Bright Sri Lankan sunlight simmered the noon time heat as Pilon and Alain set up ladders and cans of paint. After sketching a rough outline, they got to filling color into the blank wall. As the drawings in their heads emerged from the blank spaces, more and more curious folk sat themselves down in the shade of the trees across the way. The boys seemed generally oblivious to the crowd, concentrated and fueled by good tunes, gingersnaps, and guava juice.
In the ten hours it took for their mural to be completed, I had a terrific meet n’ greet with some of the people in our neighborhood
I met a small, talkative, middle-aged Tamil woman named Nalini. She wore plastic, red hoop earrings and Jamaican colors in her outfit that reflected her passionate and politically rebellious nature. She was on her way home after attending a Thai Pongal ceremony at the local Hindu temple. She saw the mural and the gathering that surrounded it, and joined in with enthusiastic approval. She offered the boys a packet of kiribaht (milk rice), blessed by a priest no less, that she had brought back from the temple.
Nalini was quite the socialite. She knew many of the people walking by, and called them over to introduce them to me. She told me her life story, stated everything that needs to be changed with the way Colombo is run, then pointed out the local prostitute who was walking by with her bastard baby, all in one breath. She wisely said the boys should paint murals in Sri Lankan prisons “because prisoners only see ugly walls.”
“If we [Sri Lankans] ask to do something like this, they will definitely say no,” she said in her waggly-headed way. “They will think we want money. But you foreigners come and do something like this – it’s very wonderful!”
Something about the deference in this exclamation made me uncomfortable, so I said nothing.
Pilon was in the tunnel vision, concentrated mind place of painting. My advances toward his mouth with handfuls of kiribaht were distractedly accepted. I could tell I was interrupting his stream of consciousness flowing smoothly between mind and nipple and brush tip and music. The wall began showing suggestions a wolf and a tree.
A toothpick-thin man came up to us. He was wearing a plaid, blue, wraparound dhoti. He sported the powerful and omnipresent moustache. He held a walking stick that aided the shuffle of his dirty, bare feet. He asked what the boys were doing, and I explained. Then he requested, in all seriousness, that the boys advertise his prostitution business on the wall. He even advised with sweeping palm gestures where the words should go. I admired his entrepreneurial vision, that unlikely pimp.
The earth spun a few degrees, leaving the sun behind our western horizon and us in the cooler, more breathable dusk. I saw a man approach Pilon and ask to have his photo taken with the unfinished mural. Pilon, being the accommodating guy he is, stopped to snap a photo. The man went on his way, happily. Ten minutes later, he returned, and asked to see his photo. Pilon explained that he hadn’t developed it yet. This man would return a total of three times throughout the day, posing the same question and receiving the same answer.
Slowly, the leaves and feathers were filled in. Darkness arrived, and a streetlamp lit the scene. A reporter showed up with a camera; someone had given Maharaja TV a call. He took some shots of the mural, the painters, and the crowd watching, talking.
A stunning, Burgher woman came out of the crowd and dominated the screen space. She had captivating green eyes and light skin recalling Aishwarya Rai, and natural performative skills. She went into detail about the mural, making stuff up about how the boys were painting for world peace. “Here we are, Tamil, Singhalese, Burgher, New Zealander, Canadians….And we can coexist in peace!” I watched with amusement at this momentous, first hand experience of the kind of made up bullshit some news reportage can be.
In the end, the boys had their chance to explain themselves to the camera. They spoke about how they were doing it simply to beautify the neighborhood. They noted that sadly, most of the imagery one sees in public spaces are advertisements. Street art provides a more nourishing alternative from the poisons of consumerism imagery.
Hungry hours later, the mural was completed. Whenever I walk down to my favorite restaurant for my round bellyfulof rice and curry, I pass by the wolf and the man disguised as a tree, shooting for the moon under the bright sun.