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Accepted Paper:

Life as Weapon: The Visual Economies of Tamil War Death  
Vindhya Buthpitiya (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

Where ethno-nationalist conflict magnified the political resonance of war death within fraught imaginaries of nation, state and citizenship, this paper explores visual practices associated with martyrs’ portraits, public mourning and commemoration among the Tamil community in northern Sri Lanka.

Paper long abstract:

During the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009), funerary and memorial practices were intensely politicised in the service of state-building aspirations and cultivating ideal citizenries bound to expanding militarism, total devotion to the nation and sacrifice of the self. A visual economy of war death spanning memorial portraiture to atrocity images underpinned conceptions of an ethno-political self and other coupled with divergent elicitations of ‘terror’.

Following the government forces’ military victory over the Tamil militancy, mediated elicitations of death endure in the postwar, illustrating contested territorial claims and narratives of homeland, histories of resistance, community archiving, and demands for truth and accountability. Images of the war dead continue to pervade communal acts of remembrance, spaces of civilian protest, expressions of political and citizenship grievances as well as demands for justice and accountability for state terror and atrocity.

Where ethno-nationalist conflict magnified the political resonance of war death within fraught imaginaries of the nation, state and citizenship, this paper explores visual practices associated with public mourning and commemoration among the Tamil community in northern Sri Lanka. Centred on the post/war circulation, display, concealment and destruction of Tamil martyrs’ portraits, I will examine how these uses conjure imaginings of alternative political futures as both necessity and possibility.

Panel P052a
Mediating Mourning: grief and justice beyond redemption I
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -