23 April, 2024


Shrine of the Innocents: [DIS\RE] APPEARENCE of a memorial

By Dr. Jagath Weerasinghe

Shrine of the Innocents (The Shrine), a memorial made for those lives lost in 1988-1991 massacre in the south of Sri Lanka, is being erased. I as the designer and maker of this monument thought I should record my thoughts on this [DIS] APPEARANCE of the Shrine, which in a way, I mean in a conceptual way is actually a [RE] APPEARENCE of a monument which is much more relevant,  and symptomatic of the civil and political society of Colombo|Sri Lanka or of Sri Lanka  in general.

I as the designer and maker of this monument thought I should record my thoughts on this disappearance of the Shrine,

I have said, at the beginning of the para above,  that the Shrine is being erased, — but I have not said who is doing this erasing. Normally I have the habit of

disclosing the ‘doer of an action’ when I write in the passive voice, but here, the reason why I haven’t mentioned the ‘doer of the action’ of erasing the Shrine, is simply because I don’t know who is actually ‘doing’ it. Of course I know that it’s physically done with the approval of a government authority. I am not stupid and blind not to know that, BUT yet I don’t know who is ‘actually’ doing it. I have the (mis)fortune of passing by the Shrine almost everyday, morning and evening, seeing it being erased, seeing it being deprived of its earlier meanings; seeing it being transformed to something else; seeing it being pushed along its [DIS\RE] APPEARANCE.

History of the shrine in brief

The Shrine has a history – a sad one, a distressing one. It’s a history that questions the probity of the social conscience of the southern society of Sri Lanka. I was in Washington DC when the bloody history was unfolding at home. I escaped the ‘bloody-melting pot’ by a month or two. I left for USA in April 1988. Stories/news of disappearances of people were just beginning to get our attention. Studying for my MFA degree in painting at American University in Washington DC,  I transferred/ transformed news on death and violence from home into my art.

The need for a memorial of this nature came up at the time when madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge was running for office in the mid 1990s. She became the President of Sri Lankan in 1994. When she was campaigning for office, the Mother’s Front, that comprised of mothers of lost/ murdered children in the south of Sri Lanka supported her in the campaign. While it is believed that more than 40000 young men and women were murdered in the south of Sri Lanka during 1988-1991, one bloody incident took more attention than the other smiler ones: the abduction and murder of 33 school children at Ambilitiya, a village in the south of Sri Lanka. The parents of Ambilipitiya incident, who were part of the Mothers Front wanted a memorial for their disappeared/lost/murdered children. Which the presidential candidate, Madam Chandrika Bandaranike promised and she wanted to do a memorial, as promised once she became the President.

The need for a memorial of this nature came up at the time when madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge was running for office in the mid 1990s. untitled-colombotelegraph

The Shrine today; see the pictures below.img_20291 colombotelegraphimg_20381 colombotelegrph






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Latest comments

  • 0

    when a society betrays its soul, it does not leave behind memories.

    Unfortunately I have to bring the realpolitik of this which is inevitably ethnic. The post war Sinhala political culture is ‘soullessly unconscious’ ( ගන්දබ්භ) It has only a lurking desire to be somebody with heavy weight of guilt of the past. In that situation anything that reminds its moralities will be erased. As a person who was involved with the project team at different levels, I would write only this: The Sinhala political and cultural society has agreed to pay a historical price to hold on to its ethnonationalist hegemony. It has mortgaged its normative subconsciousness in defeat of the LTTE terror.

    when this society turns back ( if all that is possible) it will not be able to weep enough. Thus will recreate further illusions and myths.

    Jagath, I feel your pain. It is in many way collective. But then is this not the price we pay when we agree to disagree and live outside the mainstream? you decided to be different and question. the meta-narrative of history will never have room for alternatives. My fear ( and deep sadness ) is that not even the immediate circle of your students/contemporaries/artisans are willing to raise such question?

  • 0

    yes, this is sad situation. I can imagine how hurt it.

  • 0

    No shrine exists for the victims of the Bindunuwewa Massacre and of the 52 political prisoners killed in the maximum high security prison at Welikada.
    If shrines were to be erected for all victims of massacres,there will be no end to it.
    The army bulldozed all LTTE cemetries at the end of the war,& noone objected – an efficient erasure of memory of past victims of terrorism & counter terrorism.

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