Modern South Asian Studies seminar MT21 Wk 7: Atrocity Nation/State Amnesia: The Photographic Debris of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Conveners: Nayanika Mathur, Imre Bangha, Kira Huju, Thiruni Kelegama and Anwesha Roy

Speaker: Vindhya Buthpitiya (St Andrews)

The final years of the Sri Lankan civil war were transformed by a significant development in the technics of photography. In the mid-2000s, increasingly accessible compact digital cameras and mobile phones in the hands of an eager public rapidly supplanted film photography. Unrestrained by finite exposures or time-consuming and costly processing, hundreds of images could be immediately generated, viewed, modified, stored or transmitted globally by a single device. As a result, a surplus of such digital images documenting the horrors of Sri Lanka’s ‘No Fire Zones’ were captured by both victims and perpetrators of wartime atrocities. In the postwar, these photographs and footage persist in active online and offline circulations underpinning competing political claims and demands for justice and accountability. Centred on the public commemoration of the 2009 Mullivaikkal massacre, I examine the unruly afterlives of atrocity photographs within contexts of Tamil civilian resistance and remembrance in northern Sri Lanka. I consider how these postwar mobilizations serve as visual enumeration of state violence and reinforce collective imaginings of alternative political futures as both necessity and possibility.

Vindhya Buthpitiya is an anthropologist and curator working at the intersection of conflict and visual culture. Her current research focused on war, photography, and civilian resistance in northern Sri Lanka considers the local and global aftermaths of civil conflict through the making and moving of images. Vindhya is an Associate Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews and a member of PhotoDemos: The Camera and the Political Imagination at UCL Anthropology.

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