Halos – Zoya Siddiqui and Janet Meaney

“Halos”, performed in Sri Lanka, was a collaborative performance piece that explored the intersection between the mundane, human, sacred and the spectacular, through the centralized use of the “halo” symbol as a visual, cultural object. With the appropriation of fantastical and kitschy halo imagery ingrained in the everyday landscape of Colombo in specific, the work sought to reactivate the symbol through a recontextualized usage, re-engaging with the Colombo public.

“Halos” in Colombo:

The work originally stemmed from specifics of the cultural/visual landscape of Colombo, particularly the use of the LED halo as not just a religiously meaningful symbol, but more importantly as a kitschy/spectacular visual tool used in various sacralized yet mundane nooks and corners of the city, encased behind represented deities.

The use of the LED halo was instantly striking; the static symbol has culturally been made dynamic in the cityscape with the use of new technology, pointing towards the re-integration and “upgrade” of ancient ideals/beliefs into new media forms to retain their relevance. This renewal further emphasizes the humanness or human-centeredness of symbols in general, constantly and consciously updated/preserved to remain a part of everyday vocabulary and stream of consciousness, revealing subtly the persistence of certain dreams and desires of the people. The symbol, in this cultural renewal to reaffirm its meaning, acquires a new identity.

“Halos”, as a performative work, looked into this new identity and cultural/visual aspect; it offered the opportunity to stretch, expand or transform the usage of this dynamic, new media symbol to see its renewed engagement with the public. Our motivation was to break it from its cultural/normative usage and further involve it in the everyday experience of the city (at a sidewalk or bus stand), emphasizing its “spectacularity” yet “mundanity” in the process, and testing social responses to its new existence. The LED halo was uprooted from its original context and given an alternative narrative in the everyday realm as fantastical bodily extensions of two ordinary participants in the city, transformed temporarily into a vision to behold.

The everyday human was spectacularized or, in a sense, sacralized. Overall, “Halos” stretched the dialogue between everyday visual/cultural vocabulary and the sacred/fantastical by further “re-integrating” the symbol into ordinary life as a new spectacle in performance.  It further “spectacularized” yet “mundanized”, causing a ripple in process. The work hence carried hints of iconoclasm yet was not overtly so – it showed interest in the very specific cultural, new media usage of the halo, without subverting the halo as a symbol in historic usage.