By Ajita Kadirgamar –
When the call went out, over 500 photos were submitted from all parts of the island. Forty five photographers were chosen to exhibit at ‘Women – Out of the Frame’, a photographic exhibition supported by the Norwegian Embassy and the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. Interestingly, though the theme was around women, there were an equal number of men and women photographers participating. The resulting show held from July 5 – 10 was a well curated, thematically neatly balanced collection of photographic stories. Worthy of mention are some of the following photographers and their work:
Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai (Dushi)
I first met Dushi on a bus while travelling with a group of journalists invited to attend the Jaffna Music Festival in March this year. I was immediately struck by her outspoken, fiercely independent spirit. A journalist/photojournalist for 20 years, she is the first female Tamil journalist to have traveled independently through the battle zone covering the war.
For every photo she takes (and there are many on her blog) there is a harrowing story to go with it. Stories of loss, grief, endurance, struggle and improbable hope. Dushi’s photos and stories give a voice to the unheard mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who continue the quest for their menfolk even though the war is now long over. If there’s a story to be told, especially one of human suffering, Dushi is bound to be there with her lens aimed in sharp focus. Great things lie in store for this photographer. She is definitely of award winning caliber.
Australian national Brett Davies and his wife came to Sri Lanka seven years ago – and they are still here. Opting out of the western, corporate lifestyle, they have made the coastal town of Hikkaduwa their home. They relish the simple village life as well as surfing, photography and their four dogs. Of his photos Davies says they “depict the day to day moments in the lives of Sri Lanka’s women; ordinary moments of work, play and emotion – real life!” His three entries portray women at work (the stone quarry worker is the cover of the exhibition catalogue), at play (village women playing cricket in gleeful abandon) and in protest (a Tamil woman holding a placard as she walks in a protest rally for missing persons). It is refreshing to see such honest images of women through the eyes of a man and a ‘foreigner’ at that. Or perhaps it is because he is (still) an outsider that he sees the dignity, pride and individuality of Sri Lankan women, in a way that local eyes have forgotten.
Jayawardena’s transition from documentary filmmaker to photographer has been seamless and inspirational. She captures faces and landscapes with breathtaking clarity and depth.
Her contribution to the exhibition is a series of four images, ‘Kotta Kilangu’, depicting a woman hanging Panai seedling roots to dry in the morning sun. Taken during an excursion to Delft, the remote island off the coast of Jaffna, the series provides a rare insight into life on the island. These four photos viewed alone are casual and ordinary views of a woman tending to her crop, but Jayawardena’s entire Delft portfolio is a periscopic view of life on an island we know little of; one which has very few resources and which has maintained a certain way of life unchanged for centuries. Jayawardena now ranks among the top Sri Lankan photographers in her genre.
Particularly captivating is Asanka Darshana’s untitled photo of two city women clad in fashionable dresses and large sunglasses, sitting on a hilltop in a tea plantation. A tea plucker and two other estate women walk into the frame while the visitors smile at the camera. The tea plucker in her traditional garb, heavy load suspended from her head, casts a sideways glance at the women as she passes by. Her expression is so open to interpretation. Is it envy, disgust, curiosity, or sheer incredulity she is experiencing at the presence of these outsiders, so out of place in her rugged work environment? The moment presents such a dichotomy on the roles of women: the haves and have not’s, the conventional confronted by the ultra-modern, those with time to sit and stare versus those for whom every minute of the day and every tea leaf plucked is measured by hard earned rupees and cents. Darshana claims photography is to him an art that calls for intelligence, concentration and delicacy. Kudos for an image that finely displays all three elements.
Lakshman Don Rajith Nuwantha Perera
Perera is a student in Image Arts at the University of Kelaniya. He believes “a single photograph can convey complex meanings far better than any essay containing hundreds of words”. This is true to an extent with his entry titled ‘A Step Forward’. The elderly Buddhist nun’s face is etched with a myriad of possible emotions of which fatigue is just one of them. How many shots did he click to get this perfect moment which leaves one wondering about the fragile bhikuni clutching her Bo leaf?
It is hoped this exhibition will tour other parts of the country and even internationally. Project director Menika van der Poorten has done an excellent job in her quest to “add to the ‘voices’ that are attempting to change the visual culture as well as societal perceptions in the country.”