- Sri Lanka’s biggest art organisations come together to envisage 2022
The havoc wreaked on art and artists by the pandemic is fairly self-explanatory after two years of near-constant struggle to successfully be able to showcase art or hold artistic and cultural events and programmes. While this disruption did indeed breed innovation, the fact that the arts and their various platforms have been disrupted means that it is easy for artists, art enthusiasts, and the general public to be out of the loop when it comes to the various artistic and cultural platforms Sri Lanka has to offer. Hence six independent organisations, all with different missions and histories, had come together in solidarity to define 2022’s contemporary arts and culture trajectory, so that all audiences, from the art enthusiasts to returning tourists, and to schoolchildren can all be aware of and make use of the various platforms and showcases happening in th eColombo creative circle over the next six months.
The six contemporary art and culture organisations coming together are; contemporary interdisciplinary art festival and creative platform Colomboscope; the Geoffrey Bawa Trust; the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA); the open-air art fair platform Kala Pola hosted by the John Keells Foundation together with the George Keyt Foundation; the Saskia Fernando Gallery; and the Barefoot Gallery Colombo.
Each of these organisations will be contributing heavily to Sri Lanka’s art landscape through events and programmes designed to show just how Sri Lanka’s art scene is shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with and is positioned to come out of the pandemic stronger than before.
Together, these six eminent organisations and galleries took us through each of their visions for 2022 and the platforms and initiatives they hope to chair.
‘Language is Migrant’: Colomboscope (21-30 January)
Returning under the overarching theme of “Language is Migrant”, Colomboscope, one of Sri Lanka’s largest interdisciplinary art festivals and creative platforms will take place in late January across multiple venues around Colombo – namely the Public Library in Colombo 7, the Rio Cinema Complex in Colombo 2, the W.A. Silva Museum in Colombo 6, Barefoot Gallery Colombo in Colombo 4, Lakmahal Community Library in Colombo 3, and Lak Cafe at Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo 7.
Speaking at the event, Colomboscope Artistic Director Natasha Ginawala shared that Colomboscope was excited to be the first of Colombo’s large-scale art events for 2022, saying: “This year’s edition of Colomboscope, which opens in a week, is incredible. We’re working with a great many local festival partners and bringing in over 50 artists from Sri Lanka and South Asia. It’s our largest edition yet and I’m very glad to announce that Colomboscope will be hosting residencies and many other events and hope to continue working on a smaller scale around the year.”
‘It is Essential to be There’: The Geoffrey Bawa Trust (1 February-3 April)
The second large-scale arts event for 2022 is being hosted by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, a non-profit public trust in honour of the prolific architect Geoffery Bawa that works towards furthering the field of architecture, ecological, and environmental studies through year-round activities including programmes, exhibitions, lectures, educational tours, and scholarships.
February’s exhibition, “It is Essential to be There” is an exhibition that draws from Bawa’s archives to look at his practice to explore relationships between ideas, drawings, buildings and places, and the different ways in which images were used in Bawa’s practice.
“This is the first retrospective archival exhibition looking at Bawa’s practice,” Geoffrey Bawa Trust Curator Shayari De Silva explained, and that “It is Essential to be There” will be accompanied by an extensive public programme of talks, tours, and workshops as well as a website with additional digital content to enhance the accessibility of the works on view.
“It is Essential to be There” takes place from 1 February to 3 April at The Stables at Park Street Mews.
‘Encounters’: MMCA Sri Lanka (11 February-28 August)
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka (MMCA Sri Lanka), Sri Lanka’s first public museum committed to the display, research, collection, and conservation of modern art will host their second major exhibition “Encounters” from February to August. The exhibition will be the first at their new location at Crescat Boulevard and will feature work by 18 modern and contemporary artists and will also include a six-month-long trilingual programme that is free and open to everyone.
Speaking about the event, MMCA Sri Lanka Chief Curator Sharmini Pereira said: “We are delighted to work alongside such a stellar lineup of arts organisations in Sri Lanka to promote art and architecture in the country. We hope this drive creates awareness about the high calibre and diversity of art activities taking place in Sri Lanka. ‘Encounters’ brings together 56 artworks as part of an exciting series of changing displays that draw from the art collections of the George Keyt Foundation and John Keells Holdings as the starting point.”
“Encounters” takes place from 11 February to 28 August at the MMCA Sri Lanka’s new premises at Crescat Boulevard.
Kala Pola: the John Keells Foundation (August/September)
John Keells Foundation Head – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Carmeline Jayasuriya announced that the John Keells Foundation together with the George Keyt Foundation will continue to host the open-air Kala Pola event in August or September. The 2021 event was held on a smaller scale due to the pandemic, but this year, Jayasuriya shared her hope that Kala Pola will return in its traditional form. Since its inception in 1993, Kala Pola has evolved into a vibrant annual platform that showcases the work of over 300 artists.
“It’s about enabling artists – giving them exposure and the ability to connect with buyers and art professionals,” Jayasuriya said, speaking about the purpose of Kala Pola, adding that the platform shifted in 2021 to include a digital element, the website www.srilankanartgallery.com, to allow artists to connect with buyers and professionals despite the pandemic. This website has proven to be a successful tool and will continue to be a part of the Kala Pola platform.
The Saskia Fernando Gallery and 2022
Saskia Fernando Gallery (SFG) Owner and Founder Saskia Fernando highlighted the importance of media in the promoting Sri Lankan industry, sharing her hope that this partnership between arts organisations and the media would continue to flourish in 2022 and bring Sri Lankan art to the forefront of public imagination.
Speaking on SFG’s plans and initiative for 2022, Fernando announced that two of SFG’s most respected artists, Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara and Saskia Pintelon, will be representing Sri Lanka at this year’s Venice Biennale, marking the third time that Sri Lankan artists have been featured at the Biennale.
This January will also see SFG kicking off the first projects of the A4A Production Fund, an initiative established by SFG in 2021 with the collaboration of the Udayshanth Fernando Foundation with the aim of lending support to emerging contemporary Sri Lankan artists.
Fernando also spoke of SFG’s #SupportLocalArt Talk Series, a discussion platform for artistic platforms also established in 2021, which will see its vision continue throughout 2022 with the MMCA taking forward the next round of artistic conversations and the establishment of an independent YouTube channel to archive these creative discussions.
The Barefoot Gallery Colombo and 2022
The Barefoot Gallery Colombo has, over its 30-year history, become one of Colombo’s foremost venues for contemporary artists to show their work, and Barefoot Gallery Colombo Manager Puja Srivastava shared the gallery will continue to showcase new exhibitions each month, with its newest exhibition being unveiled on 8 February.
An exciting expansion the gallery will be undertaking in 2022, Srivastava revealed, is the revival of the area above the gallery known as the Barefoot Loft. The objective of reviving the Barefoot Loft will be to enable the gallery to expand and showcase more artworks and all other forms of expression – turning this private space into a working area.