Anyone for cricket?
Sidan uppdaterades: 10 oktober 2023
6 october, 2023 – 14 january, 2024
“I’ve always been searching for the perfect image of cricket,” said the artist Jesper Nordahl in one of our many conversations about the contents of this exhibition. His first encounter with the sport was in the early 1980s. He was living in Sri Lanka for a few years with his parents, who were working on a major dam project in Kotmale, a mountainous region in the middle of the island. A restaurant he often visited when he was in Colombo was the Cricket Club Café, a place that features in two photographs in the exhibition, Cricket Club Café and Signpost, the latter showing a sign in the café garden pointing out the direction and distance to the big cricket arenas around the world. As in many other countries, the colonial heritage is strong in Sri Lanka, and cricket has a tangible impact on the entire urban landscape, just like other parts of the world are dominated by football.
Cricket has its roots in 16th-century England, and the earliest reference to the sport is in the records of a legal case in Surrey back in 1597. In the first half of the 18th century, the sport developed and spread throughout the country. The first rules were published in the mid-18th century, and in 1787, the legendary Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in London and is the custodian of the Laws of Cricket since then. As Britain colonised more and more countries, the sport spread to the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and several nations in Africa, including Zimbabwe.
The first cricket match with women is said to have taken place in Surrey as early as in 1745, but it took many years before women entered the official arena; women were not admitted to Marylebone CC until 1999!
Cricket has a considerably shorter history in Sweden; Stockholm Cricketklubb was the first Swedish cricket club, founded in 1948. The Swedish cricket federation, Svenska Cricketförbundet (SCF) was formed in 1990 and became a member of The Swedish Sports Confederation in 2015. From its modest presence in Sweden, cricket is now growing more popular. The number of clubs has increased from thirteen to more than seventy in just over a decade.
The works in Jesper Nordahl’s exhibition span a period of twenty years and include early films that are highly pertinent to contemporary social and cultural issues such as migration, colonialism and global politics. In the film Cricket, for instance, Nordahl interviews the cricket player Henry Olonga, a key figure in the dramatic events that took place at the Cricket World Cup in 2003. Exactly two decades ago, Henry Olonga and his team member Andrew Flower decided to make a written statement to the press and to wear black armbands during the World Cup to mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. Their protest was condemned by the political establishment in the country, and also by some senior players. Both Olonga and Flower were forced to immediately give up their professional careers in Zimbabwe and leave their native country for a life in exile in the UK.
In Cricket, Olonga talks about growing up and how the sport has captivated and shaped him. He describes the demands he feels that cricket makes on the players – patience and sincerity – and how this in turn influences and maintains humanitarian values. Mean tricks have no place on the cricket ground – where “a battle of wit and tactics” is everything. Olonga also accounts for the many structural obstacles that need to be removed to make this expensive game accessible to more people, and specifically how black players have a hard time navigating the social structures and financial impediments. Above all, he relates the sad course of events that took place in Zimbabwe leading up to their symbolic and dramatic protest at the World Cup. He underpins his standpoints with references to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution and a quote from the Epistle to the Hebrews 4:13 in the Bible: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” In addition to Cricket, the exhibition lets us read the written statement made by Olonga and Flower in connection with their protest, together with a black tape strip of the kind used by the two players as armbands.
In the new film made for the exhibition, Galle Face Green, the viewer is invited to step onto the parkland of that name in central Colombo, Sri Lanka. The film conveys the light, sounds and mood of the place. An informal cricket match is going on in the field, and in the background, the park visitors come and go, or stay to watch. On the other side of the palm trees outlining the area, the traffic rushes by, while several kites loom against the hazy sky above.
This exquisite film is like an animated painting, where the heritage of the place is represented as a parallel level to the present. The urban park is very close to the coast, and adjacent to the country’s financial and commercial centre. In the mid-17th century, the area was used by the Dutch colonisers as a base for their cannons in the battle against the Portuguese, who had governed most of the coastline since the early 1500s. Towards the end of the 18th century, however, the British took over the occupied territories, declaring them a British colony in 1802. In the mid-19th century, the British governor commissioned a walk along the beach, with large green fields that were originally used for golf and horse racing. The first cricket match was played here in 1879. Today, this large area is surrounded by a plethora of symbol-laden buildings, including the old British colonial parliament and the Ministry of Finance, World Trade Center, Bank of Ceylon and several five-star hotels such as the Hilton and Galadari Meridian. Next to the park is a Buddhist temple, the central railway station and small shops and restaurants, and behind them are the port of Colombo, one of the largest and liveliest ports on the Indian Ocean. The park is very popular; this is where Sri Lanka’s national day is celebrated on 4 February, and the place retains its political significance. In 2022, it was the site of major general protests demanding the resignation of the sitting president in the face of the country’s deep economic crisis.
