Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Prageeth : Missing without trace

By Charlotte Jansen | The Art Journal

Prageeth Eknaligoda was a renowned and talented journalist and cartoonist. He disappeared a year ago after leaving work on January 4th, 2010, in Colombo, Sri Lanka - and has not been seen since - despite the relentless efforts of his wife Sandya and his son who have committed their lives to finding Prageeth, launching campaigns and working with media and human rights groups around the world. Their story may tragically never be resolved, but Sandya has undoubtedly done a huge amount for raising awareness on an international level about the intrinsic problems with human rights in Sri Lanka, and more widely, questions the relationship between art and politics.

The Sri Lanka government has come under fire for not issuing a thorough investigation into Prageeth's disappearance, and it is widely speculated that he was abducted for political reasons - his cartoons were critical of the government, aligning more with the views of the opposition party the JVP. The Sri Lankan government has a long history of media harassment, indeed Prageeth had been abducted and released previous to his disappearance last year. Dozens of Sri Lankan journalists are now living in exile.

Prageeth's drawings have a laconic kind of beauty; perhaps it's projecting what I know onto what I see, and is therefore being too reductive in doing so, but they seem to be full of sadness of being restrained, at unable to explore his own boundaries as an artist.

Because of this devastating story, Sandya Eknaligoda finds herself now catapaulted into the spotlight of the Sri Lankan media. She was just recovering from illness when I contacted her via the group Journalists For Democracy in Sri Lanka, and she had to painstakingly translate her answers from Sinhala, but I eventually received these fascinating insights into Prageeth's life and work.

How did Prageeth begin working as a political cartoonist?

At the beginning, Prageeth worked as a graphic artist in a advertising firm. Then he started working for magazines and journals. While he was producing cartoons and art he continued to engage to engage in writing on daily basis. He has produced many journalistic pieces and some have been published posthumously. In 1994 Prageeth joined Lake House, a government-owned leading newspaper establishment, as a cartoonist and worked therein for sometime. In 2006 Prageeth joined Lanka e-news. Prageeth is a person with many talents – he was painting and making sculptures too.

What do you find most important about his work?

I mostly appreciate character of Prageeth: the man who lived inside him. To me there are two prominent characteristics in him: 1) kindness and love for the people; he even look back with compassion on the people who intimidated and dispossessed him. 2) sharp cosmopolitan thinking and straightforwardness in action. He possessed a very good power of memory entwined with clarity. Mostly he was with the capacity to convince the other. He is special.

What inspired Prageeth?

His love for democratic practices and ideas is immense. I am saying this because he drew cartoons mostly during the period of democracy at peril in Sri Lanka. For instance, during the period covering 1987 - 1989 he was endangering himself by providing casting a veil over so many personalities who were facing the witch-hunt of the government then in power.

How did his work continue under the Rajapakse regime?

When Rajapakse regime started to bury democratic practices and norms systematically, when it started to treat the ethnic issue in hegemonic manner, Prageeth started to express his vehement opposition. He believed that democratic federal solution is the only way to resolve ethnic crisis in the North and East provinces. When the war and brutal killing started in North and East in 2008, he was openly saying that chemical weapons were using against the Tamil people and he has found evidence to prove it.

What do you believe was the most powerful thing about his work?

In 2009, Prageeth was kidnapped by a group of undercover people who came in a white van; but he was released on the following day. He was bold enough to write about this torturous drama in detail and publish. it Knowing that his phone lines were tapped, and that he was bring followed by plain-clothed policemen, he engaged in his day to day work cautiously and tactfully. During Presidential election campaign he worked for General Fonseca.

How can people here help with your campaign?

Your organization and you can make the Sri Lankan government accountable for this heinous act and interrogate them - interrogate them about Prageeth and his disappearance. I intend to organize an Exhibition of Cartoons in the near future. At present, I have been sacked from my job. I am bounded with debts. I need to continue in this struggle, and anything anyone around the world can do to help, is a blessing.

© The Art Journal

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