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Today, talented young painters and sculptors will be busy giving the final touches to their creative efforts. Tomorrow is their big day. True, most of them bring their creations to Colombo every day to be displayed by the roadside opposite the National Art Gallery but tomorrow is the Kala Pola day. The heavily promoted KalaPola is well-organised and with the fine combination of the George Keyt Foundation and John Keels Holdings, these youngsters get a good break to sell their paintings and sculptures.

For most of them it’s not an easy trek to Colombo. They will either borrow a vehicle or hire a van to bring them. Those closer to Colombo may manage with a three-wheeler ride. 

Tomorrow Ananda Coomaraawamy Mawatha - Green Path to oldies like me - will be a hive of activity. Both locals and foreigners would have kept the day free to come across and have a look at what our budding artists can offer. Even if they are not able to sell all what they have done, the artists would feel happy seeing the crowds admiring their work.

Tomorrow is special being the 25h anniversary of Kala Pola. To quote the recently launched website, “Kala Pola is Sri Lanka’s annual open air art fair showcasing and promoting visual art. It provides opportunities for painters and sculptors to meet, network, present and market their creations to a growing and appreciative audience each year.” As claimed, it has become the major cultural and tourist attraction in Colombo’s annual cultural calendar.

Recognition came for the event in the form of a stamp issue with a First day Cover.

Art Gallery

While there is so much activity going on opposite the Art Gallery, it is sad to find the Gallery deserted. I have been out of Sri Lanka for about four years but have been in touch mainly through the media of what goes on in the cultural scene back home. I can’t remember reading anything about an exhibition or other cultural activity at the Art Gallery. Not even about an artiste’s body being taken for public viewing!

I am distressed by the references to the National Art Gallery on websites promoting tourism. One had just one short paragraph to describe the place: “The grandest thing about the National Art Gallery is its name. Next to the National Museum, it has a small collection of portraits and landscapes without labels or air-conditioning.”

On another website there were several comments. To quote just one: “This is free and it’s a single room next to the national museum, so I recommend stopping in, if only to keep the bored guard company. Most of the paintings clearly depict Sri Lankans (some obviously notable people) or colonials, so there must be some national significance, yet there’s no information whatsoever about any paintings, and many of the frames are rotting. Some are even quite modern paintings and I wonder how they got there.”

Since 1956 we have had a separate Ministry and a Department for Cultural Affairs. Capable bureaucrats like N Q Dias, Vincent Pandita and Austin Jayawardena headed the Department in the early years. They laid a good foundation and set up institutions or strengthened those already in existence. But over the years there doesn’t seem to be much happening. The Art Gallery is definitely a neglected place for whatever reason. In any other country the National Art Gallery is one place where foreign visitors spend their time getting a glimpse of the country’s art and culture. Each item is well explained through printed material and often through audios. There are guides to take you round.

 Thankfully, the National Museum maintain its galleries so well that there is so much to see, admire and learn. A few years back I did a series on what to see at the Museum in Funday Times. The staff was very helpful in going out of their way to provide material and allowing me to photograph the exhibits. 

–Pix by Ruwan Walpola

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