A Tale of Two Cities – A cross-cultural exchange between contemporary artists in India & Sri Lanka

An art project conceptualised by Renu Modi; Presented by Gallery Espace and Serendipity Arts Trust; Supported by Theertha Artists Collective.

Anoli Perera, Bandu Manamperi, Chintan Upadhyay, Jagath Weerasinghe, Manisha Parekh, Manjunath Kamath, Pala Pothupitiye, Paula Sengupta, Pradeep Chandrasiri, Ram Rahman, Riyas Komu

A Tale of Two Cities is a year long cross-cultural exchange which brings together the diverse practices of 11 leading contemporary artists from South Asia. An art project committed to developing dialogues between artists in the region, A Tale of Two Cities is supported by a unique partnership between a commercial gallery space and two non-profit organizations. The project was conceptualized by Renu Modi, is presented by Gallery Espace and Serendipity Arts Trust and is supported by the Theertha Artists Collective.

The project began with research visits to the historical cities of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and Varanasi in India. A diverse group of artists engaged with the project, each with an established, critically acclaimed practice of their own. Over the course of a year, a dynamic dialogue developed and has been extensively archived.

In addition to the travelling exhibition, the project resulted in an archive of video and photographs documenting an extended investigation and collective dialogue between leading artists into the complex socio-cultural dynamics of two highly symbolic sites in South Asian history: Varanasi (India) and Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka).

On Sacred Ground: ‘The Living Sacred’ as a Curatorial Approach

(Excerpt taken from the catalogue note by Ruhanie Perera – Curatorial Adviser)

Varanasi and Anuradhapura form the site, the stage, the place of artistic interpretation and intervention in this cross-cultural artistic exchange. It is a place of meeting that brings into focus, while interrogating, narratives of archaeological ‘truths,’ of complex, contested ideologies juxtaposed with the metaphysical and the poetic.

These are cities of ritual: sacred and secular, intrinsically interwoven into the life of the people that populate these complex geographies. These are also cities of growing urban trends, with the workings of globalization seeping into the sense of community, rhythm and way of life here. Sites of heritage, of myth, of history and memory, that have over time, acquired many meanings, they are also ‘living’ cities – and so, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ seeks to ask what informs the approach to the idea of the city; these cities in particular, in terms of their positioning as sacred living sites and their contemporary political present. Located in states of transit – much like the two cities that sit between the terrains of history and religion, sacredness and modernity, life and death, war and peace, violence and healing – the traveling artist becomes provocateur, sifting through versions of truths, signifying frames and the many ideological claims on the two cities.


Gallery Espace was established in New Delhi (India), in 1989 by Renu Modi with an exhibition of autobiographical works of MF Husain, Modern India’s most celebrated artist and one of the founder members of the path-breaking Progressive Artists Group. Primarily built around the vision of its Director, Renu Modi, the endeavour has been on representing artists who concern themselves in the realization of work dealing with issues reflecting contemporary society’s concerns; documenting today’s reality. Her artistic vision being based upon an inter-disciplinary approach to fine art, uninhibited by preconceived notions and theories of the art movements of the past. Espace, under her vision, can be credited for organizing curated exhibitions, probably some of the first in the Indian art scene, providing a platform for leading art commentators and journalists to translate their ideas into an artist-shared pictorial vision (Drawing ’94, Sculpture ’95, Mini-Print ’96, The Self & The World, An Exhibition of Indian Women Artists ’97, Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai ‘01, Bronze ’06). Most recently, Espace had put together a presentation ‘Drawing 2014 – 7 Decades of Indian Drawing’, as a part of its silver jubilee celebrations and ‘Diary Entries’ with five eminent women artists. With having artists like Zarina, Nilima Sheikh, Amit Ambalal amongst the seniors and Manjunath Kamath, Ravi Agarwal, G R Iranna, Waswo X Waswo with R. Vijay amongst the contemporary artists to name a few in its stable, Espace has carved a niche for itself not only in India but in the global art scene.

Serendipity Arts Trust [SAT] is a Munjal initiative for the promotion of creativity and imagination in arts and culture.The Trust intends to act as a platform aiming to promote new creative strategies, artistic interventions, and cultural partnerships. It aims to support dialogues, which are responsive and seek to address the social, cultural and environmental issues in innovative ways. Committed to innovation, SAT intends to support and create opportunities for creativity and the arts, propelling unique cultural and historical sources of information and knowledge for modern & contemporary art and culture.

Theertha is an autonomous, artist-led non profit initiative based in Colombo. It was established in 2000 by 11 artists to facilitate the local community of artists in innovation, experimentation, exchange and dialogue within Sri Lanka. The core objective of Theertha is to explore the possibilities of exchanging ideas and knowledge across ethnic, regional and artistic borders, in the context of contemporary critical art practice in Sri Lanka. Theertha has been working for the artists’ community for 15 years and has in more recent times emerged as an organization for informal and formal organizations and individuals that are interested in working for the artists’ community who have similar aspirations as Theertha. Theertha’s most important function has been as facilitator and promoter of Sri Lankan art and artists in the international and regional art scenes. Through regular international art exchanges it has maintained artists mobility within the South Asia region and beyond connecting artists to form networks and friendships. Theertha started its own gallery space ‘Red Dot Gallery’ in 2007 to showcase experimental art. It still remains as one of the main venues for innovative and experimental work in Sri Lanka.

8 – 31 March 2017 | Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
July 2017 | Red Dot Gallery, Theertha Artists Collective, Colombo

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