‘History of Histories’ is an installation done as part of the exhibition titled ‘Agam-Puram’, at the Jaffna public library, which was turned into ashes in the summer of 1981 and embodies memories of a ‘cultural genocide’. This large-scale installation was carried out by the people of Jaffna with the assistance Art History students S. Kannan, S. Kumutha, G. Tamilini, Vasanthini of the University of Jaffna and T.Shanaathanan.
For this endeavor, accompanied by friends, they visited 500 randomly chosen houses in different parts of the Jaffna Peninsula in order to ask the residents to give them any material object that memorializes the last 20 years of people’s own lives in this embattled land. This activity “collecting” is in a way similar to that of a local Hindu madi pichchaikaran who, with collected rice from various houses, makes a special offering to the public at the temple. Every single object in this collection was placed on a red velvet pedestal, in identical containers and displayed as in a conventional museum or a library. The collection included a wide range of ordinary, mundane objects such as a single shoe of a dead child, the broken head of a temple icon, various kinds of identity cards, passports, death certificates, reports of disappearances, letters of missing relatives, keys of the houses that were demolished for the expansion of the “high security zones”, police residential permits, photographs of loved ones lost in the war, the ashes of a burned house, particles of trodden buildings, shell-pieces, bullets, broken dolls, pieces of dance and costume jewellery, barbed wires, water, sand and so on .
The particular installation excavated the layers of conflicted, contested and mismatched memories, histories and emotions that generated in a single unified geographical territory in the “no war” period (during the time of the Norwegian peace initiative between the time of 2002 and 2006). The objects provided viewers recurring possibilities to participate in making, unmaking and remaking histories and in so doing opened up many opportunities for positioning oneself. Here, the act of collage is not only the principal way of making meaning but is also the metaphorical and metonymic representation of the character of this society. These observations directly pose a question in relation to the kind of self and its process of emergence in dislocated locations. The following testimonies may help the reader to grasp the nature of the problem I am trying to address here.