“Our Village” (Ape Gama)-Unique Exhibition Combining Art Making and Cultural Mapping

Text and Pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Our village” (Ape Gama) is an art exhibition that presents the creative results of three community based art projects that Theertha carried out in Horapawita, Maradana and Gampaha since 2009.

This was a project that thought of art as activism. In this project, the Theertha artists worked with school children, art teachers, and community leaders of the three villages engaging them in various creative activities and discussions on places, memories, and persons that they thought are important to their respective villages.


Village female doctor drawn by a child from Gampaha


Art lover attracted towards the village female doctor’s painting

In other words the project worked as a catalyst for them to visualize and record their shared and common histories/ memories of the ‘place’, to which they have been calling “Our Village”.

Visualization of the shared memories took the shape of cultural maps drawn by groups of students. Based on these maps a final ‘heritage map’ was printed. In addition to making cultural maps, the students of the project produced a large number of paintings of each other’s portraits, their homes, and of important people in their respective villages.

In Horapawita and Gampaha, students and adult participants even produced poetry and essays about their respective villages.

The unique aspect of the “Our Village” (Ape Gama) program is that it combined art making and cultural mapping as a heritage management process at village level. The project was envisioned with the conviction that art is a potent tool to mobilize communities and that heritage is a cultural process – a way one thinks about entities and experiences embodying shared histories and memories.

Heritage seen in this way is diametrically opposite to the conception of heritage as objectified past that is static, which is sanctioned by the authorized heritage discourse. When art is taken as activism and heritage as process and when the two paths of knowledge production were combined it could give rise to a sense of community connection as one can see in the exhibition.

This project’s larger intention was to show that culture and heritage are contemporary experiences and that they do not merely belong in the past. At the same time, situations that should be singled out as worthy of preserving and contemplation do not have to be seen as hallowed traces from the past, but more as traces of a larger social and cultural network that endows and constitute collective memories and identities of the village as a complex expression of the current moment.

The program prompted the villagers to endow value to the heritage expressions/situations that are natural, cultural and non-monumental.

In the course of the program, it was hoped that villagers would come to understand and appreciate the connectedness of their particular village, in terms of its heritage expressions/situations, to a larger geo-political region and to a deeper and varied socio-historic times.

The exhibition “Our Village (Ape Gama) presents selective documentation of the programs held in Horapavita, Maradana and Gampaha.

The exhibition is currently being held at the Barfoot Gallery in Colombo, and it will continue till 28th July. The art exhibition is organized by Theertha International Artists’ Collective in collaboration with Barefoot Gallery.


Paintings from Maradana


Painting from Gampaha


Walking across Maradana


Childrens’ paintings from Gampaha


Art lovers view and discuss


Heritage mapping of Maradana


Children’s paintings from Maradana


Art materials shared during the exhibition


Creations by children ~ courtesy: PassionParade ~