UCL Anthropology


Vindhya Buthpitiya

Vindhya Buthpitiya

UCL Email: vindhya.buthpitiya.16@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/research/photodemos/vindhya-buthpitiya
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Prof. Christopher Pinney (Primary), Dr. Tariq Jazeel (UCL Geography - Secondary) 
Subject: Material, Visual and Digital Culture
Fieldsite: Colombo/Jaffna, Sri Lanka

PhD Research

Smoke, Shadow, Light: Conflict, Popular Photography and the Tamil Imagi-Nation in Post-War Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's experience of war and the tensions in its aftermath were actively narrated by way of photography. Since the 1980s, the island's visual identity has been framed as a paradise-under-siege, while that of the Sri Lankan Tamil community became synonymous with its shattering experience of conflict, dispossession, displacement, and tense relationship with the state. Thereby, in a post-war present still fraught with the causes, effects and ethnopolitics of the conflict, what does popular photography reveal about experiences of conflict, and postwar political articulation?

My research explores popular photographic practices among members of the Northern Tamil community in Colombo and Jaffna, examining the interweaving of photography, conflict, and the expression of political sentiments and demands within the burdened context of ‘peace’ defined as the absence of war. Thereby, I consider the manifold ways in which photographs and related practices feature in entangled conceptions of nation, belonging, loss, resistance and citizenship.

This research is part of a wider European Research Council-funded project 'Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination'.

Research Interests

  • Conflict
  • State/Citizenship
  • Visual Culture
  • Photography
  • Social Media
  • Sri Lanka
  • International Development


  • V. Buthpitiya. ‘Paradise in Missing Pictures: A Brief and Incomplete History of Sri Lankan Photography. History Workshop Online, July 2019 (Forthcoming)
  • V. Buthpitiya. The Tempest in Your Tea Cup: Colonial Tropes in Advertising Mask the Harsh Realities of Plantation Workers in Sri Lanka. Himal Magazine, August 2018
  • V. Buthpitiya. Reconciling Rights, Responsibilities and Disjunctures: An Assessment of Sri Lanka’s Post-War Development Drive (Law and Society Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka 2013)

Presentations & Conferences

  • Picturing the Disappeared: Of Resistance, Remembrance and the Search for Justice in Postwar Sri Lanka’ at ‘The Right (Not) to be Seen: The Politics and Ethics of Photographic Visibility’ Workshop, University College London, July 2019
  • 'Scratches on Celluloid: Reconciliation/Irreconciliation in Post/War Sri Lanka’ at the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS) Annual Conference, Durham University, United Kingdom, April 2019
  • Sunday Worship at the Shrine of the Cinegods/Cinema Sociality in Post/War Jaffna’ at ‘Expanding the Frame: Ethnographic Film and its Others’, the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival Conference, Bristol, United Kingdom March 2019
  • 'Photo/Politics: Exploring Popular Photography in Post-War Sri Lanka', Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, July 2018
  • 'Picturing the Disappeared: Of Resistance and Remembrance in Post-War Sri Lanka' at the Royal Anthropological Institute, the British Museum, and the Department of Anthropology, SOAS Conference ‘Art, Materiality and Representation’, June 2018
  • Picket Politics: Citizenship in Camera in Post-War Colombo’ at Uneasy Photography: The Politics Of Images In A Time Of Crisis, Panteion University, Athens, Greece, December 2017

Education History

  • 2016-Present: PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University College London (UCL)
  • 2010-2011: MPhil in Development Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 2006-2010: MA (Hons) First Class in Social Anthropology, University of St. Andrews

Honours, Awards & Funding

Additional Information

Curator, Exhibition: 'The Jaffna Lens: Vernacular Photography from the Peninsula', Chelvanayakam Memorial Trust Auditorium, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, September 2018