Photo by Natalie Soysa, for Groundviews

In August this year, Groundviews will launch a compelling collection of content to commemorate 30 years since Black July. The content will feature original podcasts, photography and writing on a dedicated website.

Building from the critically acclaimed Moving Images two years ago, Groundviews brought together leading documentary filmmakers, photographers, activists, theorists and designers, in Sri Lanka and abroad, to focus on just how deeply the anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983 has shaped our imagination, lives, society and polity.

The resulting content, featuring voices never captured before, marrying  rich photography, video, audio and visual design with constitutional theory, story-telling and memorialising, has no historical precedent. Curated by Groundviews, the project is an attempt to use digital media and compelling design to remember the inconvenient, and in no small way, acts of daring, courage and resistance during and after Black July.

An exhibition will be held in Colombo in August to launch the project website (which will also serve as an archive for the narratives). It is hoped that over the coming year, what’s selected for display in the exhibition will travel around Sri Lanka, and hopefully, even beyond.

More details of the project, producers and exhibition will be posted on Groundviews in the coming weeks.  The project will feature,

A photographer and researcher working together to capture the narrative around and from,

  • The only surviving senior most female ex-combatant, who joined the LTTE after 1983 pogrom. Her husband too was a combatant and surrendered in May 2009, though she hasn’t heard anything about him since. Black July in 1983 was a turning point for her. She gave up her education and joined the LTTE. She has fought numerous battles – even after getting married and giving birth to children – and got badly injured.
  • An elderly Tamil woman who has lost her belongings, including sarees and jewellery during the 1983 pogrom. After 1983, she and her family have moved to the North and lived there for awhile. She is now back in Colombo, where the memories of Black July continue to haunt her. She has struggled hard to regain her lost identity as a woman and as a Tamil, and still feels its loss.

A renowned architect exploring the concept of deities in the shaping of Sri Lanka, which will include,

  • Exploring the architecture of cities and understand the reaction of societies towards lesser deities and demons who occupy spaces and create perspectives that also influence and shape the form of society.
  • Explore the influence and transformation of Jaffna, Galle and Colombo, directed by their deities and greater gods such as nature, after the events in 1983.
  • Create three very large canvas prints that will focus on the concepts of deities and their influence on Sri Lanka, especially on Jaffna, Galle and Colombo.

A photographer and researcher working together,

  • Capturing compelling stories, through podcasts, of a few individuals who lived through Black July. The audio and accompanying photography will refocus attention on what happened in Black July by recording the lives of ordinary people, their actions and emotions.

A female activist and researcher,

  • Document unspoken acts of heroism that took place 30 years ago, including the stories of people and places that provided shelter to those who were at risk of being killed.
  • Produce a series of photo essays consisting of a three-part segment that will depict three locations where riots took place in July 1983.
  • Use of archival footage in order to visualise, as far as possible, the locations as they were in 1983

A photographer who collaborated with Groundviews on Moving Images will work on,

  • Highlighting “Sri Lanka’s moral-intellectual vacuum, the absence of sanity and decency, the negative stereotyping and scapegoating and the deliberate dissolution of individual identities” from a Muslim perspective.
  • Focus on 1983 as a decisive point in time for the Muslims of the country.
  • Content in the form of a narrative portraiture series adopting the audio slideshow format, which would consist of black and white photography with singular voices.

A unique Sri Lankan collective using photography to capture narratives around development will,

  • Explore the development and usage of information and communications Technologies (ICTs) in Sri Lanka over the last thirty years through a combination of original photographs and compelling narratives
  • Explore the use of different types of ICTs today and how it has or hasn’t altered the social and economic context of Sri Lanka, which will, in a broad sense, aim to resonate with the causes and long-term effects of the July 1983 pogrom.
  • Create individual features that will visually narrate the influence of ICTs on individuals or groups at national, regional and local levels across Sri Lanka

A documentary filmmaker and photographer residing in Switzerland will look at,

  • Perspectives of the 1983 Pogrom by the Sri Lankan diaspora community in Switzerland and France.
  • Ten individual stories from Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala members of the diaspora capturing their memories of Black July, and how it impacted their lives, even when living outside Sri Lanka.

