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Eelam Tamil artist's exhibition offers glimpse into alternate realities

As an Eelam Tamil artist, Christopher Kulendran Thomas experienced his homeland being eradicated, sparking his inspiration behind the exhibition. Christopher Kulendran Thomas’ exhibition, ‘Another World,’ featured in the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, explores the struggle for an independent Tamil homeland through the artistic perspective of blending contemporary art and technology.

Inspired by stories becoming twisted through the media, the exhibition features two film installations which explore the realities of the aftermath of the genocide  in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009. Occupying the lower and upper gallery of the ICA, each floor creates an immersive experience that focuses on different aspects of the Tamil liberation movement.

The lower gallery features a commission, ‘The Finesse’ (2022), which Christopher Kulendran developed in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, a curator, filmmaker and producer. The film installation includes multi-channel video loops on LED screens which incorporate the use of AI generated avatars, aiming to fuse Western pop culture and political science. ‘The Finesse’ explores how the art, architecture and technology that was lost during the civil unrest could have had the potential to create different ideas today or in the future. The lower gallery also features a part filmed and part generated projection that explores Tamil Eelam’s unique ecosystem which were planted by the Tamil liberation movement aiming to create a self-sufficient and sustainable society. Alongside these images, the voice of Tamil creative Vasuky Vakay Jayapalan plays, telling stories of the liberation movement and discussing issues such as media misreporting in Sri Lanka. Intensifying the sense of immersion in the lower gallery, large, masked ghillie suit sculptures by Aṇaṅkuperuntinaivarkal Inkaaleneraam surround the projection screens. 

‘Like many Eelam Tamils, I grew up having to negotiate wildly different views of our history. We saw our liberation movement re-labeled as a terrorist organisation, and so we had to come to terms with how reality can be shaped by narrative fictions. For me these histories that didn’t get to play out are interesting as alternate realities – as ways of glimpsing, beyond the assumptions of the world we know, the possibility of other kinds of societies.’ 

Christopher Kulendran Thomas

In the upper gallery, Thomas combines contemporary art and artificial intelligence technologies in paintings inspired by the Western art history introduced to Ceylon by British settlers. The Upper Gallery also includes another film installation in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, ‘Being Human’. The video is a HD projection and follows a journey around Sri Lanka exploring the aftermath of the war, including an appearance from the man who established the Centre for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam. In addition to this, ceramic works by Aṇaṅkuperuntinaivarkal Inkaaleneraam inspired by the ancient legends of Tamil poets and scholars known as the The Tamil Sangams are featured in the upper gallery. 

Christopher Kulendran Thomas’ ideas and themes of twisted stories are showcased consistently throughout the exhibition, from the use of AI avatars to misrepresent celebrities to the deceiving media presentation of the war. Despite this, the exhibition as a whole is an experience that is open to interpretation and each viewer will leave with differing views about the themes portrayed in the artwork.

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