“…we are living in a period in which the present lives off the past, in a kind of a “present past” with the result that we lapse into what F. Hartog calls “presentism”. This past that lives in the present has been called “traumatic”, “sublime”, “spectral”, among other things… we live in a new order of time…” (Maria Ines Mudrovcic)
History is inescapable. As human beings, our bodies are inscribed with connotations that in many ways defy temporality, and in our modernity, refers to parallel representations of cultures, events, moments and emotions. Our bodies are historically marked, while emotionally ‘present’ with a desire to invent the future. Human beings’ desire to root themselves to a place and space where identity, communality and belonging matters to a great extent, the urge to trace historical trajectories to know the ‘truth’ of the past has obsessed mankind. Closer to home, Steven Kemper’s book, The Presence of the Past: Chronicles, Politics, and Culture in Sinhala Life forcefullynarrates the story of ancient Pali texts that has recorded Sinhala ‘history’ impacting the consciousness of Sinhala people thousands of years after their compilation in imagining not only the present and the past but the shape of their collective future as well.
In the same instance,people’s temporal distance to the historical moments of their past and the power of human imagination leave a large probability and possibility for invention and interpretation of historical fact. Thus do we make history or does history makes us what we are today? This is a question often asked, and an answer to this couldtake us on a deep and nuanced exploration of the implications of history on the human being as well as the human condition. The idea of ‘making‘refers tomany meanings, and when it is juxtaposed with the word ‘history,’ it gives interesting implications to ponder on. One definition of making (make) is to bring into existence by shaping, modifying or putting together materialand the other isto cause to exist, or happen . Within these definitions of ‘making’, the idea of ‘making history’ can be construed in two ways. One is where the ‘present’ is taken as the interpreter, the assembler or the presenter of ‘past’ while the other exposition gives the ‘present’ as the reason for ‘past ‘to exist. Either way, within both these axioms the ‘past’ is interrogated as construction or an interpretation mediated by the ‘present’ with an anticipated future. Therefore history situated within the above discussion is about the present as much as it is about the past.
Some see history as a contested space where many tug-of-wars for multiple claims have been fought to lay claims to a subjective past for a subjective present that could define a subjective future. Shrouded within academic exercises, political rhetoric and archeological investigations for its authenticity and endorsements, history somehow remain embedded in collective memories of a mega scale.History remains etched in memory within individuals and communities as exercises of civic consciousness and/or as nostalgia and remembrances of a past as an ‘emotional experience’ recounted in a totally personal context or a performative public context. We are all burdened by and bounded within a certain history which is remembered, refreshed, re-interpreted and re-narrated by the mediation of a memory that is individual and collective. Both imbued with the interpretive and reconstructive possibilities, history writers, memory keepers, interpreters and commentators of history, society and culture often collate their visions, hallucinations and interpretations of ‘truths’ about life mythicizing parts of history through a memorializing process. We construct our ‘truths’ through selective histories and selective memories. Therefore, we make our own versions of history through historical interpretations that over time might well become part of a larger history.
Within the discourse of visual art, artists have been unhesitating in interrogating history in the collective and individual memory, and often their interventions and engagements with historicity and remembrances have brought out narratives of resistance, voices of disquiet and foreboding aesthetics where the society is made not to forget. In this process, history is interpreted, recounted and mediated within their artistic personalities and particular intentions. In the hands of artists, temporality is extended, made to suspend or warped thereby letting history lose its linearity of progression. Allegory and metaphors in their aesthetic exercises add layers to the already subjective memories and selective histories framed via multiple interpretations. Artists become memory keepers, narrators and documenters of an interpretive history which is ciphered through an aesthetic and conceptual veneer to be read and reread as art.