Foreword                                                                                                                 July 2008

Peter Schalk
Uppsala, Swedan

     The following is not a review of, but a personal comment on, the book Tamil Ealam-What I saw and how I Have Been Seen by the artist K. Pukazhenthi from Cennai. The book is a translation from a Tamil original widely read under the title tamililam- nan kantatum ennaik kantatum published in Cennai 2006. My comments are valid for both versions.

     The book tells the reader about what the author saw and how he has been seen during his travels in the areas of Tamil speakers in the island in 2005. Strictly speaking, “he” refers to “his” art. Beholders wrote down comments on their impressions of his art and these comments are published in the book. They are valuable entrances into the understanding of the artist’s work while at the same time they express their deep fascination with his art. How can one explain this fascination?

     Pukazhenthi did not travel as a tourist but as a professional artist-painter who had been invited to exhibit his paintings in different places among Tamil speakers. During the tour of exhibitions he also took it on him to bare witness and to record the lamentations of people that still suffered. He shared their memories about past and present human rights violations committed by the Governments of Sri Lanka, their mercenaries and traitors. A probably unintended outcome of this book is that it has become a valuable source of the study of human rights violations as told by survivors from massacres. All are eye witnesses. The author also draws public attention to positive activities performed by the Tamil Resistance Movement which are little known in the West. So for instance he brings into general notice the development of forest resources to compensate for the destruction of the environment by the Government armed forces.

     The author met the people in their deepest concern in several ways. He visualised their sufferings and made manifest what had happened in the past; memories became histories that mirrored the histories of events of ultimate concern which radically changed the lives of the victims. Therefore one could say that his pictures are memorialisations of past events. Memorialisations do not only remember; they monumentalise. They do not surface ad hoc; they are actively and selectively retrieved from the past. They are not only retrospective; they are also prospective. They make us to consider the past to ponder on the future. A memorialisation sends an appeal to the beholder to change the future, not only to prevent a repetition of the past but also to see that justice is done and furthermore, in this case, to reach the ultimate aim; the liberation from the Government of Sri Lanka and the establishment of Tamililam. Memorialisation becomes part of a political programme which according to the author must be based on humanitarian concerns.  By and by stages of the concerns of victims will be politicized but the process has to be judged from its origin. This phenomenon also occurs in religion, music and sports. Pukazhenthi however does not in any way belong to those politicians who exploit human rights violations committed by the other party for the benefit of his own party. The artist/author has evidently been strongly influenced by paintings like Guernica to reflect the suffering of the people in his art. There are many Guernicas in modern history. This is an important insight of the author. He speaks not only about the sufferings of the Tamil speakers but of all who have experienced a Guernica.

     It is quite clear where the artist has his loyalties. He is an ardent supporter of the Tamil Resistance Movement under the leadership of the LTTE led by Veluppillai Pirapakaran. In the eyes of his new friends in Tamil Ealam however his personality transcends his modest self-image as a private person, painter and he is regarded by the beholders of his paintings as a representative of Tamil South India. According to Pukazhenthi its citizens show empathy with their brethren and sisters in Tamililam in spite of Delhi’s inimical policy. Moreover, he is regarded as a person who speaks on behalf of a suffering humanity by Tamils.

     The Western reader must be aware of the several levels of studies in the book. The basis is the documentation of the sufferings as told by surviving eyewitnesses. Human Rights organizations will find an additional important source of documentation about the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Government, especially on the systematic sexual abuses by Lankan soldiers. The second level is the painter’s artistic creation which reflects these sufferings. He has chosen surrealistic models as “a language”. This part is of great importance for the studies of the Tamil exile community in the West especially for the education of a second and third generation under the heading of memorialization. A third level is the comments by the beholders of these paintings which are well documented and which clearly indicate the retrospective and prospective dimensions of this in art and as action. One can also follow the influence of an active non-armed, humanitarian intervention through art by one person and  how this moves and motivates a whole nation.

     The final level would be my level as an outside observer. It objectifies all preceding levels. I can see the concord of ideas between Veluppillai Pirapakaran’s and K. Pukazhenthi’s understandings of the role of art in society. Below I give an annex of sayings by Veluppillai Pirapakaran.

     From this objectifying and distancing outlook I can safely say that this book is not and does not pretend to be an academic book with regard to criticism of the sources, systematization, theory formation or editorial principles. It is also not a report in an Amnesty International or Asia Watch style about the sufferings of the Tamil people, but it is a book that above all allows Tamils to express their sufferings. This book gives voice to them. It is indeed an important source of study from the inside of the sufferings of the people in Tamililam.