Exhibition to highlight lives of estate workers | Sunday Observer

Exhibition to highlight lives of estate workers

23 April, 2023

“So much pain in a cup of tea,” a young student wrote on the comments wall, moved by the recently concluded “Our lives through our eyes’’ initiative in Ratnapura organised jointly by the Strengthening Social Cohesion and Peace in Sri Lanka (SCOPE) program and the Ratnapura Art Collective.

The event brought together Thé Kahata/Theyilai Saayam photography exhibition, filming of the play Thitta Kahata by Parakrama Niriella, and music programs by Illaiyanilla Issaikulu, Kurinji Kathir Issaikulu, Ravi Bandu Vidyabati, and emerging artists from Ratnapura recently.

It was attended by over 6,400 people, including students from 25 schools, community members from 28 estates,10 Government offices and educational institutions from towns in the district.

This immersive arts initiative was held in Lellopitiya and acknowledged the travails of Hill Country Communities (or Malaiyaha Thamizhar), and advocated for their rights and promoted collective participation to understand common issues.

The inaugural event was attended by Governor of the Sabaragamuwa Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa, and legal advocates, school principals, religious leaders, and partner representatives from SCOPE, the Ratnapura Art Collective, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), UWA Shakthi Foundation, and Suya Shakti Foundation, and the Environment and Community Development Information Centre (ECDIC).

The SCOPE program is co-financed by the European Union, German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, Prisons Affairs and Constitutional Reforms (MoJ). Central to the event, Thé Kahata or Theyilai Saayam exhibition is the culmination of youth from Badulla and Nuwara Eliya who used their lens to tell the story behind the tea strains.

Each photograph is of an individual, a family and speaks volumes of the 200-year struggle, which continues today. As one of the photographers, Shanushalini K. said, “My voice is raised strongly here, thus making my community’s voice stronger. Not everyone lives like this, but we tried to show the issues within this theme from various estates in Nuwara Eliya and Badulla”.

Featured were photos taken before Covid-19 by 28 photographers. The musical performances encouraged appreciation for diversity and pluralism through the arts. Many students, teachers, and estate workers were moved to tears. They shared that this was the first time they had witnessed an initiative outside their community, shedding light on their plight.

Other community members said that the veil of ignorance around the marginalisation of this community should be lifted. Chief Guest Governor Tikiri Kobbekaduwa praised event organisers and said that he makes it a point to speak in all three languages because that is the country’s need at this time.

He said, “By bringing this exhibition to Ratnapura, President of the Ratnapura Art Collective Nandapala Wickramasooriya has opened the eyes of many to the social stigma in Sri Lanka. In Indonesia and Vietnam, the plantation sector has developed socially. I think we have a long way to go here.”