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Reimagining the Museum: Celebrating Diversity and Archiving Loss

Sri Lanka continues to struggle with celebrating diversity and memorialising loss. This is despite centuries of cultural confluence, a location at the crossroads of trade and travel over centuries, hundreds of shared religious and cultural spaces, rituals and traditions, a long history of ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, and several encounters with violent ethnic, religious, and other social conflicts.

In an environment where the state has been reticent to celebrating diversity and helping archive loss, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies seeks to provide a dynamic and interactive space for people to remember, dialogue, and creatively express their experiences of violence, conflict, and exclusion, as well as the positive experiences of coexistence, diversity and solidarity. The objective is to build a centralised site to collect personal narratives and oral histories. Through this initiative ICES seeks to create a Museum of Memory and Coexistence (MoMac) that will fill this gap in Sri Lanka’s postwar reconciliation architecture by reflecting on the violence of the past and celebrating diversity and coexistence.

In developing exhibits for MoMaC, ICES will focus on the following themes:

‘Shared Sanctities’ seeks to build a counter-narrative to the current narrative on inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations in Sri Lanka. The current dominant narratives tend to be hegemonic, exclusivist and rooted in violence against the ‘other’. This multimedia initiative seeks to generate a more nuanced narrative around art, architecture and religion by producing a series of research articles, (written in a semi-academic format accessible to diverse audiences), photographs and documentary films, on shared religious spaces and shared religious histories across the years. It will showcase shared religious traditions, monuments and art as evidence of shared cultural history that goes back a long way.

‘It’s Not What You Think It Is’ will be a YouTube channel that will focus on generating Sri Lankan content in the areas of history, politics, art and other related subjects, which will inspire its viewers to reflect and re-think frequently held assumptions about history, politics and art. It will feature, Q&A’s, short videos, expert interviews promoting critical thinking and reflection on topics of popular or academic interest. Generating content in English Sinhala and Tamil, it will tackle popular and often controversial topics ‘head on’ provoking reconsideration, appreciation and alternatives. The YouTube channel will be streamed through digital platforms such as MoMaC and shared through other social media platforms and interest groups.

Home and Belonging will host stories of Loss, Revival and Connections and will showcase stories and lived experiences from persons living with disabilities, women heads of households, ex-combatants, displaced persons, people working in low-income trades, plantation and rural households, the urban poor, unemployed youth and other marginalized groups. Through a series of multi-modal digital and physical exhibits, this endeavour hopes to artistically represent the multiple stories and experiences of people who have lived through difficult and turbulent times and have stayed resilient despite adverse circumstances.

සංகீதம் Music for Social Change will host concerts and discussions around the country on socially conscious, resistance and protest Music in Sri Lanka, featuring artists of different languages and regions. Discussion on the subject of resistance music and music for social change is scarce and there is a dearth of research on the role and potential of music in voicing dissent, creating counter cultures, promoting resistance to oppressive structures and driving social change. ICES initiated a preliminary discussion on music for social change in 2016 with Sangeetham A Festival of Music for Social Change. ICES will broaden and continue this dialogue and engagement with art of this nature, expose it to a wider audience and engage the public in a discourse of the role of arts in battling issues of social injustice

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