A photograph can speak a thousand words. In a mission to mend the tensions and broken communications between Sri Lanka’s different religious and ethnic communities, our partner CPBR’s Young Visionary (YV) group recently engaged local youths in a peacebuilding project to capture the many different faces of Sri Lanka in photographs. Photography may be an unusual method of peacebuilding, but CPBR felt that it could be a key tool in aligning people with the world around them and generating an understanding of one another.
YV’s initial workshops involved engaging the group in discussion – a photo “reading” challenge got the group talking together about what a selection of photographs told them and how each one made them feel. This simple exercise encouraged the group to open up to each other, explore their imagination and begin to look at photography as a tool to induce social change.
Photography is an easily accessible platform and can engage anyone and everyone in art. Once the group had been taught basic photographic technique, all of the participants were sent off to take pictures. People from different backgrounds, different communities and different religions worked together to generate their vision of the many different faces of Sri Lanka.
In another session, the young participants were asked to reflect on their work and think about the subjects they chose and why they chose them. When these points were shared with the group, a dramatic shift was revealed from the initial group dynamic and the participants’ perception of photography. Whereas originally concerns were more focussed on the technical aspects of photography, the group now spoke of photographs in terms of their impact on social change. Rifaza from Kattankudy said:
What I knew about photography before was that you take photos of just beautiful things. But after this workshop I learnt that you can express much more than beauty from a photo, that they can speak on a much deeper level.” Others spoke of wanting to tell a story, some wanted to challenge people’s ways of thinking, and some wanted to use photographs as a way to showcase and marvel in life. For Dinesh, the photographs he took offered hope for the future: “In the future I would like to be able to show the world a side which has not been exposed by the media. especially in my village.
By the time the project came to a close, the group had learned to take technically accomplished photographs. They had also had the opportunity to explore a unified and diverse vision of Sri Lanka. Their expectations of what art could achieve had changed hugely. And most importantly, whatever their religion, background or ethnicity, a group of young future peacebuilders had united and celebrated the beauty of a multi-faceted Sri Lanka.
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