LT ARTicle November 2013 | Curating in 21st Century Sri Lanka by Saskia Fernando

Following random recent events and a lack of inspiration for two specific subjects to discuss in my Then and Now series, I am back to my monthly stream of random thoughts on the art scene that, with the help of this column, come into some form of organization and focus. While I don’t blush at being referred to as a gallerist, foodie or columnist, I have often been titled a curator; a term I am beginning to feel is being very casually thrown about in our local contemporary art scene today. I would like to briefly distinguish the difference between a gallerist and a curator to those of you who don’t know the difference.

A curator is a role that in today’s art world has begun to take centre stage in art scenes worldwide. A curator has the ability to take a subject or an artist and present it/him through an exhibition in a way that not only enhances the work itself but also deepens the relationship the audience can have with art. While a gallerist often plays a large role in curating or overseeing individual works or series of works of an artist and can certainly can play the role of curator occasionally in presenting the works of an artist to the public, the role that curators have taken internationally is yet to be matched by a majority of those given this title in Sri Lanka’s art scene; including myself. An art curator’s knowledge is seldom the commercial value of art or the art scene. It is the communicative and presentation characteristics that float their boat.

It took me some time to become enamored by this seemingly cold character whose use of information and data in an entirely new way of presenting art to the public went completely over my head. I admit to ‘following’ and ‘unfollowing’ Hans Ulrich Olbrist and his instagram feed due to mere lack of comprehension of the notes he would post continuously. After reading one of his many books that contained, what the curator is today infamous for, interviews; I stumbled upon his curatorial style. In an interview with Time Out, Olbrist describes the curator as a ‘catalyst, generator and motivator’. ‘Yes!’, I thought, this is exactly what he does and that is why he is considered to be one of the most influential people in todays art world. In fact what makes a curator recognized today is similar to what makes an artist famous. A good curator has an invisible signature; they in their very own way have a developed sense and style of the selection, the presentation and the communication of art.

In Sri Lanka we have two curators specifically who come to mind at the mention of the word in relation to the contemporary art scene. Sharmini Pereira, founder of Raking Leaves, a publishing house that aims to replace the gallery with a more accessible form of exhibition, the printed book, has been working between Colombo and London for many years. More recently Pereira has begun living between Toronto and Colombo, continuing great projects (see her website www.rakingleaves.org) both in Sri Lanka and overseas. The work she has done to-date as a Sri Lankan curator undoubtedly makes her an example to follow for young aspiring curators locally.

Closer to home is journalist cum curator, Sanjana Hattotuwa. Best known for founding the news website groundviews.com, Hattotuwa began curating with ‘Moving Images’, a project that brought together the curators love for journalism, photography, art and the internet. The exhibition is still online and can be viewed at movingimages.asia. After this project he went on to curate a show at SF Gallery Colombo, the show aimed to connect art and data. While the exhibition went offline after it was hacked one year ago, the catalogue is still available online or at the Colombo gallery. Finally in 2013 Hattotuwa presented an exhibition that labeled him permanently a ‘curator’. Strangely while writing this it occurs to me the show very much merged the themes present in both Moving Images and Mediated. The additional boost came from a series of talks that took place in the same location as the three day exhibition.

In the brief explanation above it would be rather unfair to expect any newbie to have curating all figured out, yet should you be at all curious do some research on the names and links mentioned in this article. The links will open new doors to new names and the exciting projects linked to these entities. The world of curating is growing and it is such an indispensible element of the world’s contemporary art scene that it must be explored. Just as one prefers one artist, so I feel one can prefer a curator. The curator is today taking centre stage and the artist needs to be strong to be a part of their show.

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