9 December, 2019

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‘Women – Out Of The Frame’ – A Visual Treat In Colombo

By Ajita Kadirgamar

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.

Brett Davies

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.

Sharni Jayawardena

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.

Asanka Darshana

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.”

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Latest comments

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    Interesting.

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    This exhibition was a great idea and all the folk who contributed to try to change the dominant visual culture of soft focus (wildlife) photography of Lanka should now move to more political engagement and sign a petition for 30 percent of women’s representation in local and national government.. support Rosey Senanayake’s Bill and start a campaign for women’s political participation in Lanka – where women are MOST underrepresented and STILL STUCK IN THE FRAME!

    Thanks for this review!

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      BS, let women decide that whether they want 30 or 100%.

      Don’t screw up taking western ideas into your mind. Sri lanka or east did not oppress women coming into leadership positions. for decades, in Sri Lanka , university educated women give the profession for marriage.

      In the west, Women got even VOTING RIGHTS and they were very late to come to Eastern standards.

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        Jim, Jim…, first of all you are worried about Western Standards and you call your self Jim Softy… may be you have become very soft in your brain! What is wrong with 30% seats. Can you do me a favour, go to your monther, wife if you are married, your sisters if you have any and ask them how they feel. Then you will know the truth. This is exactly like the majority community in Sri Lanka think it knows what is best for the minority communities without asking the minorities. If you are truly a strong believer of Eastern (Sri Lankan) standards then you should allow your mother and sister to be bear breasted and you should be wearing a “amude”, the cloth Rajapakses are wearing around their neck.

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        JimNutty:
        Typical unmitigated rubbish from this man who now qualifies as a misogynist without equal, in addition to his other “qualifications.”
        Why don’t you crawl back under the Rajapaksa Rock from which you emerged, you unmentionable?

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    Really? [Edited out]!!!!

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    This exhibition is a contribution to the ‘conversation’ about women’s rights and issues of equality. One of the exhibition related workshops last week there was a clear consensus amongst the participant (not just ‘western educated ‘) women that women here have very little respect accorded them either from the state or a large part of the male population. Sri Lanka is in crisis whether we like it or not! The percentage of women in parliament in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are way more than in Sri Lanka.

    What has equality and parity for women got to do with ‘western education’? I suppose we are not human and are not entitled to human rights because its ‘western’? way to go Sri lanka!

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    Those who missed this exhibition can view it on http://www.outoftheframe.lk

    A brilliantly curated exhibition that showed photographers amateur and professional portraying women in different contexts – outoftheframe.

    Some photographs chosen such as Liz Fernando’s, Natalie Soysa’s and Ruvin de Silva’s are outoftheframe for their use of different techniques such as double exposures,experimenting with lighting and manipulation of images, creating fine artworks. There were photographers like Pradeep Kirandage who framed women in such away that the photo was a composition in itself.

    There were many photos that have captured Sri Lankan women in familiar everyday life and rituals which are so much part of our backbone but are rarely shown in their reality – whether it be R.H. Samarakone’s portrayal of “someone’s daughter, sister cousin, wife or grandmother”; Nayanahari Abeynayake’s “Untitled” image of a lady on a road shrugging; Nazreen Sansoni’s candid shot of mothers getting ready for their kid’s graduations; Surangi Sangarapillai’s – image of a woman walking on the beach; Saroja Vitharanaarachchi’s portrait of a woman tending to a vegetable patch, Mahendra Madanayake’s – “Being Seen” and Sujani Wijesundara’s Sugathadasa Stadium images. These are a few of the many that fit into this genre and all of them are special in their own context.

    There are photographs from photojournalist such as Selvarajah Seanthan, Revati Chawala Olivia Bonnal Sansoni, JayanthiKuru Utumpala, Sachini Perera, Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai, Lakisha Fernando and Sharni Jayawardena which portray strong – often marginalised women.

    There are simple stunning portraits by Aamina Nizar and Karen & Brian Knutsen.

    Images that make one laugh like W. Dilanka Thilakarathna’s – The hungry Bride and Aamina Nizar’s Untitled photograph.

    Then of course there are my personal favourites because of the composition or colour:-
    Daniel Ridicki’s – Multiple Roles
    T.Krushanth’s -“A mother arm is made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them” Victor Hugo
    Indeewarie De Silva’s – Sweet and Sour pickle seller at Galle Face.

    And the most sort after was Savithri Vithanage’s wonderfully compositioned photograph.

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