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Sri Lanka has a long history of monumentalizing and memorializing. Both rural and urban islandscapes are scattered with Buddhist stupas and irrigation tanks built by pacifist as well as war-mongering monarchs, rock stelae proclaiming conquests, cave inscriptions commemorating acts of beneficence, statues of colonial and nationalist rulers, tsunami memorials, war cemeteries and ‘victory’ monuments. Monumentalizing has also been accompanied by iconoclasm, in post-war Sri Lanka, and the battle for memory and forgetting plays a central role in the Sri Lankan state’s fraught relationship with its Tamil population who have borne the brunt of a three-decade long war. This paper delineates certain contours of this festering wound while exploring an alternative politics of bereavement and memorialization encompassed in the work of one of Sri Lanka’s foremost artists.
Malathi de Alwis received her PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago and is currently affiliated with the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo and the Open University, Colombo. She has also taught at the University of Chicago, New School for Social Research, New York, the International Women’s University, Hannover and the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She has written extensively on nationalism, humanitarianism, maternalism, suffering and memorialization and is the co-editor of Tsunami in a Time of War: Aid, Activism and Reconstruction in Sri Lanka and Aceh (2009), Feminists Under Fire: Exchanges Across War Zones (2003) and Embodied Violence: Communalising Women’s Sexuality in South Asia (1996). De Alwis has been involved in environmental, feminist and anti-war activism for much of her life and is the co-founder of several feminist peace organizations in Sri Lanka as well as the United States.
Dr. de Alwis’ lecture is part of a larger programme at York University, organized by the Centre for Feminist Research. For more information, visit http://cfr.info.yorku.ca/.