Feature Article
2ND LEAD (Correction)

Eezham artist presents heritage as everybody’s property

[TamilNet, Thursday, 28 January 2010, 01:53 GMT]
An unconventional artwork of diaspora heritage, Imag(in)ing ‘Home’ presented by Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan, Lecturer in Art History of the Fine Arts Department of the University of Jaffna, with the participation of Eezham Tamil community in Vancouver, Canada, is now in display in an Art Exhibition of the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Canada. What Shanaathanan did last September was asking the members of the diaspora in Vancouver to bring anything that reminds them of the heritage of ‘home.’ 300 objects thus collected, prompting historical as well as structural analysis, were put into plastic bottles and like a collage giving collective meaning they make an innovative display now in the exhibition titled Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, opened last Saturday.

Heritage Exhibition
Visitors to the exhibition in Vancouver

Heritage Exhibition
T. Shanaathanan, lecturer in art history, University of Jaffna
Heritage Exhibition
Preparation of the display by members of the Tamil diaspora community in Vancouver
Heritage Exhibition
A section of the exhibits
Heritage Exhibition
Another section of the exhibits
Heritage Exhibition
Preparation of the display
Heritage Exhibition
Preparation of the display
When colonial Tamil culture first saw a museum established in Chennai, it was known in Tamil language as Cheththa-kaaleaj, college of dead objects, as opposed to Uyirk-kaaleaj, college of life beings, the zoo.

The idea thus imbibed into Tamil mind and still continues is that a museum keeps only obsolete artefacts, rare and precious.

But, Shanaathanan has shown that a museum display is as much connected to memories and inner self of the living, and anything could be an object of heritage provided it is presented in the relevant context of the living.

He has also revolutionised the conventional idea of the Tamil mind that a museum piece of heritage is always of commercial value and is collected or presented only by experts of the trade dealing with bygone times.

In his presentation, heritage objects are liberated from the clutches of the commercial world of antiquarianism and they are properties of everybody. What is a piece of heritage and what is its value have become abstract. The community participation has liberated art and heritage as everybody’s property, providing space for new historical and structural analyses.

Saddened by Colombo’s antiquarian trade of traditional artefacts stolen from Tamil areas by the occupying forces, there are views that the diaspora should organize funds to purchase them. This is waste of money and will only promote further plunder.

As has been demonstrated by Shanaathanan, meaningful study of heritage, its preservation and presentation are far different from patrons of antiquarian trade flaunting wealth in their hobby.

Shanaathanan’s innovative ideas stem from the call of his times.

Forced diaspora, global and mass-scaled, is hitherto unseen phenomenon for Tamils. It was never experienced in the entire realm of the history of Tamil civilization.

The historic task of Tamil artists is not merely presenting the heritage of home of the homeless, but initiating a new heritage of looking at heritage.

Hope the inspiration picks up in the Tamil diaspora for permanent museums of heritage around the world.

Born in Thaavadi, Jaffna 36-year-old Shanaathanan is currently engaged in research for Ph.D at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Six years ago, he organized an art exhibition in Jaffna, bringing together Tamil and Sinhala artists for the first time in 50 years attempting to deal with the trauma of war.

The current art exhibition in Vancouver features the presentations of twelve internationally acclaimed artists from Iran, Canada, Australia, France, Malaysia and Eezham.

Heritage Exhibition
Note a Sri Lankan birth-certificate being an object of heritage for the diaspora
Heritage Exhibition
Preparation of the display
Heritage Exhibition
A son remembers the heritage of his father and through that the 'home'
Heritage Exhibition
An iron-handled curved knife called 'Kaampuch-chaththakam' used in peeling palmyrah leaf to make baskets, mats etc.
Heritage Exhibition
Barbed-wire is a heritage object reminding 'home'
Heritage Exhibition
A Tamil primary school text book, published in Chunnakam, Jaffna, reminds someone of 'home'

External Links:
borderzones.ca: Tortured landscapes: Tamil belonging and displacement: R. Cheran


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