Trauma, Memory, Forgetting

Anthropology logo
Malathi De Alwis
Date and Time: 
Monday, March 10, 2014 - 12:00pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Sri Lanka has a long history of monumentalizing and memorializing. Both rural and urban islandscapes are scattered with Buddhist stupas and irrigation tanks built by pacifist as well as war-mongering monarchs, rock stelae proclaiming conquests, cave inscriptions commemorating acts of beneficence, statues of colonial and nationalist rulers, tsunami memorials, war cemeteries and 'victory' monuments. Monumentalizing has also been accompanied by iconoclasm, in post-war Sri Lanka, and the battle for memory and forgetting plays a central role in the Sri Lankan state’s fraught relationship with its Tamil population who have borne the brunt of a 3-decade long war. This paper delineates certain contours of this festering wound while exploring an alternative politics of bereavement and reconciliation encompassed in the work of one of Sri Lanka’s foremost artists.


Malathi de Alwis received her PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago and is currently affiliated with the Open University, Colombo. She has published widely on nationalism, humanitarianism, social movements, suffering and memorialization. She is the co-editor of Embodied Violence: Communalising Women’s Sexuality in South Asia (with Kumari Jayawardena, 1996), Feminists Under Fire: Exchanges Across War Zones (with Wenona Giles et al, 2003) and Tsunami in a Time of War: Aid, Activism and Reconstruction in Sri Lanka and Aceh (with Eva-Lotta Hedman, 2009).

Anthropology Brown Bags