The story of Sura Medura

Sura Medura

From Thursday 20 April to 19 May, UZ arts present an exhibition to celebrate the work created by artists at the Sura Medura Residency in Sri Lanka at The Briggait, Glasgow.

Ahead of the exhibition opening tonight, we caught up with Neil Butler, Artistic Director of UZ Arts to find out more about Sura Medura and the work that’s being presented…

Sura Medura

What were the origins of the Sura Medura Residency programme?

I was in Sri Lanka in 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit, destroying most of the village I’d been staying in. My friends and I who had witnessed the tsunami  wanted to support the area’s recovery from the disaster as best as we could so with with the support of Glasgows Lord Provost Liz Cameron established the charity Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund (HARF). We started with a programme of restarting businesses, and created a boatyard to allow for the rebuilding of the fishing fleet. Once we’d rebuilt around 250 plus boats, we asked the local community what they’d like to do with the boatyard and they said they would like to set up a community arts organisation.

This became the Chandrasevana centre, and with funding from the then Scottish Arts Council and the INSITU Network, along with support from the Glasgow School of Art, we were able to start bringing in Scottish and international artists to live and work in the village.

In 2010 the lease on the centre finished, but the initiative continued at new premises at Sura Medura including a programme of artist residencies supported by Creative Scotland, Arts Council England and INSITU. Artists in residence work closely with the local community and are inspired by the area’s culture and story, creating work of an incredibly high standard.

Sura Medura

Can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming Sura Medura Exhibition at the Briggait?

Scotland-based artists Nichola Scrutton and Natasha Russell will present collaborative work Wave Shift that emerged in the months following their time on the Sura Medura residency at the end of 2016. The work seeks to explore how experiences and understandings of a place shift over time or between people.

English-based artist Sumit Sarkar will also present work from being on residency at the same time, alongside work from previous Sura Medura artists Maria McCavana (2007), Hannah Brackston (2013/14), Sita Piercinni (2013/14) and Stephen Hurrel (2015). We’ll also be joined by artists who literally returned from residency two weeks ago Zoe Katsilerou, Ross Whyte and Lewis Sherlock, so it’s set to be an incredibly interesting evening. Essentially the exhibition is a retrospective and an appreciation of the exceptional standard of work that has been created as a consequence of Sura Medura.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we can best connect Scottish audiences with the work created through and inspired by Sura Medura, and at the launch I’m excited to make some announcements about new initiatives that will do exactly that.

Wave Shift ©Natasha Russell

Are there any common threads that run through the work being presented in the exhibition?

Undeniably, the culture of Sri Lanka, the culture of that particular area and the situation we started with all play a prominent role in the artists’ experiences.

Another common theme that tends to emerge is just how life-changing the experience can be. The shock of suddenly being totally emerged in a different culture and climate often results in some real self-reflection, and the artists find themselves asking questions of identity and meaning. Residents are encouraged to blog throughout their residency and these can make for some very interesting and revealing reading, watching and listening.

So, I’d say certainly the culture of the area and the personal impact of the experience itself are the common threads that run through the work presented in the upcoming exhibition.

Sura Medura

What is it like to be a Sura Medura resident?

In terms of facilities there is lots of open space, as well as an open-air studio to allow for different approaches and practices. We encourage artists to work closely with the local community as we have a real long term relationship with the fishing families who were part of the original project. We also encourage collaborative working. For the first four weeks residents make work on their own, then in the last two weeks they’re asked to work in collaboration. As we tend to have a mix of Scotland-based, England-based and international artists on residency at the same time this can result in some partnerships that might not have occurred otherwise, and some truly exceptional work.

The Sura Medura International residency has been the most fruitful experience of my artistic life.- Zoe Katsilerou, Dancer

We have had some really fantastic feedback from involved artists about their experience including:

Jo Hodges / Robbie Coleman, Performance Artists (2013): “The residency has had a profound impact on us both personally and professionally and our experiences there continues to inform our practice here in Scotland. For artists working in a public context or as socially engaged artists it is a unique and enriching opportunity to develop and deepen practice.”

Alex Rigg, Performance artist (2014): “The residency offers a challenging and stimulating environment in which to attempt new approaches to work. It exists in a way that is culturally new and very different to anything that I have experienced before and certainly did allow me to generate many new ideas. I have not taken part in a residency programme before and was very glad of the opportunity to consider performance approaches, which were new to me and to present work to a very different kind of public.”  

Tom Pritchard, Dancer (2014): “To go out to a country like Sri Lanka as an artist is to jump into an entirely new way of creating art. It is a place that allows you to truly discover the limits of the experience available at 'home', and then to bring that expanded perspective into the heart of your entire artistic output.”

Natasha Russell, Print Maker (2016): “The experiences of taking part in the Sura Medura residency is already directly influencing the forms, thought and my approach to collaborating and engaging with people through my practice. I’m sure that the experience that I had there will continue to feed my work for years.”

Nicola Scrutton, Sound artist (2016): “The Sura Medura International Residency in Sri Lanka was a life-changing opportunity to confront and challenge my own creative practice in a very different environment, learn about and engage with another culture, and make international connections.”

Zoe Katsilerou, Dancer (2017): “The Sura Medura International residency has been the most fruitful experience of my artistic life.”

Ross Whyte, Sound Artist Composer (2017): “This entire experience has transformed my life and strengthened my skills as a solo composer and sound artist, and as a collaborator. It’s a different person who stepped off the plane in Glasgow and a better artist for it.”

In addition, International Cultural Consultant Bob Palmer attended and witnessed the residency for four weeks and said: “The experience of UZ in managing such a project is of inestimable importance, since UZ is an organisation that has substantial experience and a strong track record working with artists from around the world, promoting cultural and artistic exchange, nurturing experimentation and new ideas, and supporting research and the development of new work with an emphasis on presentation to diverse publics. They are at the forefront internationally of implementing such projects.

“I highly commend Sura Medura in terms of its creative delivery, opportunity, value and impact.”

The Sura Medura exhibition launches at The Briggait, Glasgow on the evening of Thursday 20 April, running until 19 May. 

Find out more about UZ Arts.

Find out more about Sura Medura.

This article was published on 20 Apr 2017