One Nation, Many Colours
A collection of Art & Stories by Sri Lanka’s Youth
Growing up in Sri Lanka, years of conflict has resulted in few opportunities for youth to interact with people from different regions or of different religions. Working across the country, we see the barriers these gaps in cross-cultural understanding have created. That is why peace and reconciliation has been an important aspect of our work.
Misconceptions about others have limited the opportunities available to youth. This has also limited the country’s potential for future economic growth. Helping youth develop these crucial cross-cultural skills can open up more employment opportunities. It can also contribute to more united national Sri Lankan identity and understanding.
Earlier this year, we hosted the “One Nation, Many Colours” art exhibit in Sri Lanka. This exhibit tells the diverse stories of young Sri Lankan women and men. It highlights the things that make them unique, as well as those that bring them together.
Many of these youth began as strangers, though they shared many commonalities. All youth participating in our Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programming, they have all faced – and overcome – many challenges in their lives as a result of poverty, conflict, and displacement. While they were a bit hesitant and uncertain at first, they began to open up and even form new friendships.
“I got [to meet] many new friends. Their language is different from us, we speak Tamil and they are talking in Sinhala, [but] we had a friendly chat and discussion, which was really good.” – Kunasekaram Shironiya (TVET student, Batticaloa, Graphic Design)
This project was first conceptualized by Canadian artist, Paul Hogan. He believed art could foster cross-cultural collaboration and understanding, transcending geography and language. To bring his vision to light, we partnered with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training. We also engaged many local Sri Lankan artists along the way.
Leading up to the exhibit, art workshops were held in four regions of Sri Lanka: Matara, Tissamaharama, Kataragama, and Batticaloa. Partially-formed art would travel from one community to the next. At each stop, youth would come together to add their contribution.
Coming together for the art exhibit allowed the youth to express themselves in creative ways. It also provided a space for further self-discovery through storytelling, meditative rituals, and more hands-on art making.
Overall, this unique project allowed youth to step out of their comfort zones. They met people whom they would not normally have had the chance to interact with, learning to reconcile their differences through art. It gave them an opportunity to learn more about other youth in their country. It also gave them the chance to learn more about themselves.
“This activity created space to talk with others, regardless of their race, language, and religion, in unity, peace, and harmony. I feel very happy.” – Fathima Ayisha (TVET student, Ampara, Multimedia)
“I never leave my village. This is the first time I came to Batticaloa, and the first time I could chat and sing together with Tamil friends. I never know when I will have another chance. I am so happy to be with them.” – Deekshan Amantha (TVET student, Ampara, Carpentry)
To view videos produced about the event, including footage from some of the youth workshops, please visit the following links:
One Nation, Many Colours – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymcq_KeZ-Ew&feature=youtu.be
Mystery Paintings – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvZ8QYpY0I&t=46s
Peace Puzzles – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLqHh6OvsMk
The youth workshops leading up to this exhibit were sponsored by WUSC’s project on youth skills development in Sri Lanka, which aims to aid marginalized youth get training and employment and promote peace and reconciliation in the country. For more information on the work that WUSC is doing in Sri Lanka, please visit: https://wusc.ca/initiatives/asset/