On a cold, wet and miserable Saturday afternoon I decided to seek shelter from February’s weather at Lydia Ourahmane’s first solo exhibition in London. As a regular visitor to Chisenhale Gallery, I immediately noticed the difference to the main doors and entrance of the gallery space which are typically wooden but currently have a dark-mirrored effect achieved by covering silver doors in black sulphur (which over the course of the exhibition will revert back to silver as visitors and staff entering and exiting the space rub the black sulphur off). Another peculiarity is a wooden floor running throughout the space, which again is specific to this exhibition and embeds ‘Paradis’, a sound installation of audio recordings made by the artist in her native Oran, Algeria. Once these differences were noted, it became apparent that there is very little actually on display, and all three exhibits are concentrated in the right hand corner of the room, furthest from the door. These comprise a narrow display cabinet showcasing documents referencing the artists grandfathers’ resistance to military service under the French occupation of Algeria by extracting his own teeth, an x-ray of her own mouth showing a missing tooth, and a single gold tooth pinned to the gallery wall. As you read more of Ourahmane’s story and learn that she purchased a gold necklace from a market seller in Oran believing it had belonged to her mother, melted it down and cast two gold teeth from it, inserting one into her own mouth to replace a missing tooth and putting the other on display as part of this project, the exhibits resonate with each other and come full circle. Artistic soundscapes are often lost on me, and this was no exception, but despite not having a strong visual impact, Ourahmane cleverly manages to create a meaningful narrative using very few words, and raises pertinent questions about displacement, absence, family and place.
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Sri Dalada Maligawa – or The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – as it is more commonly known is situated in the northern hill country of Sri Lanka, in Kandy. With only two weeks to see as much of the country as possible, I’d only allocated twenty-four hours in the cultural hub so had to be picky about what we visited, saw and ate! But this temple was a must, with its’ stunning location on the man-made lake that dominates the city. The temple is within the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy; the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings before falling to successive Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rule from 1600’s onwards. The structure you see today was built by Vira Narendra Sinha with later additions by Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, as well as extensive reconstruction following the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) bombing in 1998 during the country’s civil war. Historically it was believed that whoever housed the tooth relic (tooth of Buddha) held governance of the country, and today the temple continues to be venerated by local and international Buddhists, politicians, and tourists alike. Everyone is invited to remove their shoes before entering the sacred land, you then cross a moat littered with locals selling lotus flowers and other offerings, and enter via an archway flanked by elephant sculptures and decorated with vivid red, blue and yellow murals. An elaborately carved two-floor structure of wood and ivory bedecked with gem-stones, elephant tusks and traditional paintwork, topped with a gold canopy enshrining the tooth is breath taking. We were also fortunate enough to visit early and catch the morning Tevava ceremony with Puja drummers and pipes accompanying the ritual offerings to the tooth. The grounds add to the experience and are filled with the smell of incense, burning ghee lamps, jasmine and lotus flower – and a slightly tired but informative museum on the upper floors of an adjoining building helps give context to the significance of this temple.
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