a tale of two cities


India Chintan Upadhyay; Manisha Parekh; Manjunath Kamath; Paula Sengupta; Ram Rahman; Riyas Komu

Sri Lanka Anoli Perera; Bandu Manamperi;  Jagath Weerasinghe; Pala Pothupitiye; Pradeep Chandrasiri


The art project, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was conceptualized as a one year project facilitating established artists of two countries, India and Sri Lanka, to engage in an investigative/research based art-making process together relooking at the socio-cultural and historical dynamics of two cities, Varanasi and Anuradhapura. Both Varanasi (Banaras) and Anuradhapura are imbued with deep histories going back to ancient times intertwined with religious and spiritual beliefs and myths, making their contemporary existence loaded with symbolic significance of spirituality, power and religiosity.

Varanasi or Kashi, is an Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and considered one of the oldest cities in the world. Mark Twain is known to have described of Varanasi as “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Highly rooted in tradition and mythological legacies, Varanasi is considered the ‘original ground ‘created by Shiva and Parvati, upon which they stood at the beginning of time. Considered the microcosm of Hinduism, Varanasi is a city glorified by myth and legend and sanctified by religion which has continuously attracted pilgrims and worshippers from time immemorial. In close proximity to it lies the Bodhgaya which is one of the holiest sites for Buddhists. It is also a site where many pilgrimages from of Sri Lanka takes place annually.

Anuradhapura, a city founded in the 4th century BC which was the capital of Lanka from where many kings ruled for nearly a 1000 years. An illustrious, rich and culturally vibrant city, Anuradhapura is also connected with the origin myth of Sri Lanka which centers around Vijaya, a prince from South India who came with 500 of his people and established the 1st kingdom in the Lanka Dweepa. One of his commanders ‘Anuradha’ is supposed to have established Anuradhagama which later became Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura also hosts a number of Buddhist holy sites. The most significant of these is the ‘Sri Maha Bodh’, a sapling from the original fig
tree in Bodhgaya where theBuddha is believed to have sat under and attained enlightenment. According to Buddhist legend and Sri Lanka’s ancient historical texts written in Pali, The Sri Maha Bodhi was sent to Lanka by Emperor Asoka through his daughter Sangamitta after his son Mahinda had established the Buddhist order in Sri Lanka in 250 BC. The two cities and their histories offer many historical links and
mythic connections between Sri Lanka and India.

The project hoped to provide an opportunity for artists to connect from both countries and share their interests in understanding each city in its historical as well as contemporary contexts which would reveal new possibilities to work on their art. It also allowed interpretations and reinterpretation of history, spirituality, myth and symbolism of a bygone era and their contemporary manifestations through an
art process enriched with felt experiences and empirical research. The project involved 5 artists from Sri Lanka and 6 artists from India who embarked on a exploration of the two cities which are connected yet disconnected by virtue of religion, politics and boundaries. The project explored the individual interpretations and reactions to the familiar and unfamiliar terrains, and complex geopolitics, of these living sacred cities.

This project was conceived by Ms Renu Modi, Founder – Director, Gallery Espace, New Delhi,  in association with Serendipity Arts Trust (now Foundation), New Delhi and Theertha Artists Collective, Sri Lanka, with Ruhanie Pereira as curatorial advisor.

The exhibition of works was showcased at IGNCA, New Delhi between 8-31 March, 2017.

Images from the opening of A Tale of Two Cities at IGNCA. Delhi in March 2017.