Sun-dazed Sri Lanka(ns)

A while ago I wrote an ineloquent rant about a British article that portrayed Sri Lankan cuisine and its people as curious objects of the tropics, the latter of which didn’t understand what a national treasure our hoppers/aappa/appam were and needed a white woman to ‘discover’ it for international/British consumption. A few weeks ago, while eating said aappa at home watching television I came across this advertisement by Munchee for the release of their new (and admittedly delicious) cracker, the Sun Cracker. It shows a white woman tourist who blogs and internally discusses what makes Sri Lankans such curious people, referring to an interminable number of stereotypes about ‘island people’ such as how they’re ‘easy-going’, ‘agree to anything’, and ‘the best part is, they let things go’. She posits that, oh, it must be because of *drumroll* the Sun (cue images of Sun cracker hidden in people’s hands/pockets). I swallowed my aappa in quiet anger, infuriated at this same caricaturing of Sri Lankans as harmless, happy-go-lucky, sun-dazed simpletons who don’t know what they’re worth and need a benevolent foreigner to point it out. Of course, I was even more so outraged that this advertisement came from a group of Sri Lankans them/ourselves. Since when did we start defining our own self-worth by how foreigners see us? OK, I hear you, since forever. But to the point that we are reproducing this Orientalized image of ourselves to market products to ourselves. My disbelief warrants the double bold-italic emphasis.   Continue reading

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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

Dynasty and Double Standards: Women Leaders in South Asia

This article was published by Roar.lk. Full article here: http://roar.lk/features/of-dynasty-and-double-standards-women-leaders-in-south-asia/

While the U.S. has arguably shown the world that it would rather have a leader that grabs pussies than has one, in South Asia only the Maldives and Bhutan (which is a patrilineal monarchy in any case) have not had a female head of state. Political scientists have been fascinated by this exceptionalism of female leadership in Asia but much of the research says the same thing.

“… the easiest way for a woman to enter politics is to marry a politician”[i]

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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