way of the forest
18 - 28 January 2024 / Colombo
curated by Sarker Protick, Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Hit Man Gurung.
With artistic director, Natasha Ginwala.
Over 40 Sri Lankan and international artists
conversations • mushroomings • excursions • performances
workshops • concerts • open air cinema • listening experiences
Way of the Forest converges artistic pathways to rekindle knowledge of interdependence, custodianship, and restorative practices across rainforests, wilderness, mountain cultivations, and riverine wetlands. It invites deschooling – moving from the curriculum of plunder, reckless supremacy and extinction, to embrace active listening beyond the human sensorium. The forest as a lexicon holds a plenitude of meaning across languages: Aaranya in Tamil (ஆரண்யா) and Sanskrit relating to a sanctuary, vana (වන) in Sinhala. Bonn, Jongol, and Aranno in Bangla, guṁ in Nepal Bhasa, tēṁ in Tamu—each evoking distinct states of being, emotions, disparate imagination, and a palpable climate.
This multi-chapter exhibition and accompanying events are an intricate study of our eroding ecological histories, of lost environmental wisdoms, monstrous developmental agendas, and ghosts of extraction. It endeavours to plot legacies of colonisation of resources and minds that operate in disguise. Within mutating landscapes, artists question who owns forest lands, who gets displaced, and who is restricted from sites marked for conservation.
What do the spirits of these lands, rivers, forests whisper in our ears? In many folktales, legends, and mythologies, forests are associated with apparitions, witches, and other mystical beings. These entities are often depicted as powerful and independent, existing beyond the reach of societal constraints. They are also spaces that elicit fear, of things unknown, and forces beyond human control. With the rise of imperialism the exploitation of natural resources and abuse of primary inhabitants was exacerbated as a fulfilment of greed, power, and ego. The subjugation of jungles and wildernesses then portrayed as a victory over the vastness, unruliness, mysticism of forests.
From the perspective of a patriarchal state, forests are seen as a liminal space, a place inhabited by rebels seeking solace and autonomy, an untamed space that challenges their authority and control. For centuries, Indigenous elders have recognized a strict adherence to forests’ restorative ethos—in stark contrast to the teachings of modern education systems. They understand that it is not merely a collection of trees, but a living entity, embodying the spirits of ancestors and serving as guardians.
Many Indigenous peoples find themselves navigating nation-states driven by corporate capitalism and geopolitical hegemony. Throughout this struggle, there have been profound transitions marked by loss, change, resistance, and at times, even hopelessness. Revolutionaries, outcasts, borderline beings find solace and refuge within the forest’s sheltering embrace. Its dense foliage and shaded paths provide a sense of secrecy and protection, allowing those seeking autonomy and freedom to gather and organise away from prying eyes, to recalibrate uncertainty and fear, to dream of alternative power structures, of new world orders.
What might it mean to turn into an interspecies eye? – sensing and observing differently amid ancient fauna, guardian spirits, murmuring leaves and light streaks in the dark heart of woodlands. To follow the waters – from the mangrove membranes to tributaries coalescing in the rivers’ mouth. The forest remembers, it recites. And reminds us that even death is intrinsic to life.
This festival edition’s visual identity conceived by FOLD Media Collective draws inspiration from an environmental phenomenon observed amidst tropical treetops called crown shyness, indicating a collective botanical consciousness and survival strategies. Principles of mutual growth, protection, and networked communication in the fabric of a forest result in these dynamic patterns formed between trees. Several cultural practitioners in this Colomboscope are engaged in restoration of land, seasonal cultivation, and foster recognition of botanical species that stay resilient despite earth cycles of destruction. They embrace intergenerational farming practices and address the depletion of forest cover across plantation landscapes.
Over centuries, ecocidal violence in canopied geographies has systemically accompanied forms of militarisation and the wounding of minorities in Sri Lanka and the global south. It is in these terrains that rare earths are extracted to maintain digital thirst and accelerated mobility. And it is the landless minorities, eco warriors, small scale cultivators facing routine oppression and grave economic disparities who are unjustly demonised, systemically robbed, subject to mass killings, and labelled as anti-development protagonists. Way of the Forest weaves narratives around how repressed history turns to myth and lore, when what was sensuously real becomes illusive, as facts begin to face extinction. The voices silenced by ecopolitical wars return as echoes in creative endeavours, to retrace sovereign forest worlds. Inscribing processes of storytelling into historical relations, inviting collective intelligence to hone psychic intimacy and fugitive holding beyond states of anxiety and decimation – enmeshed in perspectives of braided environments, natal histories and vital forms of rematriation.
