“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies”-Noam Chomsky
Sri Lanka needs a broad consensus for its direction in social and political transformation. A realistic and healthy consensus would depend on the right collective perceptions and perspectives. Our academics and intelligentsia have a lead responsibility in creating such perspectives among our people. Except for the movement for good governance initiated in the lead up to the last change of government, our academics have generally been disengaged with what has been going on in our country. A culture of self-centredness reigns among the learned in our island polity. The consequence is that politicians have had the field for themselves alone.
In fact, many of our artistes join existing political configurations in order to eke out something for themselves from the ongoing power struggle. The supreme goals of the blessed land is left behind. This is Sri Lanka today. Malaysia and Singapore, once behind us, are forging ahead leaving behind the island torn with dissension and lacking in direction. Governments are like fire fighters- dousing fires as and when they occur.
Among the intelligentsia, artistes can play an effective role for many reasons. Not only because they have captured the public imagination. “Through their expressive talents, artistes can challenge cultural narratives, shift imagery and inspire emotions in a way that traditional political methods alone rarely do.” In a 2013 essay entitled ”Change the Culture, Change the World,” artiste Favianna Rodriguez puts it this way: “You may attend a rally or vote, but you also read books, listen to music, engage with visual art, turn on the radio and create your identity through culture. Artists are central, not peripheral, to social change. To have the movements that make the wave, you need cultural workers.”
Sri Lanka, unfortunately, have had few cultural workers taking the lead in a desperately needed transformation of social and political milieu. Some of these guys have also joined the bandwagon of the growing numbers of birds who feather their own nests. We had one prominent and talented man who once announced that the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, hails from the same pedigree line as Sakyamuni Buddha! Other artistes are seen on reactionary political stages clowning on behalf of reactionary reversal. This has been historically true of other societies, too. Some artists, like Van Gogh or Pollock, have been true to their own aesthetic vision; others, like Picasso and Warhol; not. One critic, observing how Picasso mass produced some of his work (50 versions of the same line) asked,“Did Picasso mass produce art out of greed?” Greediness is human-unfortunately. To empathise with the ‘dishonest,’ among us we have to realise that our kind of artiste do not make mega bucks like those in the West. Our art is still in its infancy as regards market maturation.