Viewing women

Saturday, 6 July 2013 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis A mother of two, Nithya is hard at work building her dream house. Standing amidst a pile of cement and sand, she grips a pipe with one hand and tries to clean the mess before her. Her other hand is lost somewhere in her sleeve, a reminder of the troubles of the past. Her arm was not the only thing taken away from her during the war. It also took away her husband and most of her male relatives. All it left behind were her two precious children and a complete mess of life.   When Selvarajah Seanthan, a Grama Niladari for the Karachci DS division in Kilinochchi District went on an inspection round to see the progress of a housing project funded by the Indian Government, he took with him his camera, a compact digital one to make note and to take back some memories. This is when the hardworking Nithya was caught on his frame. “Even though she received some aid from the housing charity, she couldn’t afford all the labour that was needed to build the home. Nor did she have any male relatives to help her,” Seanthan said, looking at his photograph, now framed and hanging besides a host of others depicting women in varied light at the Lionel Wendt Art Centre. One of the many photographs at the ‘Women – Out of The Frame’ photographic exhibition, Seanthan’s print speaks volumes about women beyond the orthodox frame of mind. “Despite her disability, she wanted to work on the building site herself. She needed it for her children.” And today she resides in the new house, he said, happy and determined to make her future as bright as the sun that throws its rays across the wooden window frame. Padmini, on the other hand, smiles a toothy smile at Aamina Nizar as she clicks. The lines on her face shows hard times and years of good and bad. Padmini is a thinker, a daily newspaper reader, a philosopher and a fighter. She is an Obama fan and is well-versed in politics and current news. She is confident and intelligent. She fought with the mudalali and the ignorant women in her village when they refused to buy biscuits with the ‘Halal’ label. She has changed her religion because “if you don’t eat from two restaurants, how do you know what is best?” She is a hard worker and religiously visits Nizar’s home three times a week to clean it. “The way she sees it, there is nothing wrong in cleaning houses and earning a living. It is not like she is begging for her money,” Nizar said. For her, the exhibition is a timely and an appropriate one. “I’m tired of the stereotypical women on camera. To be on camera you need to look good, have the perfect figure, etc.” Her second photo, also chosen to be exhibited, is the best example. ‘Slim waste, flat tummy – firm bottom – taut thighs’ read three circular boards, next to a dummy in cream lingerie. Right opposite is a ‘healthy man’ with his shirt stretching over a big round belly. “Women have to look perfect, but men, they can get away with anything,” she laughs. Women resemble water, Natalie Soysa said. Three of her photographs selected show women underwater. “Women are like fluids, they are graceful, and unable to be contained in their entirety. They cannot be framed,” she expressed. Photographs from a series of underwater nudes, the photos on print are the less-bolder ones in her collection. “I like working with the human body. I think the human body is limitless as a canvas to work with.” Women are at times trapped in between, Liz Fernando acknowledged. Hers is a unique photomontage of two women, one, her own photograph and another she came across. “In the dark room, by coincidence I happened to keep these photos on top of each other. I liked what I saw.” One photograph is of a woman belonging to a tribe in India. “A woman’s identity or the where-next depends highly on her upbringing and social conditions. How they grow is a coincidence. In South Asia more often than not women are trapped in between not knowing where they belong.” Judged by the outer appearance, her work visualises the struggle of women in this context. Women are also fearless warriors, marching ahead, determined to do better. The old woman hobbling across a beautiful field of green while the sun casts its light in the background tells a story of an old woman selling flowers to pilgrims in Kataragama. Caught by Dhanushka Keerthirathna while on holiday ay 6 a.m., he recalls that she is one of those selling flowers near the Kiri Vehera and the kovil in Kataragama. “This was shot around two years ago,” Keerhirathna said. “I didn’t think much about it but clicked because it was a nice picture. I saw her limping across the field.” As for 29-year-old Indeewarie De Silva, the woman in white and red selling achcharu at Galle Face Green reminded her of the hardships faced by other women. “I was walking with my friend on the Green when I saw this. I always carry my camera around and when I saw her I began to think that she could be a mother, a sister, a grandmother of somebody somewhere, who has to forego spending time with them to earn a living.” These are but a few stories of a large collection of work exhibited at the Lionel Wendt Gallery down Guildford Crescent. Featuring 80 prints from 45 photographers, ‘Women – Out of The Frame’ is supported by the Norwegian Embassy and National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. Project Director Menika van der Poorten acknowledged that the inspiration for the project came from a sense of frustration felt about the way women are perceived and the lack of respect accorded to them. The initiative to centre-stage women visually is a contribution to the ongoing visual presentation, debate and discussion on women – their rights, equality and representation. Chosen from 500 photographs submitted, those selected are the ones that portray a deeper story of the complexities of women. As a part of the work, a number of outreach programs have been held pre-submission while a series of presentations and workshops that facilitate photography education will be held this weekend, with the next at the Goethe Institute in Colombo. For more details please contact Jane Conrad on 0773797114 or email [email protected] or [email protected] Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe