‘How can you know the reality of a conflict when the winners get to write its history?’ Kunsthalle Zürich presents Christopher Kulendran Thomas: For Real, an exhibition across both floors of the institution by the British-Tamil artist, in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann and featuring Aṇaṅkuperuntinaivarkal Inkaaleneraam.
Christopher Kulendran Thomas: For Real takes the failed struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, Tamil Eelam, in the north and east of present-day Sri Lanka, as its starting point. Another point of departure connected to this is the observation that, with the end of the war there in 2009, the contemporary art world was able to establish itself in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, with new galleries, a museum and a biennial projecting democratic values internationally. Conceived and realized in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, the exhibition retells the story of this attempt to create a new reality on the island, and traces the revolutionary creative scene that was extinguished by it. But the exhibition is more than what it seems. Melding historical documentary with speculative sci-fi, the show plunges you into a hall of mirrors of propaganda and hallucination, an algorithmically-generated psy-op from an alternate reality. Except that everything is true.
The war for Tamil Eelam began when an armed struggle broke out on 23 July 1983 between the Tamil minority on the island and the Sinhalese majority. The Tamil liberation movement sought freedom from oppression by the Sri Lankan government and the complete independence of the Tamil areas in the north and east of the island. This war – the culmination of previous decades of conflict – came to a brutal end in 2009, having claimed the lives of countless civilians and driven hundreds of thousands to flee to other countries, including Switzerland. Today, around 50,000 Tamils live in Switzerland; it is one of the world’s largest Tamil diaspora communities. Nevertheless, it seems this history might be forgotten.