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Interdisciplinary Visual Arts

‘Migrancy’ should be a word – 5 Q & As with Layla Gonaduwa

Image: Silverfish by Layla Gonaduwa, courtesy the artist

Layla Gonaduwa

Sri Lankan interdisciplinary artist Layla Gonaduwa is currently travelling through Sri Lanka as part of her Home-Not-Alone Residency with Pro Helvetia New Delhi.  A self-taught artist, Layla has moved towards a more conceptual art practice in the last five years. Her concepts are inspired by the politics of human perception, personal journey of self and corporeal memory through a cathartic creative process. Issues of memory and migration come up in in our conversation on her current travels, which she also documents in her blog Facing Maha.  

1. Tell us about your project during this home-not-alone residency. 

My initial concept for my residency in Basel was about Memory and Migration. Due to Covid, and with the option to pursue the Home-Not-Alone residency in Sri Lanka, I changed it slightly to deal with migration within the country and how space and time shape ecological systems and those variations in the environment also control species distribution to human migration dynamics.

Migration happens as a consequence of widespread expansion of human infrastructures and activities, habitat alteration, direct persecution/war, climate change/famine and routes vary in habitat, landscape, and atmospheric characteristics, as well as resource availability and the prevalence of threats. All these influence migratory behavior and survival rates.

Spreading of Botanical species by natural and unnatural dispersion, holds fascination and exists in some layered form, surfacing and disappearing in its trajectory, travelling side by side with Migration in my thought process currently.

To try to find patterns or connections of any kind with the spread of Alien Invasive Species and migration of people from one area to another, considered themselves as Alien; seems an audacious exercise. There are cognitive and physical elements in both as well as harmony and discordance in their behavior and occurrence

2. What is the inspiration behind this project? 

My own sense of not being able to settle in one place I can call Home has been key to this.

I have a sense of “Migrancy” myself, and such a word should exist; in the way I am still seeking my own space to rest, both literally & metaphorically, within my own country.

Several factors have influenced this. Ties to my children and maintaining a convenient space they can call “home” has not enabled me to be at MY ideal home I can settle in, financial requirements and finding that place I feel truly comfortable in.

I have been setting up house in different places within the city every few years, and each new place my attempts of assimilation, be one with my surroundings, making “home” or trying to find “home”, have influenced the concept.

3. How do you intend to go about this exploration? 

The process will involve travelling through different areas in the island and setting up studio residency practice in each, over a period of three months. Picking areas have been greatly influenced by the onset of the Maha Monsoon (North East monsoon) that brings the largest amount of rainfall to the island and the travel logistics involved in such weather.

Thanks to Covid management and the practices that have been drilled to the people, this has been possible within the island, and the ideal time too as the country is on a slower pace.

As I travel to each new destination, what awaits me is unclear.

I will meet people considered Alien to the place that have made it their home. Their stories (with consent) will be considered as material; my stay alone, in a new and alien place gives rise to questions and curiosity. How we all familiarize ourselves and how they in turn accept will vary. From another angle, what information/stories people of the area are willing to share will solely be dependent on the level of comfort, trust and acceptance.

The people of Sri Lanka have strong visible and invisible segregation/grouping tendencies along ethnic, religious, caste, class and geographical lines.

Then will I be left alone to take root in some form as a stranger, somewhere?

I will use any material that come my way that fits the concept as I go about my daily life in these new places; familiarizing and gathering information when possible from villagers and others on flora and fauna unique or unusual to each place that has naturally or deliberately been introduced to the area along with human interest stories on Migration that can be worked alongside it.

The adaptation & evolution of migrants alongside habitats/ecosystems, will bring forth the art that will include a blog created on location.

4. How is it to be on a home-not-alone residency? How does it compare to a ‘normal’ residency? 

This is my first residency on the move and alone.

To move from place to place is a daunting task and to meet new people constantly and to adapt each time to their environment have been an exhausting process, roughly a month into it. I have to be mindful of the sensitivities of each area and its people, some time each stranger, and accordingly present myself.

I have planned the residency, so as not to be too comfortable in any one place, and for it to be a constant process of adapting, a journey of seeking a resting place of home. It is the closest I can come to being a Migrant myself.

5. What do you hope will be the outcome of this residency?  

It is hard to have any idea or goal of the outcome, because of the multidimensional, ambiguous nature of the process.

I am narrating stories of what I find, people I meet and about myself. Our reactions, responses, thoughts and ideas on migration and species spread. And how the land and those around us react.

Perhaps different angles and dimensions of firsthand experience, will be of some use when considering these issues.

More details on Layla’s blog facingmaha.blogspot.com.
Follow Layla and #homenotaloneresidency on Instagram.

Also read about Fazal Rizvi and Dharmendra Prasad on home-not-alone residencies.