arts Council of Sri Lanka decided to have a festival of Arts related to the Human rights issues.

Human Rights became an issue of day to day life of Sri Lankans due to the insurgence of 1971, introduction of the open economy and later revolts of Tamil and Sinhala youth including thirty years of ethnic violence and civil war.

There are many of Artists and artworks repressed by the regimes from the 1970s. Especially songs, films and theatre productions were banned. Artists were harassed physically as well as mentally. Freedom of expression was the most suppressed area of human rights. [For example There are Sri Lankan artists; singers, filmmakers, theatre artists, visual artists etc, who expressed their ideas under threat of various previous regimes, especially since 1977 up till today] Visual Arts including films and video, Songs, theatrical productions, Musical performances, Dance, and Ballet etc. will be shown and performed in this festival.

Particularly during the war and after the 19th of May 2009, so-called Sri Lankan ‘patriots’ were afraid of human rights on the grounds of them being against independence and the sovereignty and unitary state of Sri Lanka. The Art Council in response thinks to intervene to broaden the public’s understanding of human rights and to convey that human rights are not a foreign ‘thing’ to Sri Lanka, but they are universally applicable and it is our rights, we all as citizens of Sri Lanka have a right to know, protect and fight for human rights.

Arts Council was able to organize the first ever Human rights Arts Festival with an exhibition of Visual arts as well as theatre, Dance and Music performances from 10th to 17th December 2017 at JDA Perera gallery in Collaboration with Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Saskia Fernando Gallery, The Workshop Players, UZ Arts UK, Suramedura, and Khemadasa Foundation.

Opening evening at 5 pm on the 10th December starts with an inaugural speech by the president of the Arts Council Chandraguptha Thenuwara and Commissioner of HRC Sri Lanka Dr.Deepika Udagama. Just after the speeches, there were five Theatre Flash Mobs and Percussion session by Jithendra Vidyapathy ensemble in front of the JDA Perera Gallery. After that inside of the Gallery, there were five live performances by the International visual Artists. The final performance of the day was an in situ dance act by members of the dance workshop by Venuri Perera.

33 Artists including six European artists participated in the visual arts Exhibition and there were Paintings, Drawings, sculptures, Installations, Video projections to enrich the show. The exhibition was continued from 11th to 17th December every day from 10 am to 8 pm.

Artists participated were Kingsley Gunatillake, Anoma Wijewardene, T.Shanathanan, Nuwan Nalaka, Firirahman, Jasmine Nilani Joseph, Kanesh Thabendran, Kusal Gunasekara, Prageeth Rathnayake, Susiman Nirmalavasan, Vijitharan Maryathevathas, Minal Nayomi Wckremathunga, Abdul Halik Azeez, Sujith Rathnayake, Pakkiyarajah Pushpakanthan,Menika vanderPoortan, Jayani Chathurika, Asanka May, Gayan Prageeth, Pathmanesan Prasanth, Nirosha Vanigasooriya, Krishnapriya Tharmakrishner, Somasundaram Hanusha, Mevindu Binoy, Kirushanathanan Aingkaran, Venuri Perera, Wasantha Kulathunga, and international artists from Scotland Anders Rigg, Rae-yen Song, Kyna Hodges; from England Hellen Ottaway, Flick Ferdinando, Lorna Rees.

Every evening from 6 pm to 8 pm there were music performances at the second floor Gallery additional to the exhibition by Flamenco Guitarist Amaranath Ranathunga and Students, Gayathri Khemadasa and the students from the Khemadasa Foundation, Sujeewa Ranasinghe (Esraj), Peshala Manoj (Tabla) with Indian Sitarist Ramprapanna Bhattacharya.

Arts Council of Sri Lanka is planning The Second HR Arts Festival in 2018 with the collaboration of other art collectives, institutes, cultural institutes, organizations and civil society groups.