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Srilankan trio in Arts

The TrikonE Art Centre:
Where diverse traditions fuse in harmony

by Indewara Thilakarathne

Founded by one of the country’s premier dramatists and film makers, Dharmasiri Bandaranayke, TrikonE Art Centre celebrates its one year’s existence. Apart from dedicating itself to the promotion of multiculturalism, the centre provides a platform for creativity among the multi-ethnic heterogeneous population from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds and actively engages in promoting intercultural understanding.

Situated in the calm and quiet suburbs of Nugegoda, TrikonE Art Centre is a monument of ethnic unity and diverse art forms. The TrikonE or the triangle represents Literature, Drama and Cinema as well as the three major ethnic identities; Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. It serves as a centre where diverse traditions and cultures meet to flourish at one another’s expense.

“I chose the TrikonE or triangle as the logo for the Centre on the basis of the three major ethnic identities and the three media in the Art; literature, cinema and drama. The Triangle represents these three ideals. After the setting up of the Centre, I produced “Trojan Women” in 1990.

What I intended was to bring this drama to the Tamil audience. The challenge before me was to produce a drama for the Tamil audience in a language that is despised by the Tamils. I staged the play in Jaffna, Batticoloa, and Vavuniya and in Trincomalee and Ampara when fighting was still going on between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army.

I received tremendous response from the Tamil community as the drama is much closer to their experiences in war. We distributed a detailed pamphlet in Tamil on the theme of the drama so that they could understand it.” said Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, the founder of the TrikonE Art Centre recalling how he started the work of the centre

The Centre expanded its activities into Jaffna and the uncleared areas following the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement. At the initial stage, the TrikonE Art Centre existed only in Dharmasiri’s car and with a handful of his colleagues who opted to travel with him in the car. Where correspondence is concerned, letters and emails were typed at a cybercafe.

The next major programme that the Centre undertook was to conduct a film festival featuring Sinhala films in Tamil speaking areas. The film festival consisted of major works from Lester James Peiris to contemporary Sri Lankan film makers such as Asoka Handagama.

The film festival that was held in the University of Jaffna consisted of seven major works including masterpieces by Dr. Lester James Peiris, Wasantha Obeysekara, Dharmasena Pathiraja and Asoka Handagama. The festival received a good response from the youth, especially from the LTTE activists who were involved in the production of propaganda films for their organization.

The festival gave them the much-needed food for thought and would help to change their outlook towards the medium of cinema that is predominantly used for the production of propaganda videos for the LTTE.

Significant step

This was a significant step in the march towards understanding different cultures as it was the fist Sinhala film festival held at the University of Jaffna after a lapse of thirty years. The tribute should be paid to Lionel Fernando for holding the first ever Sinhala film festival at the University of Jaffna when he was the Government Agent of Jaffna.

Many of the participants who grew amidst war did know little or nothing about the Sinhala cinema or Sinhala film makers such as Dr.Lester James Peiris. The festival was also held in Vavuniya and Trincomalee. The salient factor of the festival was that it was always followed by a live-discussion with the audience.

However, it is regrettable that all those films featured at the festival belonged to Sinhala films of a bygone era, save for one or two films by contemporary Sinhala film-makers such as Asoka Handagama, Prasanna Vithanage and Dharmasena Pathiraja. Soon, the TrikonE Art Centre became a household name in the North and Eastern parts of the country. The “Rituals”, a drama by Jehan Aloycious was staged at the University of Jaffna.

The Centre is able to stir a cultural discourse between Tamil intellectuals and Sinhala intellectuals in the South and continues to enrich the Sri Lankan cultural landscape.

Among the milestones, the TrikonE Art Centre achieved within its short existence was the staging of a number of Tamil dramas in the South, such as Prof. Managuru’s “Ramaneshan” that was staged in Colombo and establishing the TrikonE as a research centre for cultural studies, in addition to serving as a production facility for aspiring documentary film makers.

Thus, the strong cultural bond cultivated during the programmes is continued. The TrikonE Art Centre has so far produced nearly fifteen documentaries including special “Theatre Education” series dedicated to cover theatrical traditions in both Sinhala and Tamil communities such as “Kooththu”, a dancing tradition in Vadukkodai, introduced by Prof. K. Sivathamby and the complete drama of “Ramaneshan” which is available in three languages.

The documentaries cover mainly the similarities and dissimilarities between the Tamil traditional drama and Sinhala traditional drama. For instance, “The Drums of Sri Lanka” explores traditional drums both in the South and the North-East.
Education Unit of the Art Centre

After establishing the centre at its present premises in Pagoda Road Nugegoda on October 25, 2005, the Centre has set up its Education Unit and the Information Resource Centre which offers rare collections of books, videos, DVDs and other material on Drama and Theatre.

The Resource Centre is open to the public, especially for scholars who are interested in research. The unit is already conducting a Bharata Dance class under the guidance of dance teacher Abirami Khandeepan. The Education Unit of the Art Centre will also commence Tamil and English language classes.

The TrikonE Art Centre also conducts workshops on Drama and Theatre with overseas resource persons. A workshop on “Applied Theatre” was recently conducted at the Centre by Australian Theatre personnel Mathew Tine. The activity calendar includes a workshop on “Bolo Theatre “for sexually diverse men and women in Sri Lanka and it would address issues of sexual diversity among Sri Lankan men and women in addition to providing them to express themselves in the form of drama.

Among other things, the TrikonE Art Centre offers an invaluable insight into the rich theatrical traditions that are still very much alive in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country. The Centre has so far produced several documentaries capturing the live performances of some of the finest Tamil Dance Drama and offers them in Sinhala, Tamil and English media, in DVD form.

While exploring and appreciating the similarities and dissimilarities of the works of art in Sinhala and Tamil traditions, the TrikonE Art Centre has contributed immensely to promote racial harmony and for the propagation of Sinhala films and dramas among the Tamil speaking population in the North and East and the best Tamil works of art among the Sinhalese in the South, transcending barriers of language and culture.

It is a must destination for art-lovers who want to discover the rich diverse cultural legacy of the nation.

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