Ornamenting Fingernails and Roads: Beautification and the Embodiment of Authenticity in Post-War Eastern Sri Lanka

Kimberly Kolor, University of Pennsylvania

This paper was part of the 2014-2015 Penn Humanities Forum on Color. Find out more at http://www.phf.upenn.edu/annual-topics/color.


In this thesis, therefore, I hope to explore the tensions of everyday experiences to show that these same people often simultaneously participate in, contradict, reinforce, complicate, create, and imagine new ethnic stereotypes for complex reasons. I have chosen to focus on a study of ornament and beauty in border towns. In spite of Mr. Vignesh's stated indifference, then, this thesis focuses in some ways on those very "trees." I argue that the trees and similar material "ornaments" have a profound impact on negotiations of "cultural authenticity," and contiguously, notions of religious and ethnic otherness. Ultimately, beautification and ornamentation are entangled within and constitutive of the deeply intricate webs of daily life negotiated both materially and immaterially. For the purposes of this paper, I am situating ornament and public beautification in local histories of population settlement and contested land in the light of post-war development, disparate distributions of economic and political power, and debates between and within local religious communities. I argue that these conditions foster a greater imperative to ornament, which, perhaps, sustains a tension of peaceful exchanges across certain communities and is rejected, sometimes violently, in others. I argue that beauty and ornament, therefore, must be contextualized in local negotiations of wider institutional and ideological developments, and I conceive of these developments as being in many ways inseparable from their material negotiations in ornament and beauty.


Date Posted: 17 November 2016