Jan Egesborg, one of the street artists involved, told Aljazeera by telephone from Colombo on Monday: “With the present unrest in Sri Lanka we came to advocate for peace.”
Egesborg, Pia Bertelsen, and Affex Ventura, who call themselves “Surrend”, short for surrender, plastered stickers around the city centre with slogans that read: “Potentially prosperous society – of course you kill each other; Snow all year – of course you kill each other; Terrible beaches here – of course you kill each other; Food is as bad as in Denmark – of course you kill each other.”
Egesborg said that the text plays with subtle irony, because Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches, good food, sun all year and is a potentially prosperous society.
Up to 60,000 people have been displaced in the country’s northeast, and hundreds have been killed since the recent conflict broke out between the military and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) three months ago.
The violence began on July 20 when Tamil Tigers suspended water supplies to thousands of people in government-controlled villages in the northeast.
Since then the water blockade has been lifted but fierce fighting has killed hundreds in and around the districts of Trincomalee and Muttur, approximately 215 km northeast of Colombo.
A blast on the streets of the Sri Lankan capital in early August killed two people, including a child.
“With the present unrest in Sri Lanka we came to advocate for peace”
Jan Egesborg, Danish street artist
Aid workers have not escaped the violence. Seventeen volunteers from the French NGO, Action Against Hunger, were found dead in their office in Muttur. They had each been shot in the head, execution style. In a report released on August 30, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) accused the Sri Lankan military of the killings.
Muslims from the northeast have said that the LTTE have been terrorising and recruiting them ever since the fighting broke out in July.
At least 65,000 people have died in the long-running war and up to 200,000 people have been internally displaced.
Egesborg said that the reaction to the art protest from locals has been, although slightly confusing, a positive one.
“We put up the stickers next to armed guards and they didn’t do anything. It was easy to put up the stickers, much easier than we thought it would be. As you can imagine the tension on the streets right now is quite high.
“There is strict security everywhere. One reaction that we didn’t expect was the reaction to using English. We used English because we thought it would be neutral, but people don’t like it.”
The stickers are childish in design with bright colours and cartoons of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ weather mentioned in the slogans.
Egesborg said that he believes the reaction was minimal because the stickers were not threatening as images, but he hopes that even if people don’t understand them immediately they will on second glance.
“We hope these stickers stay up for some time and people get a chance to look at them and really understand what they are about.”