Citizen Memory and ‘Demons in Paradise’

Demons in the plural

Demons in Paradise is neither the only creative work that provides a critical introspection of the Tamil community, nor the only one that constructs the image of the perpetrators of violence as otherworldly ‘demons’. In 2014, Neervai Ponnaiyan, a veteran Sri Lankan Tamil writer, published a collection of short stories called Devils and Demons. The stories are creative fictions but based on situations and stories rooted in reality. It is critical of violence, as perpetrated by all sides, giving primacy to depicting the suffering caused to ordinary people. However, the fame of Ratnam’s work and recognition at the Cannes Film Festival, the immediacy and easy dissemination of the film medium, and perhaps the aesthetic and storytelling, will eclipse other similar works such as Ponnaiyan’s. This critical introspection is also sure to capture public attention and imagination for a while; there was consternation amongst the audience whether this would be co-opted or cherry-picked to suit convenient political narratives. It is important to note, then, that Ratnam’s movie treats demons in the plural: colonial legacies, ethnic violence, community violence and more. As Ratnam deals holistically with his own critical introspection through the movie, he challenges the audience to do the same.

Our stories

Ratnam’s film is part of a wider trend in the artistic community towards using citizen memory and art to fill in the gaps in our history books and media sources. Radhika Hettiarachchi’s Herstories exhibit used stories from women across Sri Lanka affected by conflict-related violence, drawing upon commonalities in their shared experiences. Ruwanthie de Chickera’s Dear Children, Sincerely…, a play and series of monologues, is based on stories narrated by older generations about happenings in Sri Lanka from the 1930s onwards.

Perhaps the preoccupation of the arts sphere with citizen memory stems from a desire to fill in the silences that we grew up with. Where we do not have clear information or hard facts, we still seek stories. Nearly 70 years from 1948, official sources are still not able to look truthfully at the multiple violences of our post-independence years. Yet, our desire to know motivates us to listen to the stories of our elders, as Ratnam does in the film. But are we then, especially young people, to rely on the arts to fill in these silences? Must the arts shoulder the responsibility of providing to the Sri Lankan community what official sources still refuse to?

 

This is an excerpt from an article first published by Roar Life. See the full article here

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Sri Lanka – a Bibliography on arts, culture and politics

I compiled this bibliography for The School of Oriental and African Studies where I was a Chevening Scholar completing my Masters in 2015-2016. My major was in the Politics of Culture and my research focused primarily on the nexus between arts, culture, and politics in 20th and 21st century Sri Lanka.

Contents are as follows:

  • Politics and History: Civil War, Ethnicity, Insurgency
  • Politics and Theatre
  • Language, Politics, and Linguistic Nationalism
  • Literary histories, overviews, and the politics of literature
  • Cinema
  • Culture, Arts and Violence
  • Miscellaneous anthologies

Document here: sri-lanka-a-bibliography-compiled-by-annemari-de-silva