ART, DESIGN & CULTURAL IDIOSYNCRASIES
High Commissioner David Mckinnon & Victoria Walker
How does art stimulate a wider conversation of cultural engagement in living spaces? Canada House, situated in Bauddhaloka Mawatha Colombo 7, home to High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and to Maldives David McKinnon and Victoria Walker epitomizes an exquisite experience of living with art & heritage. An abode of whimsical splendour, as one enters the sprawling garden, one notices the neatly cut terraces, luscious vistas and Canada House itself turned inside out into a space characterizing cultural diversity in grandeur. Canada House, home to Canadian envoys since 1955, draws a variety of tangible cultural artefacts across a circle of artists, painters, designers and craftsmen from diverse nationalities and periods, which brings forth Alan Collier Hills in Alberta to Anoma Wijewardena’s wondrous horizons. Intrigued by the works that adorned the walls, some of which are from the official collection while most belong to the current occupants, in our conversation with High Commissioner David McKinnon and Victoria Walker, we explore the manner through which art plays a role in reflecting the deeper consciousness and identity of a nation.
Q | How did your relationship with art begin, and how has it evolved since then to date?
David | It’s hard to point out when my relationship with art began, my degree in History with my minor in Art History surely did help as well, in retrospect, growing up in the SF Bay Area of the 1970s and Toronto of the 80s. Also, having the chance to travel while growing up contributed to a large extent as well. I must say, I always enjoyed art whether living in Washington as a kid and visiting their extraordinary National Gallery, reveling in the streets of Europe, or when I indulge in the art scene of Ottawa. In fact, I took a summer course in Siena and Italy and spent six weeks looking at 14th and 15th century frescoes from Florence and Siena in pursuit of my interest in art - and to this day have a soft spot for Italian renaissance art.
Q | How have these artistic influences, that you have acquired over the years, impacted your profession or the way in which you approach diplomacy?
David | To me, it’s always been very important to really immerse myself in trying to understand the host nation’s art, culture and heritage. My education is in History, and I retain a strong interest in comprehending what makes a place what it is and understanding what has contributed to what it is. Part of which is an effort to get outside of the conventional official formats, which are very protocol based in attempting to understand the country. On a personal note, art, design and architecture proved to be great ways to understand where I am, and what I represent. And whether we’re talking about South Asia and its crafts to the meticulous attention to detail of Thailand’s artists - you start to realize how they contribute to the personality of a country.
Victoria | We’ve found that being in the arts, really helps us get to know the people of the country - their character, interests, ways of livings, values and principles to point out a few. So I think, for the practice of diplomacy, it’s incumbent on diplomats to possess a deeper understanding of its people, so they can connect with them better, of which the nation’s art is of paramount importance in this process.
Q | Of the works of art you have collected from Sri Lanka, what speaks to you most? And share with us, the significance of some of your most favorite works and the Canada House itself.
David | The work by Anupa Perera placed in our dining room, of the school going girl, clad in her white school uniform seated on a chair beside a table with a vase filled with flowers, embodies so much of Sri Lanka for me. When I look at that painting, I find myself attempting to understand Sri Lanka’s history, and its impact upon varying communities of the country.
The work by artist David Fraser in the front hall is very evocative of small towns in Australia, and is one of my favorites. A lot of the pieces in our main room are of Indian origin. I find the Indian works, especially that of the spiritual, informative in reflecting the nation’s personality. I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but I do love their religious art because they are pursued by fervent passion and detailed designs. We have a piece that is quite a modernist take on a miniature, which is a maximum miniature, taking a detail of a miniature and scaling it for a detailed presentation. And that’s a lot of fun. I find it to be quite a whimsical site.
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