As the jungle floor shrinks and burns, it holds animated truths —If we care to pursue its regeneration —a return to dreaming, interdependence, hibernation, and ethical imaginaries shall inevitably manifest. From the forest we may also learn how to forage, to make use of what exists in abundance; to store what is scarce; and to listen deeply in order to hear the morning chorus.
Kieren Karritpul & Trent Walter
Komal Purbe, Madhumala Mandal, Rebati Mandal and Selo Yadav
Kulagu Tu Buvongan
Memory, Truth and Justice
Mónica de Miranda
Nahla al Tabbaa
Pankaja Withanachchi & Roshan De Selfa
The Initiative for Practices and Visions of Radical Care with Myriam Mihindou, Tawfiq Sediqi and Elena Sorokina
Sarmila Sooriyakumar with Pirainila Krishnarajah
Spore Initiative with U Yits Ka'an, Colectivo Suumil Móokt'aan, Rafiki Sánchez, and Cecilia Moo
Soma Surovi Jannat
Sunita and Sanjeev Maharjan
Venuri Perera and Eisa Jocson
Anoma Wijewardene / Anupam Roy / Anushka Rustomji
U. Arulraj / Barbara Sansoni / Chija Lama
Dumiduni Illangasinghe / Fernando García-Dory
Jayatu Chakma / Karachi LaJamia / Karunasiri Wijesinghe
Kieren Karritpul & Trent Walter / Komal Purbe, Madhumala Mandal, Rebati Mandal and Selo Yadav / Krisushananthan Inkaran
Kulagu Tu Buvongan / Laki Senanayake / Memory, Truth and Justice
Mónica de Miranda / Müge Yılmaz / Nahla al Tabbaa
Otobong Nkanga / Pankaja Withanachchi & Roshan De Selfa
Pathum Dharmarathna / The Initiative for Practices and Visions of Radical Care with Myriam Mihindou, Tawfiq Sediqi and Elena Sorokina
Rakibul Anwar / MTF Rukshana / Ruwangi Amarasinghe
Sarmila Sooriyakumar with Pirainila Krishnarajah / Shiraz Bayjoo
Pushpakanthan Pakkiyarajah / Spore Initiative with U Yits Ka'an, Colectivo Suumil Móokt'aan, Rafiki Sánchez, and Cecilia Moo
Tamarra Jayasundera / Thava Thajendran / Thujiba Vijayalayan
Sangita Maity / Sanod Maharjan / Saodat Ismailova
Shehan Obeysekera / Soma Surovi Jannat
Subas Tamang / Sunita and Sanjeev Maharjan
Venuri Perera and Eisa Jocson
Click artist names for more info and selected work
A Thousand Channels with Syma Tariq
Chennai Photo Biennale
Collective of Contemporary Artists (CoCA)
Dharamshala International Film Festival
w/ Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam
KACHA KACHA with Imaad Majeed
with Korakrit Arunanondchai & Christina Li
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka
with Asvajit Boyle and Nigel Perera
Norient with Coco Em
Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCAR)
with Firi Rahman
Visual Art and Experiences Group (VAEG)
A Thousand Channels with Syma Tariq / BLAK C.O.R.E.
Chennai Photo Biennale / Collective of Contemporary Artists (CoCA) Dharamshala International Film Festival w/ Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam KACHA KACHA with Imaad Majeed / Kälam / Ka(ra)mi
Ghost 2561-2565 with Korakrit Arunanondchai & Christina Li
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka (MMCA) Musicmatters / Non-Applicable (N/A) with Asvajit Boyle and Nigel Perera Norient with Coco Em / Parrotfish Collective
Small Cat Advocacy and Research (SCAR) with Firi Rahman
The Packet / Visual Art and Experiences Group (VAEG)
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