IN A WANDERER'S LENS
Artist Liz Fernando, born in Germany to Sri Lankan parents present distinguishing observations of Sri Lanka through an insider-outsider perspective. Her first art collection ‘Trincomalee – My Father’s Stories and the Lost Photographs’ addresses contemporary socio-political themes such as gender stereotypes, memory dislocation and preconceived cultural values through invigorating conceptual photography. In conversation with Liz, we unveil the manner in which she conceptualizes her works of art while closely reading her collections as memories of the past that forms the present.
Liz Fernando, born and raised in Germany, was always curious about Sri Lanka. She said, “When I first visited Sri Lanka as a seven-year-old girl, the island was mystical to me”. The fascination that she developed over Sri Lanka urged her to use art as a tool to further understand the island, its people and history. “I was influenced by my father’s family in propogating my artistic agenda as they closely worked in the field of arts” stated Liz. Although she was passionate about the arts since her early days, Liz initially pursued law and criminology in Switzerland academically. However, her inner calling led her to follow visual art afterwhich she graduated from the prestigious LCC Photography program at the University of Arts London in 2012.
“Trincomalee – My Father’s Stories and the Lost Photographs’ was the project I executed for my graduation thesis” responded Liz when we questioned about her first art project. Liz described this series as one that provided insight into her relationship with Sri Lanka through her father‘s lens. “When I visited relatives in Sri Lanka, I was bound by time restrictions which did not allow me to get to know them beyond the surface.” As a result, these short visits to Sri Lanka invoked an unquenched desire to learn about its enigma and heritage. So she began her journey by engaging in a study of her parent’s life in Sri Lanka.
Liz engages with the atrocities of the civil war through a personal account in ‘Trincomalee - My Father’s Stories and Lost Photographs’. It is the perspective of a daughter listening to her father’s recollections of his childhood during a peaceful setting in Trincomalee during the 1950’s. As Liz explained, this exhibition formulated a research of the post-colonial era of Sri Lanka. In fact, this collection is now a part of the private collection of the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C for its intimate articulation and aesthetic significance.
“After this exhibition, I resided in Sri Lanka for two years as I deeply felt the need to explore the country further”. As a woman who was brought up in Europe, Liz was baffled by the manner in which she was treated differently due to her gender. “I have traveled extensively to western countries and I never felt discriminated nor conscious of my gender. However, in Sri Lanka, I felt like I was perceived firstly as a woman which came with a negative ‘baggage’ ” she asserted vehemently. Liz further explained that women were also perceived differently based on their socio-cultural background. Such understandings and beliefs led her to interview individuals from varying backgrounds, who engage in a myriad of social practices to dissect their opinions surrounding the issue of the treatment of women in Sri Lanka. This project further diversified into a deeper understanding about intimacy and privacy of lovers in South Asia which culminated in a series of abstract photographs. The collection was titled ‘The Imprint of Lovers’, representing Liz’s personal perception about sexuality within a South Asian context while addressing the anxieties and fears faced by women in a conservative society.
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