I was invited by the WEF GlobalShapers Colombo Hub (see Facebook page here) to showcase the ‘Corridors of Power‘ exhibition again and also to speak on it.
The exhibition, first held in 2015 at the JDA Perera Gallery, was unlike any other project combining design, architecture and constitutional theory. It occupied a very large floor space, which wasn’t available at the GlobalShaper’s venue this year. I had to then compress the entire floor plan and as much as I could of the background into two high-definition, which ran on a loop on very large LCD screens. The four models representing the ’72 and ’78 constitution as well as the 13th and 18th Amendments, were displayed at the venue.
Interrogating constitutional power (between centre and periphery) through architecture, as a design venture that sought to engage citizens to think more about how they are ruled, has never once been attempted before, anywhere in the world. The project brought together one of the country’s foremost architects, one of its leading constitutional theorists and I in a three way, over year long conversation culminating in the exhibition, anchored to architectural principles, design, aesthetics and constitutional theory.
‘Corridors of Power’ interrogates 40 years of Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution, through architecture. What is a constitution? What place and relevance, if any, does it have in the popular imagination? Do citizens really care about an abstract document most would never have seen or read, when more pressing existential concerns continue to bedevil their lives and livelihoods, even post-war?
Led by the input of Asanga Welikala and in collaboration with Channa Daswatta, ‘Corridors of Power’ through architectural drawings and models interrogates Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution since 1972. The physical exhibition, held first in late 2015, critiqued Sri Lanka’s tryst with constitutional reform and essentially the tension between centre and periphery. The original exhibition output included large format drawings, 3D flyovers, sketches, and models reflecting power dynamics enshrined in the the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, as well as the 13th, 18th and 19th Amendments.
The exhibition clearly demonstrates the futility of even more amendments to a constitution that since conception 1978 was deeply flawed. It highlights the outgrowth of authoritarianism, and the illusion of stability. It gives life to the phrase, “the centre cannot hold”. Through errors thrown up by the architectural programme Autodesk Revit, significant flaws of our present constitution are clearly flagged. The models will collapse over time. The drawings are increasingly grotesque.
The architectural output makes abundantly clear the failure of our constitutional vision.
All this, we countenanced. All this, we could have opposed. All this, we voted in, defended or were silent about.
‘Corridors of power’, as with all my exhibitions previously, is an invitation to reflect on what we have been hostage to in the past in order to imagine a more just, inclusive, open future. Spaces to meet, reflect and react need expansion. The checks and balances of power need firmer foundations. Centripetal tendencies in design must be eschewed in favour of centrifugal development. We need open spaces instead of closed sites, grass to walk and play on instead of just to admire. Easy access to key locations. Light, more than shadow and shade too, where needed.
In sum, we need to be the architects of the change we want to see. It is the essence of citizenship. It is what gives life to a constitution worth having. Worth knowing.