The Incomplete Thombu is an artist’s book project commissioned and published by Raking Leaves. Thombu, a word derived from the Greek tomos, from which the Latin tome, or large book, originates, was a term used by the Dutch to describe a public land registry. The Incomplete Thombu examines the subject of Tamil displacement during the civil conflict in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009. The attempt to register one document on top of another maps out further displacements between what is remembered, what has been taken away, and the stories left behind, in a conflict that has torn apart its land and its people for over thirty years. The book poses as a bureaucratic document file bearing the following text:
The contents of this file provide records of properties and lands belonging to Tamil-speaking citizens prior to single or multiple displacements from their homes. The enclosed documents (1–180) are made up of three related elements: ground plans of houses drawn from memory by displaced civilians (with interview notes on reverse), architectural renderings of collected ground plans and dry pastel drawings made in response to all of the above.
Those interviewed were displaced from Jaffna and the surrounding area during the civil conflict in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009. Floor plans cover a range of structures, such as courtyard houses, colonial bungalows, temples, two- or three-unit houses, orphanages, bunkers, roundhouses, and farm buildings. Ground plans represent subjective images of properties and houses lost, abandoned, destroyed, or seized. All drawings related to built structures are not drawn to scale and are subject to interpretation.
This project was carried out between January and July 2011. All characters appearing in this work are based on real persons. Any resemblance to fictitious events is purely coincidental.
T. Shanaathanan was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1969. His exhibitions include Mismatches, Saskia Gallery, Colombo (2011); Non-Aligned, Barefoot Gallery, Colombo (2011); Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver (2009–2010); The One year Drawing Project, Devi Foundation, India, and Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia (2010).