To remember Black JulyGroundviews 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 shaped our imagination, lives, society and polity.

The project is called 30 Years Ago and details of it can be read here.

The Picture Press was commissioned by Groundviews to interrogate the use, access to and perceptions of mobile, Internet and web technologies in our lives. The idea to do this feature was anchored to the following paragraph by Rajan Hoole (writing on Black July),

… [Bradman] Weerakoon himself pointed to the violence engulfing Colombo on Monday, Kandy on Tuesday, Badulla on Wednesday and Passara on Thursday, the delay roughly corresponding with distance from Colombo, and offered his own explanation. He associated it with news passed on by travellers, say someone going from Kandy to Badulla and instigating others, “See what the Sinhalese in Kandy did to the Tamils, where is our patriotism, are we not going to do our bit for our race?”

Today, ethno-political violence spreads at the speed of Twitter and SMS, but so can more conciliatory, peaceful messaging and content. The same tools used by the BBS, Sinhala Ravaya and many sections of Government for hate, harm and hurt are those already used, or can be used to strengthen democracy by bearing witness, create and increase community resilience, communicate counter-narratives and dispel rumours.

30 years on, does Sri Lanka’s coast-to-coast connectivity help or hinder that which gave rise to Black July?

The Picture Press engaged with this complex question through a series of stunning photo essays. Just a few of the photos in those essays are embedded here, taken by Anushka Wijesinha, Seshanka Samarajiwa & Muradh Mohideen. Higher resolution photos along with detailed descriptions will be included in the dedicated project site.

The Picture Press also wrote up the following:

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are undoubtedly becoming a defining transformation of our time. Through over 80 photographs in 8 features produced for the Groundviews ’30 Years Ago’ project, The Picture Press explores how ICTs have changed Sri Lanka’s current context and how it relates to issues that have, and continue to, influence our society and the nation at large. By combining original photography and well-researched narratives, these features visually narrate the influence of ICTs on individuals and groups at national, regional and local levels across Sri Lanka, presented through various lenses – social integration, safety and security, connectivity and ‘closeness’ to government, empowerment, and economic development.

Three months of research, travel and interviews with individuals and organisations – including unprecedented access to sites and initiatives all over Sri Lanka – have culminated in eight individual features by 7 young photographers. From an internet café owner in Puthukuduyiruppu, to sweet potato farmers in Dambulla, to getting a birth certificate copy in under five minutes to tsunami vulnerable communities on the coast – these features cover unique, interesting, and innovative uses of ICTs and attempt to explore how it has changed, over the last 3 decades, for better or for worse, the way people live and work in Sri Lanka. The features, in a broad sense, resonate with some of the causes and effects of the July 1983 pogrom as well as the economic and social climate of the country at that time. It also questions what role ICTs could play today in preventing or even facilitate in repeating, the mistakes of Sri Lanka’s past.

An exhibition of some of the content from 30 Years Ago will be held from 24 – 25 August at the Park Street Mews, Warehouse D in Colombo, Sri Lanka. More details will be posted shortly, along with the launch of a dedicated website for the project on the 21st of August.

For the moment, visit the event’s Facebook page for daily updates.