There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

— George Bernard Shaw

About ‘Frames of Power’

Corridors of Power, in 2015, was the culmination of several attempts to articulate through architecture, a fundamental critique of Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution. Since 2015, the locations in and out of Sri Lanka the exhibition toured in or was taken to always resulted in highly animated conversations around the structures, designs, blueprints, drawings and frames around the constitutional moments we presented, for the public to use as they saw fit. Older men and women spoke of their memories of the constitutional changes, and referendum. Younger members of the public, including children in school, were drawn in by the designs on display to talk about how they saw political power located in or exercised through executive, parliament and judiciary. Parents spoke of their fears and anxieties around violence in the future that would impact the lives of their children, because of the systemic flaws in our present constitution. Teenagers and undergraduates spoke of aspirations and how a new constitution could create a context and conditions ripe for their fulfilment. Those in the South engaged differently to those in the North and East, critiquing different aspects of constitutional change. Those within the South didn’t agree either, with audiences in Colombo generating very different conversations to those who encountered the exhibition in Galle. The idea, clearly, resonated. It was novel, engaging, thought-provoking and kindled the kind of interest in constitutionalism that one hoped was more widespread but knew was not.

I couldn’t, however, escape the fact that for all its merits, the construction of the structures, the blueprints, drawing and 3D models were all single-sourced from Channa Daswatta. This is in fact simplistic and reductionist. Daswatta was the channel through which months of conversations with Asanga and I found form and expression. And yet, it was still, at best, a conversation amongst three individuals, and worse, who weren’t distinguished by an irreconcilable or large difference of opinion. Our critique as a tableau for the conversation amongst a larger public was still a top-down process, the very thing that essentially, we were trying to raise public awareness around the dangers of. We didn’t see ourselves as the final arbiters of truth, meaning or reading. We didn’t hold our reading of what we had presented as having a greater truth than a critique generated by the exhibition, that didn’t concur with our framing. The whole point of ‘Corridors of Power’ was to create a platform - a way of thinking, talking and tabling ideas around constitutionalism - that many thought was the domain of experts, politicians, or elites. But I wanted to go beyond what just the three of us could conjure up.

Frames of Power builds on the idea that architectural models and modelling can help with the considered, citizen-centric critique of constitutional reform. The critical point of departure from ‘Corridors of Power’ is in how it places in the hands of each visitor, user or citizen the power to create their own model, as a visual artefact that through aesthetic projection of political power, encapsulates the drivers or motivations of what gave it form and function, and a critique of these impulses. Citizens quite literally model their responses to ten key questions, that in turn helps them think through their answers (and underlying biases) through real-time, 3D modelling.

The idea is also broader or more profound than just a critique of Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution. Though the initial website is geared to focus on a domestic audience, the idea of this project, Welikala’s questions, Daswatta’s basic building blocks and the technology employed can be used to create a platform, or many, that critique any constitutional model, in any country. ‘Frames of Power’ is an entirely novel critique, democratic by design, that helps us understand better the political landscapes and context we subjectively perceive, often socially construct, politically respond to and collectively inhabit.

Not unlike Lego, the guiding vision for this project was to create a way in which a visual pastiche of models, which can also be 3D printed physically, reflected how differently – based on geographic location, age, gender or religion – contemporary Sri Lankan society looked at constitutional authority and political power. Through this, I hope to frame and flag a greater truth – that it is only through the open recognition of difference and its underlying drivers that we can create the kind of conversations necessary to envision a future that more fully captures our democratic potential. Or to recall Shaw, to think of why what someone else created looks very different to what we want to see, and then ask, without venom or violence, how we can build better, together.

Sanjana Hattotuwa