- The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka opens third rotation of ‘Encounters’
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka (MMCA Sri Lanka) last week opened rotation three of its “Encounters” exhibition, which the public can view until 19 March 2023, at the museum premises inside Crescat Boulevard, Colombo 3. The two main works in the “Encounters” rotation three are George Keyt’s Kandyan Bride (1951) and The Offering (1949).
Through Kandyan Bride, the MMCA Sri Lanka draws focus to clothing, presenting performance artist Janani Cooray’s Osariya (2015) alongside the Keyt painting to look at how garments, beyond their functionality, can convey information about class, professional status, gender, and nationality. Cooray’s Osariya is a barbed-wire costume worn as part of a 2015 performance, and both works highlight the historical relationships between clothing and social identity, inviting audiences to compare and contrast the different ways in which the Kandyan sari or “osariya” is viewed in Sri Lanka.
“My hope is that this display aids us in re-considering George Keyt and the political reverberations embedded in his paintings; particularly in his depiction of women. As recently seen by the public outcry on the clothing standards required of female State employees, this encounter may lead us to not only re-consider Keyt but to further question the role clothing itself has played in crafting a national identity,” noted MMCA Sri Lanka Curator Sandev Handy.
The second display of “Encounters” rotation three is prompted by the 1949 George Keyt painting The Offering, but turns attention to a topic of a spiritual nature. The MMCA Sri Lanka has placed the painting in a conversation with three other artworks that explore representations of the crucifixion; a 1983 painting by A. Mark, Keyt’s The Crucifixion, and Nelun Harasgama’s Golgotha.
MMCA Sri Lanka Chief Curator Sharmini Pereira said: “Showing George Keyt’s The Offering alongside crucifixion-based works by two contemporary artists are exactly the kinds of provocations between artworks we wanted to create in ‘Encounters’. As the first exhibition in Sri Lanka to publicly exhibit individual paintings by George Keyt, ‘Encounters’ begins the task of dismantling outdated art history or ‘connoisseurship’ that has not addressed his actual artworks. We hope our approach will encourage a more critically engaged discussion about Keyt and other artists of his generation.”
While the artwork can be viewed by the public for free, the MMCA Sri Lanka has also organised a line-up of free public programmes to engage the public with the paintings on display. These include weekly gallery talks with artists, workshops with professionals, and exhibition tours with the museum’s curators and visitor educators.
MMCA Sri Lanka Assistant Curator Education and Public Programmes Pramodha Weerasekera explained that education is one of the most important aspects of the museum, and priority is given to their various educational programmes.
“In public programmes, we make sure that the public can get involved not just in looking at an artwork, but in discussions and learning experiences that are created through them,” Weerasekera said, adding that two to three trilingual programmes will be held each week until 19 March 2023.
MMCA Sri Lanka
Giving the audience a better idea of MMCA Sri Lanka and the work they do, Pereira said: “The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts Sri Lanka moved to this new venue in February this year, and we are in the Crescat Shopping Mall because of something that is very important and is one of our priorities – which is to try and ensure and do as much as we can to build an audience for modern and contemporary art of a greater number of people than it currently is.”
Pereira explained that being in a shopping mall is one way of thinking about new audiences for modern and contemporary art, which has had a very limited audience so far. However, their vision is to create something similar but on a much larger but also permanent scale, catering to art enthusiasts, school students, and also tourists.
“There are 120 museums, but none of them looks at modern art and contemporary art, and this is our single, main focus,” Pereira said, adding that with “Encounters”, they took a new approach to modern and contemporary art. “We have looked at two collections of modern art in the country and have chosen six works of art from that collection. And each of these has been used as a starting point for the creation of a smaller display,” she said, adding that the museum has placed other artwork with these paintings to create conversations.
Meanwhile, MMCA Sri Lanka Assistant Curator Ritchell Marcelline spoke about the museum’s conservation efforts, saying it is not something many see or are aware of. The two Keyts on displays, for instance, have been going through restoration work for a year.
“During the exhibition itself, we make sure that it is protected from(climate) conditions, and the lighting is tested constantly. Humidity and temperature are all conditions that affect the artwork.”
Referring to the artwork in the third rotation, Marcelline said: “You have two George Keyts that are on display, which are in private or corporate collections that the public don’t have access to. It has been part of the museum’s objective to make them available to the public and be accessible.”
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam