The more I read regarding this event, the more complex this moment became for me. Definitions or takes on what happened that July include riot, spontaneous outbreak, pogrom where the state instigated violence to ‘teach Tamils a lesson,’ holocaust, an expression of economic changes brought in by the open economy, a continuum of the violence that had become part of society by then, and a moment in which some Tamils were killed but others protected because of perhaps their class difference. The narratives relating to that moment have been greatly explored and yet have not been exhausted.
I was, I am is an attempt to explore certain narratives which we think have not been hitherto explored in the context of 1983 and the three decades that followed.
1983 changed the face of the country and it was not limited to racial issues. Changes occurred in the dynamics within the family structure, rights based activism, artistic expression, etc; Women were, and still are, important and active participants in each of these areas.
We set out to explore stories of women who were shaped or influenced by 1983. It could have been direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. They may be from different generations and backgrounds, but their stories, both their common experiences and unique ones, told us how much has changed in the last three decades as well as how much hasn’t.
We talked to 43 women from all walks of life, those who were active during 1983 as well as those who were born in that era or after and are currently active in some sphere, whether it is social activism, the arts, motherhood, etc. The duration and period of their journeys varied but we found that their experiences and ideologies have common features.
Although we initially identified five groups whose narratives we will record (Families, Activists, Artists, Spiritual Women, Victims and Survivors), we soon realized that most women we spoke to belonged to two or more of these groups. Therefore, rather than categorizing them in individual groups, our production was categorized thematically as follows; Memories, Identity, Gender, Spirituality and Change.
Each session of interviews was guided by two core questions:
- In 1983, I was…
- In 2013, I am…
The interviews were simultaneously recorded via an audio recording device and their reactions photographed.
We hope that this project will prove to be a learning experience for both the public and participants of the project. They will be called on to reexamine their personal histories in a manner that could possibly prove to be a platform of knowledge and growth. It will be a testament to how far we have journeyed as women, a learning base to where we have gone wrong and also provide key knowledge on what needs to change on both a personal and communal level.
The website compromising the stories could be used as an information portal of oral histories not only for Sri Lanka but as a case study for women’s groups and under-represented minorities across the world.
I Was I Am is a 30 year history of experiences as told by women on what happens to a nation’s people in the face of strife and crisis.
Conceptualized and Produced by Sachini Perera and Natalie SoysaSee portfolio
 Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham, Preface to July ’83 and After, Nethra Special Issue, Apr-Sept 2003, Vol. 6, No. 1 & 2