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Title: Imaging the role of women in changing socio-cultural contexts : a study of female representations in murals in pre-modern Sri Lanka
Author: Karunarathna, Dulma Niroshini
ISNI:       0000 0004 5924 3816
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2015
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The historical roles of women have been neglected in Sri Lankan archaeology. This study unveils the image of women and offers alternative explanations that contextualize the female in pre-modern history. The thesis is the first of its kind undertaken in Sri Lanka as a cross-regional study, with a view to understanding female representations depicted in murals and their social context in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The murals that embellished the Buddhist temples of pre-modern Sri Lanka were examined as primary sources for a comparative study. Primary data were collected through observational fieldwork and museum surveys. The mural paintings have generally been taken as decorative in the past, but this research considers their value for deciphering coded forms of communication and a visual language which reflects contemporary social dynamics. Geographically, the research focuses on two geographical areas, up-and low-country. Iconographic analysis and social archaeology of gender are applied as the main theoretical approaches to examine the social space occupied by women through three different streams: their religious life, empowerment and social identity. The thesis argues that in the mural paintings influenced women‟s lives by informing social behaviour, values and identity. Artists reinforced the idea of the role of mother as an embodiment of compassion. The murals of the „great‟ tradition represent the ideal practices of the time and through them artists reinforced social norms. At the same time, the depictions of the artists in the provincial tradition offer an alternative profile of energetic and empowered women, providing an alternative picture beyond the ideals and stereotypes. This research challenges the notion of gendered divisions of labour and suggests to us that the gender roles of pre-modern households was flexible and interchangeable and the economic self-reliance of women which empowered them within the household.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available