Seemingly Innocent

8 channel video
80 minutes (no sound)

In 1991, I boarded a bus in Colombo, Sri Lanka. As I searched for a seat, I recognised a familiar figure seated at the back and was overwhelmed by a gale force of panic. I was standing just metres away from a man I had met over a year ago at Point-K, a notorious military-run interrogation facility. This particular man had a habit of digging his inch-long left thumbnail into the eye sockets of detainees when interrogating them. Not only could I see his thumbnail, I could feel its pressure too.

Interrogation centres like Point K were abundant in Sri Lanka’s South during 1987-90. Many of them were housed in buildings originally intended to advance society: schools, theatres, community centres, gymnasiums and factory halls. Today, a large number of these structures have returned to their former purpose.

Various methods of torture were regularly applied on political detainees during the interrogations. Among the tools used were a range of ordinary household objects, usually harmless and innocent, such as screwdrivers, scissors, electric irons, ballpoint pens, plastic bags, and hardcover books.

Men in uniform, like the one I encountered at Point-K, who tortured political detainees, often times to death, and their higher command have generally escaped any accountability, legal or otherwise, for their conduct. The same is true for the political leadership of the time who gave the military and the police forces the decree to do what they did.


Commissioned by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for the inaugural Hobart Current 2020 biennial exhibition programme.

Jagath Dheerasekara, Seemingly innocent, 2020. Installation view, Hobart Current:
Liberty, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 2021