Over the past few years the Sri Lankan art scene has gained momentum. There are more artists, more galleries and more people in general eagerly following what’s going on. The role that all the people involved in the art scene play is essential in its sustainable growth. In this article I have prepared a brief analysis of what makes up our local scene, the people involved and most importantly how I feel we can improve.
The Colombo gallery scene is going. There are enough galleries and exhibitions to visit daily that an entire 12 hours can be filled with browsing through the galleries and art. What had changed most in the gallery scene is the way in which artists choose to work with the galleries. Ten years ago artists hired out a gallery to sell their work, the galleries functioned as exhibition spaces. Today galleries are representing artists formally and managing their work, allowing the artist to focus entirely on creating. This should be the aim of all artists, to be represented by a gallery. We are at fault in our culture of resisting the gallery system, collectors are at fault for going directly to artists, artists are at fault for not entrusting the galleries and galleries are at fault for not taking on the responsibility to sell artists work all year round. What needs to change in our local scene today lies with both gallery and artist. A mutually beneficial relationship that is transparent on both ends will allow for both entities to flourish.
Foundations are generally set up by the artists themselves and thereafter carried on by trustees. Foundations often engage in events to support young artists as well as projects to continue the exposure of the founding artists work. Not only does this present our diverse history to collectors and enthusiasts but it also ensures that the next generation are supported by a system that is sustainable. The problem with many foundations locally is that they are run by a generation that is not in touch with the contemporary art scene and environment. The events and system of running these foundations thereby becomes archaic and often aids in the slowing down of development rather than enhancing them.
The Collectors are such an essential part of any art scene, they probably need their own article. What’s exciting to watch as a gallerist is the increase in young collectors. The older generation tends to stick with modern art (i.e. the 43 Group) however there is an increasing amount of people looking for good contemporary art. What is important is that collectors maintain their collection and take care of it as they would their own children. Works of art in the Sri Lankan climate are often at mercy to the elements so hanging works is always the best way to store them. I feel when a collection has reached a certain size and consists of strong works, the collectors should exhibit their work and publish them in catalogues, this process documents their collection and ensures the archive of the works is well maintained.
The Corporates have the big funds that are needed to support the projects that are of a less commercial nature. These projects are so incredibly important in an art scene and it is often difficult for the smaller galleries and artists themselves to support them. Such projects whether they be in the form of exhibitions, art markets, new media projects, artist residencies and workshops fuel the interaction of artists from one country with another. These events also inspire artists at home, particularly in a country where the average income earner cannot afford to travel overseas for research trips. The corporate sector is often at fault for not choosing the right projects. Often their funding is accessed through their CSR (corporate social responsibility) program and most of those involved are on a volunteer basis. Projects carried out often do not assign the advice of experts and thereafter the projects achieve more publicity than sustainable growth.
The enthusiasts are the darlings of the art scene. They are the ones that keep art alive, engaging the artists, visiting all the shows and chatting endlessly about the latest happenings. The enthusiasts are as important as the collectors in many ways, they themselves play a large role in encouraging the artist and providing feedback to them. The result of an exhibition is growingly based on the attendance rather than the sale. Often there are people who are interested in art but scared to pursue it due to fear of not knowing enough. We encourage people to come in and talk to us; galleries can be intimidating, even for a gallerist.
At the core of the art world, artists are the be-all and the end-all. There are amazing artists working in our scene today. What they are capable of never fails to impress everyone who walks through gallery doors. The amount of work being collected by local and the international community is proof of that. What is often problematic is when the artists are not focused entirely on their work and have to support a full time job as well. This strongly affects the output of the artist and can be avoided if they work solely through a gallery. Lack of knowledge in relation to the gallery system means that many local artists don’t like working with galleries due to the percentage they take. What ensues is the effect this has on their work having to manage two jobs with no steady income. A good gallery has a large network of collectors that ensures the artist sells his work consistently, this will in turn enable the artist to focus entirely on their art practice. Artists in Sri Lanka also need to explore new mediums. While the syllabus at the university still focuses more on modern art practices it is the artists responsibility to use the internet and events locally to find out more about how to break the barriers.