Photography expo challenges Sri Lankan stereotypes

By Manori Wijesekera  |  July 15, 2013 at 4:59 PM
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (GPI)-- “The way women are being visually portrayed in Sri Lanka is something that has to be questioned,” says Liz Fernando, a photographer and visual artist in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. Fernando sees two common trends in the visual portrayals of women. “They say that women are treated badly by men, and I think the solution is to get men involved in the discussion. And this project is a good example.” Pradeep Kirindage, featured photographer “Either the woman is objectified, or she is victimized,” she says. “There is nothing in between.” Fernando was one of 45 photographers who participated in “Women – Out of The Frame,” a photography project that ran through July 14 in Colombo. “I think this exhibition is an important step,” she says. “Maybe it’s just the trigger where people start to reflect about this.” Fernando’s submission to the exhibition was an abstract visual creation that merged two women – a young Indian woman from an indigenous tribe in the Indian state of Orissa and a young Indian woman living in London, England. Using Photoshop photo-editing software, she integrated the portraits to create one image. The image aims to redefine the notion of cultural identity, Fernando says. She titled the entry, “In between, we are searching for the tribe, where we belong.” “All I am saying in this photograph is that sometimes we are judged by the way we look, the way we talk, the way we walk,” Fernando says. Through her art, she is questioning how society sees women, she says. “I just want to raise this question and leave it open,” she says. “I myself am trying to find the answer to it!” Sri Lankan photographer, educator and curator Menika van der Poorten conceived and directed “Women – Out of The Frame” with support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. The exhibition took place from July 5 through July 10, with workshops through July 14. The open call for submissions drew more than 500 photographs. A panel selected 80 photographs for exhibition. The photographs were the works of 45 photographers – both professionals and amateurs – from across the country, including foreign nationals living here. For van der Poorten, frustration with violence inspired her idea for the exhibition. Sri Lanka’s nearly three-decade civil war ended in 2009. “There is a growing trend of violence against women,” she says. “We have become benumbed to the violence, perhaps having gone through it for over 30 years. As a society, we shrug our shoulders and go on.” The photography project sought images that went beyond the stereotypical portrayal of women in mainstream Sri Lankan media. The curators introduced the open-ended concept to the photography community through presubmission presentations at special meetings in the cities of Colombo, Galle and Kandy. “The concept of ‘Women – Out of The Frame’ was how you, the photographer, would look at it,” van der Poorten says. “But initially, a lot of photographers thought I was referring to women who were breaking boundaries – sexually and socially – so we had to keep clarifying the concept.” Two well-known creative personalities in Colombo joined van der Poorten on the selection panel. Together, they examined different factors to select the photos to exhibit.

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