Hema Shironi

<i>They Netted Us</i>, 2021, stitched photos on poster paper, 60 by 168 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo.-圖片

They Netted Us, 2021, stitched photos on poster paper, 60 by 168 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo.

Growing up in the Central province of Sri Lanka during the country’s civil war (1983–2009), Hema Shironi and her family were internally displaced several times. This experience pushed her to question the bonds that communities and individuals make when perpetually unsettled. The daughter and granddaughter of seamstresses, Shironi combines embroidery and bricolage to address Sri Lanka's complex and often violent history. She focuses on the numerous places she has called home and delves into how the communities of each place grapple with language, culture, memory, and myth.

To facilitate the reconstruction of war-torn areas in northern Sri Lanka, NGOs and foreign governments provided funds to build new houses for displaced people seeking to return to their communities. These funds were available only for families that selected one of five housing prototypes. When the 2019 economic crisis developed, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic, much of the building stopped, leaving many between reconstruction and makeshift homes. 

As a standard practice, the NGOs photographed families in front of their completed (or mostly completed) homes and put the images online in an attempt to raise more funds and documentation. Shironi’s They Netted Us (2021) is a bricolage work featuring very small versions of such images that she collected online. The photo prints are stitched carefully on the backs of protest posters and connected with loose, faint threads, rendering the work an abstract cartography of post-war Sri Lanka. The entire piece is covered by green construction netting similar to that used for the houses. Through the placement of the photos and the connecting threads, Shironi portrays the different families as neighbors who shared an experience of the tumultuous conditions of war. The work is also an implicit reflection on those members of a community who were lost or left behind.