My final days in Hikkaduwa were spent trying to resolve the matter of 72 old brooms that on their return from Colombo had no home. I felt that the work should be a complete cycle, in which I had exchanged these objects as a mechanism for meeting people, building relationships and learning something of daily life here and that therefore the brooms should also be used in my response to the understanding I had gained. I worked initially with photographic work I had made, creating portraits for each brush, playing with their qualities as these slightly humorous faces with bad hair days. I was interested in the very simple connection between a mundane every day object and something that makes us laugh a little. I explored how the pictures worked printed in passport photo style and then I made a simple pack of snap cards with them. I liked the idea of returning the images back into something you might interact or play with and in a form that requires you to really look and observe the individual differences of each broom head. I made several packs of cards to distribute in the village.
I had also a chance meeting and interesting conversation with a screen printer at the very end of our road, who had learnt the skill through one of the aid projects that was offered by European organisations during the Tsunami. Like the lace maker his skill was now used to run a business with in tourism and I spoke with him about my broom images. As another experiment I designed a screen print using some of the broom portraits and we printed these onto fabric, which I then sewed into tea-towels. I was trying to play with both the tea-towel as this object that is strongly connected to British tourism and European daily household life. I gave these tea-towels as gifts when I left to some of my neighbours.
For the physical brushes I designed a few simple structures to create which allowed them to somehow infiltrate back into the community and to react to ideas that originated during my time learning about the village. I made a set of cricket stumps for the boys who play cricket at the end of our garden every day. I also made a shop sign for the lady who runs a tiny wee stall and a guest room in the house opposite us, the place is barely visible. A bundle of de-headed broom handles were bundled up and donated to the local community project run by our neighbour who was setting up new premises in one of the neighbours’ gardens. These were going to be used to create the fence for the perimeter of this dance hall. The remaining brooms were joint together to make the Skelton shape of an enormous umbrella. Shade and shelter is something I have learnt is extremely valuable in the village and the climate. For an afternoon I opened up the garden gate to invite some of the local kids and families to help add colourful fabric to this shape before hoisting it up into our tree. The location for it, was chosen to directly shadow the round concrete platform in our garden above the water supply. Addressing the space above this circle in this way completely changed the platforms function; it became a social space to gather under and to sit in a round.
These days of activity ended with an evening collaboration between the other artists, Jo and Robbie that I lived with. We tensioned a bed sheet into the space at the front of our house porch and as dusk came on the final night, we organised a projection of two animations onto this screen, very large and visible from the road and our open gate. For my animation I showed a sequence of the broom portraits and Jo and Robbie made a beautiful and fun visual using paper flip flops and flowers, accompanied by some energetic music. We also placed kerosene lamps around tables and under the broom shelter with packs of the broom playing cards and cups of juice and biscuits. Many of the neighbours came and lots of them bringing children. The young men sat for the whole evening in a circle under the umbrella structure, playing cards by lamp light. The women took up positions on the chairs, watching the animations while the children grew steadily more hyper with the sugar, but between dancing huddled around the lamps to play with the cards.
It was a perfect exhibition to conclude such a colourful intergrated stay in Sri-Lanka.