Laki Senanayake

Barbara Sansoni’s drawings comprised that of traditional buildings. Distressed by the demolition of old buildings in the name of growth and expansion, Barbara Sansoni took the initiative to draw these buildings in an attempt to archive them. She developed this ardent passion for beautiful architecture as she grew up amidst varying places in Ceylon including Batticaloa, Mannar, Matara, Kurunegala and Kandy, abundant with buildings reflecting simplicity, splendour and cultural heritage. She contributed greatly to the documentation of old buildings and in doing so, she worked with the revered Laki Senanayake, measuring countless buildings. We conversed with the Icon -  a few days before his passing, when he reminisced upon his friendship with Barbara and the work they did together.

Barbara and Laki spent a lot of time together working on the architectural collections of ‘Vihares and Verandas’ and had developed a symbiotic friendship where their novel perspectives inspired each other immensely. An admirer of Barbara himself, in our conversation, Laki shared his poignant thoughts of Barbara and the beauty seeped in her drawings.

Q | Can you tell us how you met Barbara, and all the scintillating details of those initial encounters?

A | It may be in 1960 when I was working with Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner who were designing a small apartment for her in Anderson road. She was also in my adult art class at the Melbourne Art school, where she confessed she couldn't draw. I soon disabused her of this notion saying that any child of five years old soon mastered a script for writing in English, Sinhala or Arabic, and a leaf was much simpler to draw. She is now an accomplished draftsman with a massive collection of drawings to her credit.

We enjoyed several days working in her garage when she used to try out sculptures in clay and cast lead and although we didn't know that lead was a deadly poison that destroyed one's brain cells. Thank God we managed to survive that misfortune apart from being eccentric in our old age.

Q | What did you admire most about Barbara?

A | Barbara was a great mimic and had a wicked sense of humour, though she was extremely generous and kind.

Q | What of Barbara's efforts in your opinion influenced the growth of artists in Sri Lanka?

A | She had no tolerance of slip shod behaviour, and the girls she worked with in handloom became artists and contributed their skill in making Barefoot a world recognised institution for communal work in art.

Q | Can you share your experiences working together with Barbara on the illustrious publication ‘The Architecture of an Island’?

A | Barbara and I, inspired by Ulrik Plesner, spent 30 years of life measuring and drawing buildings of architectural significance from temples, churches, fortresses and houses of all sorts to chicken houses suspended from trees.

They covered buildings from ancient Sinhala, Portuguese and Dutch architecture to Hindu kovils and rest houses for tired pilgrims. Many years later, Dr. Ronald Lewcock suggested we make a book out of our work, and ‘The Architecture of an island’ was the result. The person who claimed she couldn't draw, did several perspective drawings for this book.

Q | What are some of your personal favourites of Barbara Sansoni’s works?

A | The books she wrote for children, Missy Fu, and other stories, also much admired by adults, where her style of drawing enhanced the magical narratives our amongst my favourites.  
Laki Senanayake and Barbara Sansoni published a set of drawings in the publication ‘Viharas and Verandas’, and ‘The Architecture of an Island’ in 1978 and 1998 respectively, which recorded the traditional architecture of Sri Lanka. C. Anjalendran in his citation for Barbara  Sansoni in June 2011 mentioned that the ‘Architecture of an Island’ has now become a sourcebook in representing vernacular architecture. Laki Senanayake is one of the few legendary interdisciplinary artist that Sri Lanka can boast of, stemming from his dynamic skill set in both artistic expression and architecture. Growing up in the village of Madampe in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, his work gained momentum through his projects with the iconic Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner at the firm Edwards Reids and Begg during the 1950’s. Laki studied art under renowned painter Stanley Abeysinghe and gathered knowledge on technique and style to depict the mysticism around him. Apart from his passion project ‘Diyabubula’, Laki is known for his sculptures: a large brass peacock for Bentota Beach Hotel and several brass palm and plaster reliefs for the Neptune Hotel in Bentota. Two of his well-known sculptures of owls are also placed at Barefoot Gallery and Cafe in Colombo, and he is highly acclaimed for his sculptural stair presentation at the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel in Galle. 

29th July, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings