Testimony of the Disappeared

Since the early 1990s, the Sri Lankan state has employed commissions of inquiry to investigate cases of disappearances, a phenomenon that has affected Tamil and Sinhalese communities in the island over the course of the protracted civil war. The reports published by these commissions have brought to light testimonies relating to the disappeared, orally presented by their family, and then transcribed and translated by state actors. The Paranagama Commission, for instance, has been criticised for gross mistranslations of these testimonies and The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission for a lack of empathy on the part of the commissioners towards those providing testimony. Testimony of the Disappeared extends from the artist’s interest in how the language—literally and figuratively—of these testimonies is shaped by the processes of bureaucracy. Their extensive research over the last year, into both primary and secondary accounts, briefly punctuates here as a corpus of testimonies collected from published reports. In this project, drawing from approaches in conceptual poetry, they employ found language and treat the text in various ways, including the Markov Chain algorithm, to explore the presence of absence, the machination of language by the state, and the erasure of corporeal presence and testimony.

Imaad Majeed is a poet and performance artist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and is the Director of ‘Kacha Kacha’, a poetry and performance art collective. Their poetry has been published in CITY: A Journal of South Asian Literature, as well as the local small-press chapbooks Lime Plain Tea and Annasi & Kadalagotu. Their poetry and performance art has explored themes of identity, language, nationalism, late-stage capitalism, sacred space, xenophobia, ethnoreligious conflict, and healing. They have participated at NeMLA, Tamil Studies Symposium, Eternal Internet Brotherhood/ Sisterhood, Theertha Performance Platform, Colomboscope, and Art Dubai. They are a part of the artist collective ‘The Packet’, whose work is located in the intimate and the playful, with a particular focus on the vernacular, collaborative process and conversation.