Sri Lankan born Irish artist Michella Perera explores the edgy co-dependent relationship between the fictional representation of a culture and the tourist industry. Under the radiant traditional garments and embroideries lie the fetishization and mystification of oriental tourism in Western ideology. The fascination of “the exotic” generates the mythical portrayal within their understandings and preconception. The resulting image and objects that signify the culture become icons in which the original context and historical value are reduced. She stated that the phenomenon ironically juxtaposes the belief of cultural tourism: to acquire knowledge and appreciation of another country through traveling. Tourism is however based on the attraction of the mystified and the fetishized, and highly depends on it. The bewitched process is thus inescapable.
Michella Perera is intrigued by the absurdity within touristic behaviour. “I am interested in shrines,” she says, referencing the particular space where we place items which we have collected from our vacations. The arrangements of her made objects, as if displayed on a shrine, are in flamboyant colours. “There is this expected vibrancy of tourism…. People expected to see colours, but also they tend to dress ‘on-holiday’ with all the colours on them.” In addition, she pointed out the “I’ve been there, I know” attitude, while much knowledge is in fact a generalization or built from preconception. “I got a lot of people saying ‘Namaste’ to me. I don’t speak Hindi, I learn Sinhalese.”
Born in Sri Lanka and having moved to Ireland at the age of ten, she is also on the quest of self-discovery through tourism and binary cultural discomfiture. Confrontations with the sense of in-and-out not only appear in geographical context but also in her own cultural identity. Her appearance is distinctively different from those in Ireland, and at Sri Lanka her posture is clearly one of the tourists. “In Sri Lanka, I don’t particularly read Sinhalese well, so then I have this feeling that you are drawn in and spat back out at the same time.”
Her practice is then “a resolution without a resolution” for this complex sensation. Michella has been in search for the materiality of the language, through learning the origin of letters and understanding it physically. She explained the Latin alphabets are angular due to its origin from stone carving; whereas the medium of Sinhalese was dried leaves. The strokes flow along with the hair of the leaves, ending in letters without angles. She started to make the letters out of clay and carving them into plaster. “It’s just spending time with the letters that I don’t necessarily understand, in the hope that maybe I can understand them more sculpturally, more materially.”
Her work has a strong sense of bodily interconnection. In addition to her exercise in letters, which she playfully refers it as “to physically understand something linguistic without understanding it linguistically,” she works on embroideries and body positions in papier-mâché. The art work is not only a practice for her to comprehend the in-and-out sense, but it also encourages viewers to relate to them through their body, instead of through identification and naming.
Written bu Huai-ya Lin
See Michella’s work in the upcoming exhibitions
Friday 20 September
Saturday 21 September – Monday 23 September
PILOTENKUECHE International Art Program