The mood on the art scene is also euphoric at present. “We are seeing collectors and curators coming in from all over the world,” says Saskia Fernando, 33, whose art gallery shares her name. Its snow-white walls display works vaguely reminiscent of Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dalí: surreal, opulent, brilliantly colored. And yet, a sense of identity grounded somewhere between India and the South Seas is already apparent. “For the first time in Sri Lanka, artists are able to make a living from their work,” says Fernando. “When I set up my gallery six years ago, that was unthinkable.”
How does she envision the future? “Sometimes I am concerned for our soul,” she replies. “Construction is in progress everywhere – at the expense of our environment, culture and tradition. But of course we urgently need development, tourism, jobs. And mostly I do feel positive because the soul of Sri Lanka is its people. They are so amazing, so irrepressible.” Later on, wandering through the city, I begin to understand what she meant. No matter how crowded, noisy or down-at-heel Colombo is, people smile at you as though their life depended on it; almost as if they had decided to be the happiest people on earth in spite of everything.