Performing Arts as a social criticism | Sunday Observer

Performing Arts as a social criticism

For a nation such as Sri Lanka, which is primarily a traditionalist country, the field of art evolves slowly. The modern art scene for us is in its infancy and is still not readily accepted or properly understood by the public. This has left many major mediums of art expressions developed by other cultures untapped. One such medium is the genre known as Performance art, a form of art in which an artwork or exhibition is created through the artist and or other participants. Performance art generally expresses an artist’s life experiences or some social criticisms in ways that is unique to it.

While the community of artists for Performance art is few in Sri Lanka, notable figures do exist and excel far beyond our borders. One such figure is Janani Cooray, who is set to perform in the Dislocada/Dislocated exhibition, the latest in her many international performances.

She is an excellent artiste renowned for her signature Hair Performances, through which she has expressed her struggles as both an artist and a woman, critiquing many social issues that bring awareness to those who witness it.

Janani has been an artiste even before Performing Art was even a concept in Sri Lanka, but in the early 2000’s she was introduced to it at an International Art Festival. She developed her Hair Art performances in Europe, where her lengthy hair was deemed to be an oddity and subject to a lot of attention. So, using her hair as a point of interest she had many successful and well received performances.

Dislocada/Dislocated is an upcoming international art exhibition hosted by the international art collective Dissident Bodies, that aims to showcase the talented Performing Artistes that have persisted in their craft during the tumultuous days of the pandemic.

Of the four shows around the world, Janani has been selected to perform in India and Mexico at the end of the year. Janani’s concept at the exhibition, Hair Cage is the latest in her series of Hair Performances. Being under lockdown during the pandemic, she realised that her life has been rife with constraints, as an artist, a woman, a family member, and a government teacher.

As a teacher, Janani hoped to educate a new generation of budding Sri Lankan artists about this medium brimming with untapped potential and was quite ready to do so. However, the pandemic put those hopes on hold for the foreseeable future as not only was it impossible to teach Performance Art without physical proximity, unlike most other forms of art, a physical audience is vital to a performance as the audience is part of the performance itself. Janani said it will be possible to properly introduce Performance Art to Sri Lanka only after the pandemic is over and is certain that it will benefit in modernising its identity.