The third film in this exhibition, Jinnah Cricket Club, features interviews made in 2004 with cricket players from the Jinnah Cricket Club in Fittja, Sweden. At the time of the interview, most of the team members were from Pakistan, but also from Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The players talk about their backgrounds and compare how football is played by kids in Sweden in the same way that they played cricket back home. Their love of the game and the team is strong, and several players dream of playing for a Swedish national team. Later the same year the interviews were made, Jinnah Cricket Club won the Swedish Championships and some of its players were later chosen for the Swedish national team.
A compelling part of the exhibition, and the work that marked the start of Nordahl’s cricket project in 2002, is the Cricket articles, a collection of texts that has now been updated with more material. The articles, compiled by Nordahl, are from 2000 to 2023 and reveal how cricket is an arena for local and global social, political and cultural relations and tensions. Here, for instance, are pieces about the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and their request to join the International Cricket Council (ICC). Unlike athletics, football and swimming, cricket was apparently considered to be safe for mixed-sex audiences, since the players are basically dressed from head to toe. There are also several reports on terrorism, such as the plans to kidnap one of India’s star players, Sachin Tendulkar, and articles on how the turbulent political situation has affected players in and outside Zimbabwe, including Andrew Flower’s and Henry Olonga’s scathing criticism of the regime. The latest articles, from 2021–2023, concern the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban resumed power and how this impacted on the Afghan women’s team, and how the Swedish men’s and women’s teams are doing. There is an article praising Azam Khalil, one of the players interviewed in the film Jinnah Cricket Club, for his achievements in the Dream 11 European Cricket Championship in 2021. Altogether, it becomes very clear how charged the sport is, and how hard it can be in practice to separate sports and politics.
A complex story about Sri Lanka’s traditions and colonial heritage is also embedded in the work Cricket bat by the Sri Lankan artist Pala Pothupitiye, who was invited to participate by Nordahl. Pothupitiye interweaves traditional crafts and contemporary art, raising questions about identity, politics and religion. With a background in a family that made ritual masks and costumes and performed healing rituals, he explores and challenges how colonialism introduced a differentiation between art and crafts. Academic art is often considered to be of higher standing than the crafts practised by local artists without formal art education, whose knowledge has been preserved and passed down over the generations. He states that art should be a uniting force, and a way of removing boundaries. Pothupitiye’s bat is meticulously decorated with textiles, and the actual bat face is covered with coffee beans, signifying a historical period in Sri Lanka; cricket was not the only thing that the Brits introduced – coffee growing also increased fast in the 1830s. Over some four decades, the plantations rapidly expanded the economy and infrastructure, but also deforested large areas and led to numerous conflicts. Towards the end of the century, when the coffee plantations were afflicted with coffee leaf rust – a fungal disease – they were succeeded by tea plantations.
Nordahl’s project is based on extensive research. It is equally concerned with the sport itself and its political implications. Cricket is a game with many dimensions that mirrors social structures on several levels. Nordahl has worked on other explorative projects in different parts of the world. His works, which combine practical and theoretical experiences, have evolved from the place, in collaboration with people who work there. The cricket project, for instance, centres on British colonialism and postcolonial issues, but another project of his in Sri Lanka addresses the dam construction in Kotmale that Nordahl’s parents worked on, and the effects and conflicts that can arise in the wake of collaborations between international foreign aid and Western multinational corporations.
Altogether, Nordahl addresses issues that are based on his own life and experiences, but also belong to a larger context. His multifaceted practice presents a range of aspects relating to the subjects he explores. The works invite viewers to follow many different paths through the complex landscape of information offered in the various parts of the exhibition. So, welcome onto the arena of one of the world’s biggest sports – cricket!
Translation: Nordén & Berggren HB
Sidan publicerades: 29 september 2023