Published: | United States

Photo Exhibit Review: Tamil Resistance & Resilience is a Painful Reminder of a Justice Denied

PEARL's global photo exhibit Tamil Resistance & Resilience in the Face of Genocide premiered in New York on May 11 and will soon arrive in Toronto on May 26 at Abbozzo Gallery. Here are Sara Fuller's critical reflections after witnessing the exhibit as a New York-based photographer.

­PEARL’s global photo campaign, Tamil Resistance & Resilience in the Face of Genocide, that started on Saturday, May 11th, at the Caelum Gallery in New York City, will continue to Toronto on Sunday, May 26th. The exhibit memorializes Tamil victims of early tensions and prejudices and those caught in the breadth of the genocide in Sri Lanka, as well as the scars that exist in the aftermath of the decades-long ethnic war. The images from eight featured photographers, as well as found images and historical archives, are both a commemoration and a call to action.

In asymmetrical assemblages on the walls, the images at each stage of injustice leave a harrowing experience of unspeakable pain that cannot be organized or put away. One black and white image from 1983, during a seven-day, anti-Tamil pogrom known as Black July, shows a young Tamil man stripped naked, arms covering the sides of his face in an attempt to shield the blows as a Sinhalese man confronts the camera with a smirk mid-kick. 

This show is not only a remembrance to the victims, but an education of an ethnic conflict widely ignored and underreported internationally, as well as a plea for widespread acknowledgment of the genocide of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government. Though the mass killings ended ten years ago, the deaths were never accurately counted (an estimated 70,000–140,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final phase) and people are still looking for recognition of the government’s crimes. Truth and justice would offer small slivers of healing where comfort is the furthest thing from imagining. 

After leaving the gallery, many images remain as impressions: photos of deformed arms, the camera capturing youth coming out of hiding from underground dugouts, children weeping, people terrified, hungry, and traumatized. The accompanying audio/text discusses safe zones and hospitals shelled by the Sri Lankan military. Info-graphics and labels filling the walls and a guided audio tour layer the visceral experience with facts, with more understanding, with more names, with more numbers, with more un-ignorable knowledge.

The gallery was filled with people with a great sense of purpose: to spread word to a largely-unaware greater populace, as support of the Tamil people and understanding of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has been dampened by the government’s censorship, lies, and denials.

After the bombings last month in Sri Lanka by Islamic terrorists, Muslims have become increasingly targeted by Sinhalese mobs with security forces standing idly by, despite heightened military surveillance. These actions demonstrate a pattern of behavior by a government who has suffered no repercussions for intentionally killing up to 140,000 Tamil civilians in a genocide under the pretense of eliminating an elusive, terrorist threat. This exhibit understands how impunity fuels ethnic and religious violence in Sri Lanka and invites us to help stop this cycle of violence by signing this petition for Tamil genocide recognition and justice for the victims.

 Sara Fuller

Sara Fuller is a photographer who grew up in South Dakota and now lives in New York. She received her MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts. 

The Toronto exhibit will be on May 26 from 12:30 pm to 7 pm at Abbozzo Gallery (401 Richmond Street W. #128) — please RSVP here.

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