The seventh edition of Colomboscope journeys from a poem-manifesto by Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña titled Language is Migrant. She writes: "Words move from language to language, from culture to culture, from mouth to mouth. Our bodies are migrants; cells and bacteria are migrants too. Even galaxies migrate." Artists compose, decipher and perform as vital travellers and storytellers of our times. Often, repairing relations by drawing material articulations from deep losses, silence and erasures while inventing language forms as bridges between communal narratives, official records, and submerged histories.

Colomboscope is a contemporary arts festival and creative platform for interdisciplinary dialogue that has grown steadily within the cultural landscape of Colomboscope since 2013. The festival has worked with a range of intergenerational artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, social theorists and scientific researchers from Sri Lanka and internationally delivering a focused programme with each festival edition held at key historic sites in Colombo. Several of the cultural practitioners participating in Colomboscope have gone on to show their work within regional and international exhibitions. The festival organizers are committed to building a sustainable and context-responsive environment for cultural producers to continue generating path-breaking, collaborative and genredefying approaches in the field.

The festival brings together intergenerational cultural practices from across Sri Lanka, South Asia and varied international contexts fostering global dialogue. ‘Language is Migrant’ brings together over 50 artists from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and more. Natasha Ginawala said, “The concept for the festival was something that we released over two years ago and we spread it through the network of Colomboscope to artists across the island as well as South Asian artists. Our international artist participation has increased a lot. We are really finding that a lot of international artists are finding us themselves so they write to us often inquiring about the festival. We’re really thinking about how to stay engaged with the younger generation who’re coming out as artists. We're also inviting international artists to bring their creativity and their ideas.”

Curated by Anushka Rajendran with artistic director Natasha Ginwala, several commissioned artworks and long-term projects will mobilize acts of transmission that embrace collective synergies and refuse parochial attitudes that are on the rise while dwelling in place. Instead, the channeling of sonic frequencies, live acts and spaces of reading become elemental instruments that sustain the traffic of creative processes, biographical timekeeping, engaged listening and senses of diasporic belonging.

“Each venue responds to the thematic framework in its own way. There are conversations among these venues, for instance Barefoot where we primarily have artists who are interested in material practices and work with textile and embroidery where some of them have inherited it from family traditions. In curating Colomboscope, we were thinking about very personal accounts of movement, whether experienced personally or through second generational experiences of it. We thought about what it is to inherit cultural memories from different parts of the world while being in one space in isolation. At the Rio, we have a lot of sound-based works, a lot of testimonies from people that have been gathered for years by artists, audio-clips of birds because this edition of the festival holds that circulation is in a way primordial to life, that’s how everything we see is shaped, be it cultural or linguistic codes that have shape-shifted and transformed over time. So we’re looking into the active listening and hearing which we feel is more important now than ever especially with this kind of alienation, with how we encounter media and how we use media these days,” said festival curator Anushka Rajendran.

On curating the festival, Natasha Ginawala, festival curator commented, “We’re thinking of the festival in six chapters and the way that it builds across the different venues. In the Colombo Public Library we have participatory projects and different forms of collaboration – language as something that involves the body, the memories that are held within the body, choreographic forms. We’re thinking about displacement in Colombo as we know it; we have a collective called Pangrok Sulap that works with woodblock printing and they've made a huge public display that will be at the library. Pangrok Sulap's work explores questions of education, the way that violence has also passed on within the history of a country that has been written. We have artist Jagath Weerasinghe who is participating in the public library and his work explores anecdotes and the way that artists remember and recite things, they create note-making in their own style. So we've really interpreted this concept in different forms.”

Circulation is primordial to all forms of life, yet we don’t often consider the ways linguistic bodies traverse geographies and shape social worlds composed of polyphonic tongues and fragmented memory fields. Since mobility and immobility are the common condition of planetary existence, we ask, mindful of the historical error of forced movement: Can we consider radical mobility across political and economic barriers today as a unifying feature of animated life forces? As the world has been composed of itinerant flows beyond human experience: from tectonic shifts, nomadic species, to oceanic drifts. May listening to such amorphous languages too pave migrant futures that embrace pluralistic currents sustained against great odds?

The tides of social alienation and weaponized language leave us hungry for a lexicon toward generative life. Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong remarks, “You are a participant in the future of language.” This notion slices open the potential for stepping into the river of past chronicles, conceiving new structures of “schooling” beyond administered curricula and rescuing the body as an agent of self-determination. 'Language is Migrant' invites embodied narratives that are written into lived rhythms and evidence framed by the senses; restorative forms of correspondence amidst estranged kin; the muscular task of learning a foreign language, song lines leaking over border zones and losing one’s mother tongue while crossing an ocean. In the mode of a pitchfork, such encounters emerge from states of witnessing and testimony, they are relational pursuits that flow into each other, for we realize, one ceases to be without the other.  

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15th January, 2022 Visual Art | Conceptual