Looking back as far as the sixties there have been spaces in Colombo facilitating exhibitions of modern and contemporary Sri Lankan art. While the National Art Gallery, on the verge of renovation, is a location one avoids putting on the art map locally (due to the terrible condition and environment for the valuable yet badly restored works therein) there have been various foundations and establishments that have played a large role in exhibiting Sri Lankan and international artists over the last 30 years in Colombo. In this edition I will guide you through the main exhibition spaces and galleries in Sri Lanka from the past and present. There have of course been many other galleries’ that have played an important role in the development of art, however the exciting thing with this particular list is that they remain in existence and accessible to the public.
The Lionel Wendt Art Centre
The Lionel Wendt Art Centre was built in 1963 following the death of photographer and member of the 43 Group, Lionel Wendt. The Lionel Wendt Art Centre consists of two gallery spaces for exhibitions and is one of the main rentable venues for art exhibitions in Sri Lanka. The centre exists today on the land where Wendt’s house stood.
The Sapumal Foundation
The Sapumal Foundation was established in 1974 with the aim to facilitate Harry Peiris’ objective to continue the promotion and education of art. The converted gallery spaces that exist in the former home of Peiris contain the largest collection of work by the 43 Group on view to the public.
The George Keyt Foundation
The George Keyt Foundation was established in 1989, before Keyt’s death in 1993. Today the foundation is largely supported by John Keells Holdings and the foundation office is housed within the company’s head office. A large collection of Keyts belonging to the foundation is also on display within these offices. The George Keyt Foundation continues to stage the Kala Pola annually as well as exhibitions by young contemporary artists.
Barefoot Gallery, formerly known as The Colombo Gallery (1967-1971), reopened in 1991 as ‘Gallery 706’ and has been known under its current name since 1999. At present, it is able to generate funds from the exhibitions it hosts, where the Gallery receives a commission from sales of the exhibits. Barefoot Gallery serves as a platform for artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers. Exhibitions of certain artist continue to be curated by Nazreen and Dominic Sansoni, the proprietors of Barefoot.
Paradise Road Galleries
Paradise Road Galleries was established in 1998 and is housed within The Gallery Café. The gallery has staged monthly exhibitions continuously since it’s opening and today the private collection of the gallery can also be viewed within the Paradise Road hotel establishments, Paradise Road Tintagel and Paradise Road The Villa Bentota. Exhibitions are to-date curated by Shanth Fernando, proprietor of Paradise Road.
Founded in 2008 by Sri Lankan curator, Sharmini Pereira, Raking Leaves has replaced the physical gallery space with the published art book. These books are able to transcend borders and enable a wider audience that is often restricted by gallery walls. Notable projects focusing on Sri Lankan contemporary art are ‘The One Year Drawing Project’ and ‘The Incomplete Thombu’.
Saskia Fernando Gallery
Established in 2009, SFG was the first stand-alone gallery to formally represent artists, continuously working on projects, sales and commissions for the gallery’s stable of contemporary artists throughout the year. The gallery has to-date collaborated on shows presenting Sri Lankan contemporary art in London, Singapore and Dubai.
The Pop Up Gallery Space
Pop-Up Gallery Spaces are the new trend internationally. They add spontaneity to an event and allow the artist and curator to find a place that adds to the concept of a show. This is starting to catch on locally as well, some recent shows include ’30 Years Ago’ staged by writer and curator, Sanjana Hattotuwa and the ‘Pettah Interchange’ by the international Border Movement, in association with the Goethe Institut.