SRI LANKA HAS DEVELOPED A THRIVING, VITAL CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE over the past twenty years. New artists are emerging to complement the work of their predecessors, who blazed trails in their employment of novel, often controversial, modes of practice. Yet contemporary art remains firmly outside the mainstream in Sri Lanka, supported by a small percentage of the general public and the efforts of a handful of individuals, universities and galleries.
While the art scenes in Pakistan and Bangladesh are beginning to gain recognition, and Indian contemporary art continues to boom, Sri Lankan art is virtually unknown internationally. The handful of institutions in this country that do promote Sri Lankan work tend to do so in the context of South Asian art, with little focus on the country itself. Not a single Sri Lankan contemporary artwork has ever sold at auction in Great Britain.
With so little attention paid to the scene, the popular impression of Sri Lankan art continues to be defined by the country’s most famous movement, the 43 Group. The collective was founded in Colombo in 1943, and sought to pioneer a consciously Sri Lankan interpretation of European modernism. The 43 Group artists, among them painter Harry Pieris and photographer Lionel Wendt, became renowned for their competitive strain of modernism. They remain the country’s most acclaimed artists, despite the group’s last formal exhibition being held in 1967.