Menika Van Der Poorten, Cancerfund - Galle Exhibition

Often, one may find records and stories of wars and battles documented through paintings and literature that adorn the walls of war museums and spaces dedicated to soldiers, and survivors. The medium of art is a space that allows liberation through expression, healing through confrontation. It is projection and reflection of identity, of culture, a medium that is poignant in its presentation; it is an individual turned inside out. Menika van der Poorten’s works have addressed similar subjects. Her photographs encapsulating people, and communities. Menika van der Poorten then attempts to create for ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’. The Cancerfund-Galle exhibition was founded by Pakistani artist and writer, Mariah Lookman; she initiated the exhibition in attempt to provide a medium through which cancer patients find solace and healing through art. The exhibition brings together twenty-four artists from across the globe to aid in this initiative.

Menika van der Poorten has worked as a photographic artist, educator and curator. She has also worked in in the production and coordination of multidisciplinary art forms, (performance, visual arts and Literature). Menika’s specific area of interest is in the field of photography and visual arts. She received her formal photographic education at the John Cass School (now the London Metropolitan University), and University of Westminster, London. Menika has been involved in photography education and in developing photographic initiatives in the UK and in Sri Lanka. She has exhibited her work locally and internationally. She currently works as an Arts Manager for a cultural institute in Colombo. She began her photographic working life as a picture editor for a Women’s Photographic Agency in London and as a working director of a pioneering photography project, promoting photography to and by Women. Some of her works include ‘Where are you from?’, exhibited at the Colombo Art Biennale, she is also co-curator of the touring exhibition “A Return to Sri Lanka- Images from British Collections 1640-1900” (a British Library and British Council initiative) currently on display at the National Archives. In documenting the conversations of the relationship between art and healing for ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ we conversed with Menika van der Poorten on her perspectives, journey and her works.

Q | To what extent do you believe art helps with the healing process?

A | This is a bit of a rabbit hole of a question and one that deserves a long and considered response, I don’t think it can be addressed in a few sentences. Art can certainly give comfort, relieve stress, soothe, give joy and stimulate energy and recovery, but equally I would imagine it can do the opposite as well depending on one’s state of mind and the ‘art’ one is engaging with. On the whole I do believe that the Arts connect, mind, body, emotion and our spiritual selves and expressing yourself through art can and does help people with depression, anxiety, dementia, and physical illnesses. On a personal note, there are a few projects that I did where the process and the work I did helped me to work through issues I had been grappling with. I also know that last year when my mother was ill, and getting worse, she did, for the short time she was able to, find escape and joy in Music.

Q | Why is it important that such an exhibition as ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ must be implemented in raising awareness of this cause?

A | Cancer is one of the most rampant, and destructive of diseases and it seems that more and more people are affected by it, as patients and as carers. I feel strongly that more support, resources and services are needed for patients and their families. My understanding is that Mariah’s initiative aims not only to raise awareness and much needed funds for the palliative care initiative at the Karapitiya Hospital, but to also gather together artists to support and be ambassadors for cancer awareness. I think that a collective effort is needed and the least we could do is to support Mariah in whatever way we can. Let’s also not forget that this initiative also brings a variety of artists together in celebration of life.

Q | What are you working on/worked on for ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ and how will it play a role in contributing to the framework set?

A | I am working on a set of photographic images in memory of my mother, who passed away from cancer last year.

Q | What inspired your journey in the arts?

A | I was living in London and working in The Probation service, training to be a Probation Officer when I became interested in photography. I was in my early ‘twenties and inspired by various friends working in the creative sector I became more and more involved in photography and in other art forms. It was also a very exciting time to be involved in the arts in the UK as politics, arts and activism collided and gave birth to some very interesting initiatives,- cultural, creative and political. I feel blessed to have been involved in, and across some of those initiatives and people. We felt we were part of a brand new world, joined together by being part of a bigger whole.

The relationship between art and healing is essential, the ubiquitous ideology is not only one that addresses the mind’s connection to the soul but in finding this connection, one finds self, identity, culture. Menika van der Poorten’s photographs may be an extension of self, a personal portfolio that created in the effort to provide that space of solace. As we conversed with her, she explained the significance through which art can bring this conversation to the forefront; with the increase of Cancer in individuals across Sri Lanka and the vitality of providing necessary resources to confront this illness, she believes it is important, now more than ever, to frequent this discussion and we find, art a fundamental medium to do so. Menika van der Poorten will showcase her works next at the Cancerfund-Galle exhibition. The exhibition will begin at the esteemed Barefoot Gallery on the 17th of November 2021 till the 28th of November 2021 and will also open at the Galle Fort Art Gallery on the 20th of November 2021 till the 5th of December 2021.     

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11th October, 2021 Visual Art | Conceptual