Natalie Soysa was one of 2 artistes commissioned to create work around GrOW, a project that identified Post-War Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women in the North of Sri Lanka in the 8 years since the country’s bloody and brutal civil war ended in 2009.
Natalie went on to create Mother North Rising, a visual investigation that manifested in a series of photo-essays and documentary film that give voice to the women of the north. She interviewed 10 mothers from Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Vavuniya, examining their personal stories, juxtaposing them with the wider geopolitical context in which the narratives occur.
To understand the economic and social pressures faced by women in the North of Sri Lanka, it is also important to get a wider understanding of the macro environment that affects their lives. The geopolitical context within the northern province is unique and must be considered.
This series of photographs attempt to show the rapid construction, the endless war memorials, protests for information on missing people, the constant military presence and other aspects that add to and affect the lives of residents in the north.
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Memorializing the 30-year war with symbols of victory mean the massive civilian impact in the North is often forgotten.
War Memorial (Puthukkudiyiruppu)
War Memorial (Elephant Pass)
Unlike in other parts of the country, the constant and continued military presence in the North of Sri Lanka is unmistakable.
The rapid construction in the Northern and Eastern corners of the island makes you forget a war was once fought here. A few miles outside the towns however, you are reminded again.
The war-torn ruins of a church in Mannar
Reminders of a fallen leader, still present in the least expected corners of the North.
A home in Kilinochchi
Our crew of filmmakers and storytellers came from various parts of the country and from different faiths, all represented on the dashboard of our van.
On the A9 highway
The women of the North; a portrait series of the 10 mothers we interviewed in Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Vavniya and Mullaitivu. Some requested anonymity and have been photographed in shadow and in silhouette to avoid recognition. Photographed in their homes, surrounded by children, engaged in livelihood activities and the photographs of loved ones long gone, this series attempts to provide a glimpse into the realities of life for these women.
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Despite the lack of continued and effective support, some women have found success through sheer will and determination. This lady in Mullaitivu runs a successful and award-winning food manufacturing business, employing other war-widows like herself and even making supply runs in her own three-wheeler.
Eight years after the war ended, some women continue to live under dire circumstances. This woman and her daughter in Vavuniya have been subject to abuse, lost loved ones but continue to keep the faith.
For someone who didn’t know the price of sugar at the time her husband passed away, this mother in Vavuniya continues to raise her 3 daughters, in spite of her conservative upbringing. Having worked as a cook in a kitchen, raising chickens at home and working in a factory – she is willing to try anything that will help sustain her family.
In Mannar, we found a single mother with the added burned of caring for her ageing parents. With societal pressures preventing her from leaving her home for work, she takes sewing and cooking orders to sustain her family.
This young mother lives on the brink of poverty with her two young sons. On most days, they survive on the help of neighbours who offer them food.
Living in the shadow of her dead siblings and still suffering from a shell attack she was victim to as a young girl, this mother in the outskirts of Kilinochchi find it hard to sustain herself, still depending on her ageing parents for help.
With the endless support of her family, this courageous woman in Jaffna could leave her abusive husband and start her own tailoring business to sustain herself and her children.
During the war, this woman’s husband raped their mute, 6-year-old daughter. With no justice system in operation at war time and no evidence 10 years later, the crime remains unpunished. Battling depression herself, she lived in Keerimalai and is engaged in farming to sustain her special needs family.
Having experienced the worst of the war, this woman in Kilinochchi lost nearly everyone in Puthumaththalan in 2009. Moving from camp to camp with her young daughters she had managed to build her family a home and engage with women’s groups, empowering others like herself.
Once a devotional singer, this young mother in Mullaitivu struggles to sustain her family of two boys and a husband still suffering from extreme PTSD unable to work himself. Here she sings for our crew as her son looks on.