The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Sri Lanka is an initiative that aims to establish a public museum dedicated to the display, education, research, and conservation of modern and contemporary art. The museum, located at Crescat in the heart of Colombo 3, is a long-term initiative that sets out to serve the communities that we are located within, through a commitment to inclusivity, collaboration, sustainability, and transformation.
Established as a not-for-profit in 2019, MMCA Sri Lanka aims to be a museum for visual culture focusing on the 20th and 21st Century art, design, craft, architecture, performance, and the moving image from Sri Lanka. The main goal of the MMCA is to collect, preserve, conserve, display, restore and interpret art, design, craft, performance, architecture, and the moving image. They will also research, commission, and distribute interpretative and educative materials and provide fora for dialogue.
The museum recently held a commemorative event to celebrate the launch of their second exhibition “Encounters”. Speaking at the event was MMCA Sri Lanka Committee Chair Ajit Gunewardene, Chief Curator Sharmini Pereira, Committee Member Channa Daswatte, Curator Sandev Handy, and Assistant Curator – Education and Public Programmes Pramodha Weerasekera.
Opening the event, Gunewaradena emphasised that the museum was established to play a very important role. The location, too, was well thought of as it is so conveniently located that the public can have easy access to modern and contemporary art. “Sri Lanka has many museums – over 120. They are all good but none of them focus on modern and contemporary art, which is why the MMCA was launched,” he stated. He further shared that museums are not made overnight; it is a journey that takes a lot of time. “The public has to get used to what a museum is all about and what a modern art museum is all about. We intend to educate the public and make them return to the museum.” He also added that the museum will foster and promote public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of a public space dedicated to art, design, craft, architecture, performance, and the moving image. They aim to also plan, design, build, operate, manage, maintain, and otherwise care for the museum as a dynamic public space
So far, they have been approached by schools to bring students in, as well as tourists. He noted that tourists are essential as they will make the museum a success and tell the story of modern and contemporary art.
In the future, they hope to co-operate with any organised bodies or institutions engaged in a similar industry or who share the museum’s objectives.
Encounters – an exhibition
The first exhibition – Encounters – will be held from 11 February to 31 August. This exhibition is structured as a sequence of changing displays which bring together six encounters between artworks from the 1950s to the present. The exhibition aims to tackle questions like does a chance encounter between one thing and another alter how something familiar or commonplace is otherwise seen?
Speaking at the exhibition, Pereira shared that Encounters will take place in three rotations. “Many museums rotate their collection displays mainly due to the fact that there is not enough space to display each exhibition fully,” she informed us, explaining that in museums, it is a common practice. The MMCA adopts the same approach; they ensured to use the space provided to its maximum benefit in order to include as many artists as possible. This also raises the question of whether two artworks placed side by side reveal something new about each of them; the answer can only be found by the public upon their visit to the museum.
Each display revolves around and responds to a specially chosen painting drawn from the John Keells Holdings or the George Keyt Foundation art collections. She further shared that the six encounters propose playful and at times contentious comparisons between the familiar and unexpected.
She also shared that the MMCA has an amazing supporting team, made up of experts and young professionals. “The team will be putting training into practice, thinking about education in a museum, translation in a museum, all while taking into consideration art history in Sri Lanka,” she stated. She also reiterated that the entrance is free of charge for the public, in hopes of encouraging them to learn more about modern and contemporary art whilst educating themselves on the topic of our art history. The number of visitors at a given time will be limited, however, due to current Covid regulations in order to keep their customers safe.
The artists showcasing at the first rotation of the exhibition will be Abdul Halik Azeez, Afro-Asian Writers’ Bureau, Aubrey Collette, Martin Wickramasinghe, Permanent Bureau of Afro-Asian Writers, Senaka Senanayake, Pradeep Thalawatta, Asal Rasiah, George Keyt, Richard Gabriel, and Susiman Nirmalavasan.
Visitors are invited to return to Encounters over the course of three rotations. Dates can be found on their website.