Two activists and photographers collaborating to,

  • Explore narratives of women and men that have not been hitherto explored in the context of 1983 and the three decades that followed,
  • Photograph sites and landscapes that are often featured in personal narratives around Black July,
  • Audio interviews and photographs focusing on, but not limited to the themes of gender norms, sexuality, sexual orientation, masculinities and violence.
  • Each of the productions will feature an intergenerational and multi-ethnic interview of a minimum of one individual selected from the following five groups: 1. Family, 2. Activism, 3. Art and Literature, 3. Victims and Survivors, 4. Spirituality

A leading constitutional theorist paired with a visual designer to look at,

  • Visualising to what degree Sri Lanka’s legal and constitutional architecture has changed since July 83.
  • A timeline of key constitutional moments since July 1983, including constitutional amendments, important elections, minority representation (also in local government), bills presented, passed and rejected, and extra-constitutional methods and means through which governance has been altered and moments like the end of the war in May 2009. Each constitutional moment identified will be anchored to a score noting how much it can help prevent or contribute to another pogrom.
  • Dev

    Thank you -while there have been many pogroms against the Tamils the 83 one is etched in our collective memories the strongest !

    I would like to highlight a quote of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on the holocaust that is relevant even in the context of 83:

    The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering…I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’

    The importance of preserving the history of 83 (and learning from it) is realized in the last part of his quote……” if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”

    This could happen with 83…it can happen with many of the atrocities done by the LTTE too but this is is less likely given the numerical majority of the Sinhalese.

    • Inoka Karu

      Thanks for the quote of Eisenhower, never heard it before but its def applicable for many of Sri Lankas events too

  • Jayalath

    I heard once one of the president of sri lanka had told publicly that he would make shoes from the Tamil people’s skin . I do not know the truth of it but I heard so. However , I’m a witness of 83 ,I still can remember what happened on 83 And did not know what all about at that time . I only remember my father secretly brought about 5 Tamil men with him and kept them in our house untill the riots were calm down . Those Tamils guys did not speak singhala at all and I was wonder where they come from . I went to Boralla junction on second day of riots and was watching what is going on . I had no much fear of it at that moment because i was a teenager and did not see any one killed front of me but I saw some people were looting although Army was all over the place , however , the innocent people had butchered by mobs and thugs in day light .

    I did not know the politics behind the riots and after few years gone by that I realise why and what all about . this was very unfortunate incident of our history and its smears led to justify the Atrocities commited by the LTTE in Sri Lanka for decades. it was the gate way to such a scale of war which ended four years ago with loss of tens of thousands innocents lives and unbearable cost .

    AND it also was a part of outbreak of 89,90 where costing more than hundred thousand lives after ban of JVP by putting the blame on them for reasoning 83 riots with the arrivial of IndianArmy to tame tigers . I suppose we are still struggling to rectify the mistake made 30 years ago and it is still haunting in our minds as black July .What surprise me the failure of president at that time a deterrent of crime .

  • Cincinattus

    Perhaps you should include the first casulaties of the pogrom in Tinnevelly.After the irresponsible attack on the Army patrol vehicles by VP(who ran away)the soldiers went on the ramapge and killed several civilians.I am sure some of their relatives are living somewhere — perhaps in UK or Canada or Australia.

    • How is the ambush of a military patrol irresponsible?

      • Cincinnatus

        “Irresponsible”
        1.because the attackers did not consider the consequences to the immediate neighbors of the attack.

        2.because they didn’t make preparations for the defense of these neighbors which any rational commander could have forseen

        3.the attackers did not wait to follow up on the attack to defend the nieghbors.

        As a result,several civlians were mowed in cold blood by the enraged soldiers.

        • Realist

          Technically the army should not be responding against civilians.