Children in Lockdown, online art festival | Sunday Observer

Children in Lockdown, online art festival

21 November, 2021

Forced by the negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, like every other industry, the fact that the world of art is in a digital pivot is beyond shadow of a doubt. A virtual art festival organised by the Stages Theatre Group and Kindernothilfe will be held from November 26 to 28.

The festival is titled "Children in Lockdown Arts Festival 2021". There are several festival partners which include Goethe Institut, The German Embassy, The Oneness Centre, Lionel Wendt, Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust, NewsFirst and Music Matters. Ruwanthie De Chickera is the festival curator while Malith Hegoda joining with her as the co-curator.

Ruwanthie does not need an introduction. No hyperbole remains in declaring that Ruwanthe's wealth of knowledge and experience has made her one of the most sought-after art directors in the island. Ruwanthie is an accomplished and acclaimed art director with an academic excellence whose experience in her selected field spans into a two decade.

Art and theatre

Arts and theatre are her synonyms. Her workshops on art and theatre have often been with overwhelming popularity where the participants have benefitted. Malith's love for cinema is not a strange phenomenon. He is a versatile filmmaker with a clear and broad vision. He loves theatre too.

"I'm also very attracted to theatre". I love the liveliness and the ability of it to hold the breath of a live audience, "Malith said. Sharing his thoughts on the art festival, Malith said that he is impressed by every artiste that they have selected.

He said, "I wish we had more funds to support the rest of the artistes who applied, because most of the ideas shared personal journeys they've experienced during the lockdown".

Malith is rather optimistic and eagerly waiting to see all the final art works of the commissioned artistes. Malith said, "I'm interested to see the discussion that will be built around the works of the "digital wellbeing initiative" that was initiated through this commissioning".

Malith believes that this discussion would be able to make a difference. "That discussion would be significant given the unavoidable "digital" presence of ourselves within the virtual landscape of the post Covid world", Malith said. Piumi Wijesundara is the festival director. She is the co-artistic director and arts administrator of Stages Theatre Group. Piumi has excellent academic credentials."The Children in Lockdown Arts Festival 2021" will have its emphasis in creating a platform where artistes, children and adults take an effort in throwing back the treatment and experiences of children during the pandemic.

Commissioned artworks

According to their press release, 20 artworks that address the challenges faced by children during the pandemic were commissioned following a six-month program curated by Stages Theatre Group (STG) and supported by Kindernothilfe (KNH). Child and adult artistes created these 20 commissioned artworks. The work is included with art installations, theatre performances, short- film screenings, puppet shows and talks, given by the artistes. All these planned items will be released to the public during the online sessions of the Children in Lockdown Arts Festival.

Through the festival, the communities will be able to find a space to meet, discuss, debate and communicate on the problems encountered by children during the pandemic. Talks, workshops, panel discussions and forums led by children, adults, artistes and professionals working with children will attend to the endeavours.

Through the open source digital arts exhibition component of the festival, it will be able to gather reflections from children in every nook and corner of the island on their experiences during the pandemic and that will showcase the submissions from children who are under the age of 21. Every digital interactive session will be facilitated in Sinhala, Tamil, English and the Sign language.

Researches, conducted during the pandemic have found out that during the school closure and the lockdown, there is a significant increase in depressive symptoms and anxiety among the children. It is generally understood that lockdown and quarantine are states of isolation which are rather unpleasant and psychologically distressing for everyone who experiences them. The psychological issues that the children in lockdown undergo would have a catastrophic impact on the lives of children. In that light, the scheduled art festival "Children in Lockdown" will be an ideal platform for young people to speak about their inner feelings and experiences during the lockdown.

Four artistes contributing to the "Children in The Lockdown" art festival shared their experiences with the Sunday Observer. Natalie Soysa is an activist. She also works as an editor, journalist, writer, graphic designer, photographer and an occasional filmmaker. Her contributions on these fields are exceptionally outstanding.

Complex relationship

Natalie said that to focus her energy on things that require more attention, she prematurely retired from a highly successful career in the sphere of marketing communications, spanning into 12 years. She said that during the past 11 years, she has been able to produce work which confronts what we would rather ignore: our complex relationship with ourselves and one another in the context of gender, race and religion in post-colonial and post war Sri Lanka.

Natalie has gained a wealth of extensive editorial experience during her long stints as editor for the Sri Lanka press institute and associate editor at ĹT magazine. Both their writing and photography have been published and exhibited at key festivals locally and regionally, even as far as the countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Natalie has been commissioned to produce bodies of work by the stages theatre group and Kindernothilfe to co-create a book and art film on battling cancer during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic as a single parent.

She has also been commissioned to produce bodies of work for the Groundviews, International Centre for Ethnic studies, policy Alternatives, United Nations, the Royal Geographical society, IPPF/FPA. As per her involvement in the "Children in the lockdown" art festival, Natalie said, "This is the focus of the festival itself. I am one of 20 grantees who will be representing my work at "The Children in Lockdown" festival by stages theatre group and Kindernothilfe".

Critical look

Sharing her ideas on her project in the art festival, Natalie said, "My project, titled "Am I Ready to Die?" is a film and book, produced together with Shayne Seneviratne and featuring my son's artworks is a critical look at Sri Lankan Healthcare".

Child artiste Ramithu Sellahewa studies at Royal College, Colombo-7. Ramithu, 14, is a promising short story writer. His “The Hot Air Balloon” and other lockdown stories will attract a wider audience. Becoming an astronaut is Ramithu's future goal. He is pursuing Edexcel International A/L’s as a private candidate. His interest in literature and books has been one of the key inspirations for him to take up with writing a book. He said, "I am also interested in music, playing the violin; I'm quite a bit into digital art too".

Ramithu said, "I believe that art is not just a simple picture on a wall or a book you can read. Each piece of artwork is unique and valuable to its creator. Every creator will some way or another tends to include their experiences in their work of art. Art isn't just a method to entertain you: it is a way of life".

Tasmin Anthonisz is an old girl of Ladies' college, Colombo. She studied Drama and Screen Studies at the University of Manchester from where she graduated with BA. Tasmin also holds an LTCL in teaching performing Arts. She is the Artistic director of Studiolusion which was established in 2017 with the idea of exploring original plays, original adaptations of plays in correspondence/response to the social context.

Tasmin is now a fulltime theatre practitioner: her work is included with the drama society of Wesley College, Colombo for the past 3-4 years. Giving her views on the children in lockdown art festival 2021 while expressing her indebtedness to Ruwanthie and Stages, Tasmin said, "This is a brilliant initiative by Ruwanthie and Stages, because this platform gives space for voices that have gone unheard to share and discuss traumas that have come up as a result of the lockdown, which many people, children in particular, are only just beginning to process".

Words and experience

Tasmin said, "It is not easy to share experiences verbally, especially in this age where people are quick to jump on missteps on the internet/public forum. The internet forgets that we are still learning. The curators have given us a lot of freedom and trust to make that expression, which I think has strengthened the validity of each of our voices, and strengthen the idea that no matter how small the speaker is their words and experience matter".

The festival will include Chatroom 2021, directed by Tasmin. Chatroom 2021 is an adaptation of Enda Walsh's play Chatroom. Tasmin's project is introduced as Chatroom 2021, as it has been taken from the perspective of 2021.

Umeshi Rajeendra is a dance artiste and educator. Umeshi said, "I am interested in researching decoloniality in practice, exploring social–political and identity politics to think and act on how movement can mobilise the social and impact change". Umeshi's talk titled "Reimagining Otherwise" will be a significant item in the festival's agenda. Umeshi on her idea on the aspect of Arts as a mode of communication said" At its core, art has a lot to do with looking deeply and honestly at all aspects of our lives, from physical to emotional to spiritual. It is a huge field of different mediums. There is something for everyone to work with".

Umeshi's classification on Arts is rather informative, outstanding and delivered in the most appropriate manner where she kept on declaring, "Art is about creativity. It provides multiple pathways to uncover alternative thinking, depth, texture, and to bring colour to the everyday, opening emotional and existential landscapes that help us to feel, think, grow and reimagine possibilities in the world.

She added, "But there is a difference between art being therapeutic and knowing when to seek professional help. There are challenges that may require the field of art/movement therapy specifically to help children and adults".