Feeling places; city stories

Places have stories. The language that place-stories are told in is complex, multidimensional and surrounding. Discovering the story of a place is not as easy as picking up a book and reading, or watching a documentary about it. You have to find it. You have to wait for it. You have to see it unfold as you watch its people wake up and go about making their morning. You have to pick it up through bits and pieces in conversations overheard on the street. You have to catch it in the nostalgia of someone who was born in that place, but had to leave. You have to dig it out of someone who hated it. You have to taste it in a tea shop frequented by its street labourers. You have to feel it seeping in through your pores while sitting alone at dusk, in its oldest quarter.

We were commissioned by @urbanislandcolombo to create bite-sized stories of three Sri Lankan cities; Colombo, Kandy and Galle— each with its distinct cultural aura. We were working with the already set identity of the concept store; At the same time, the stories had to be created to sync up with a contemporary island narrative that Urban Island was building parallel to the tropical modernism movement. Incorporating elements of cultural interest is already tricky. In order to avoid mainstream depictions of these places, the chosen elements could not be too popular; At the same time, they couldn’t be too subversive and completely miss the commercial audience’s understanding or experiences of these places. The stories had to sell; And, they did.

Although we created the stories specifically for postcards, Tshirts, cushions and poster prints, their popularity had Urban Island using the stories or their isolated elements on many different items. With the idea of travelling and discovering new places changing drastically in our post-pandemic times, we’re curious to see how people will continue to remember and hold on to places.

We were excited about this project for two reasons; it was a project that combined both our individual expertise in writing and visual art, and it was an opportunity for us to crystallise some of our favourite experiences and places in Sri Lanka. The series was to target both Sri Lankans and travellers. We understood that for travellers, the city stories series should be about taking back a fond memory from their time in Sri Lanka. Our strategy for the Sri Lankans, was to make the series about celebrating a memory about their hometown, or a place they have a connection to in their country.

The challenge for the writer was capture a special story, feeling, icon or an experience about each city, in just a few words; and, because we wanted to make the writing for this project to take the form mini poetry, the challenge also meant there had to be some form of rhythm or rhyme. 

The project was fun to work on, and from what we hear from the Urban Island team, the series is becoming somewhat of a cult favourite among their shoppers.

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