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php?AnrId=9&CatId=3&offset=0&limit=12 Though reading a variety of texts is a routine part of academic practice for any academic, reading of annual reports is certainly not a priority or even a passi ng thought. Personally, I consider annual reports of numerous organizations in a ny part of the world as a colorless, humorless, passionless genre of documentati on that does not deserve the attention of a discerning reader beyond those assoc iated with the organizations concerned. But annual reports are important indicat ors of what an organization has achieved in a particular year and what its futur e hopes and expectations might be. In an ideal world, reading annual reports sho uld not merely be a matter of reading statistics and descriptions provided, but also of assessing the modes of presentation and creativity of presentation. Ofte n though, as we do not live in an ideal world, annual reports are hardly creativ e. In this general context, I was very surprised when some weeks ago I received a c opy of Bank of Ceylon's annual report for 2009 by post through I am neither a cu stomer nor affiliated with BoC in any way. For me, it was simply a bank where my father did all his banking, and nothing more. But I must confess that the annua l report, aptly titled What Matters, completely took me by surprise. I was surpr ised at not only the elegance of the product but also by the sophistication of t he conceptualization and presentation. Momentarily, I was not sure whether I was looking at an annual report of a bank or catalogue of an art exhibition. Withou t a doubt, this is the most tasteful and elegant document of this kind I have se en in a long time, and certainly the only one I have seen in this country. In a way, the genesis of this review lies in that initial surprise. At this particular moment and in so far as my review is concerned, I will not fo cus on BoC' self-perception, the record of its achievements, the plans for its f uture and the statistics presented. My interest is to ask the following set of q uestions by undertaking a brief visual audit of the document: what makes it poss ible for a state sector bank working in a climate that generally lacks of creati vity, to produce an annual report that incorporates drawings, installations, scu lptures, performance art, and amalgamate these trappings in a dynamic manner to present the story that the bank wants to narrate. It appears that this approach is well captured in the explanatory line which appears in the inner cover page o f the document: "the flow of local and global events make us realize that it is no longer enough for us to go with the flow. New vistas need new answers... answ ers that must spring from deep analysis of self and revisited fundamentals." In so far as the production of the annual report is concerned, the BoC seems to hav e clearly lived up to this slogan. I take it as axiomatic that for a considerable time art has not been considered by many not simply as a means for decoration and self gratification. It is also a means to many other ends. Though no serious debate on this issue has taken pla ce in our country in recent times, even ancient temple murals were not commissio ned simply for the sake of art; they were also expected to narrate many stories that would aid in the process of Buddhist socialization as well as to create the moral community of Buddhists. It is in this intersection where 'art as art' and 'art as narrative tool' meets that we must locate this document. It shows the e xtent to which art can be effectively incorporated within a usually colorless do cument such as an annual report to bring life, movement, meaning and vitality in narrating a story. Every important position the bank wants to stress has been c ombined with commissioned or carefully selected artworks accompanied by a captio n and a specific text and figures that narrate the overall story. For example, t he installation plus performance art works captioned, 'is there another way' and 'what matters is not the load' effectively gives life and meaning to specific a
spects of BoC's current corporate position - the need to be different and the in tention of being efficient and doing something right. Similarly, the installatio n captioned 'what does matter?' consists of a what appears to be iron nails made to look like a group of people - not just any group of people but an exhausted group of people. The accompanying description refers to the end of war and the n egative impact it has had on our society, and the need to move on. But it remind s us that "there is much to straighten out in the future.' Even without the desc ription, the artwork might have narrated much of the story. When carefully 'looking' through this document, one consistent thought continued to nag me. That is the relative inability or difficulty to review an annual rep ort. As we know, such activity often does not take place, and a methodology to d o this might have to be formulated in times to come. In this context, the only r eal way to understand and appreciate this document is to actually see it. But this is not an accident. To produce something this successful at least in ar tistic terms, many things have to come together, particularly in the prevailing circumstances: first and foremost, the BoC had to have the vision to literally " go where no one had gone before", to use a phrase from Star Trek. It is not mere ly a matter of making the correct decision but also of making a new decision tha t I assume might not have convinced too many people in Boeir own previous public documents. Second, it was also a matter of selecting the correct team to concep tualize and operationalize something that is truly creative. So, BoC's second su ccess was to select Smart Media to carry the idea of producing a different annua l report into realization. It is very clear that they have done this impressivel y. Third, Smart Media was able to put together a team of thinkers and artists to make this happen. Much of the art work has been produced by students from the U niversity of Visual and Performing Arts. If we look at the final product as a cu lmination of a series of correct decisions and a specific process, then it is cl ear that seemingly incomparable sectors could be put together to produce somethi ng creative if the correct ideas are in place and if individuals making right de cisions are in correct places. In this case, the product is the result of a symb iotic relationship between a state sector bank, a private sector company special izing in producing annual reports and finally, a university focused on the inven tion and production of culture, widely defined. My only reservation is the lack of individual acknowledgement of the artists in the production of this elegant report. They are acknowledged as a collective. Bu t I believe if individual acknowledgment was given as to who produced which artw orks, it would have more comprehensively added to our understanding of the proce ss and the art itself. It would also have been an enduring recognition for the y oung artists as well. Perhaps this is something that BoC and Smart Media will ta ke into account in their future endeavors. One hopes that the process of this en deavor and the final product will offer us a respite to think about the possibil ities that can become realities even in the generally colorless and unimaginativ e circumstances of the Sri Lankan corporate world.
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