First Museum Dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Art in Sri Lanka

Over the years, we’ve witnessed art shape and mould the fabric of our society. Through political conflicts, ethical differences and societal revolutions, the subject of art finds itself among delicate issues, strengthening core values and instilling meaning in vessels of ignorance. To celebrate the art and the makers of art, they are encapsulated in monuments themselves. Museums for instance, hold power to support artists and their cause, spreading and conveying true meaning to society. With the right institution, works of art have the power to influence the community for the better.

Plans for the country’s first public museum and collection committed to the display, education, research, and conservation of modern and contemporary art have been announced. Three years in the making, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka is an ambitious, privately funded initiative, which was set up as a not-for-profit organisation in 2016. Led by a highly-skilled founding committee and made up of leading international curators, professionals and industry leaders, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka will open to the public on 12 December 2019. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka will begin its first 3 years of development with the generous support of the Colombo Innovation Tower (CIT), a new destination for Sri Lanka’s creative community. The museum will take up temporary residence on the 17th floor of the CIT, within an environment dedicated to artistic enquiry and innovation.

“While the museums of Sri Lanka have sought to serve the past, they have done so at the exclusion of our modern and contemporary histories. Museums are now striving to be places where all sections of society can be reflected in a museum’s collections, displays and educational programming. Sri Lanka’s rich historic culture underscores the way in which the island can lead the way in the region as a modern and contemporary museum destination,” says Ajit Gunewardene, Chair, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka, Founding Committee.

At the heart of the museum’s activities will be a commitment to artists past and present, living and working across the country and internationally. Alongside its curated exhibitions and education programs, the museum will devote itself to building a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, which will be the first publicly accessible collection of its kind in Sri Lanka. As part of these long-term activities, the museum will start to address the urgent conservation needs faced by many of the country’s important modern and contemporary artworks.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka is founded upon the values of learning and discovery and will offer a pioneering education programme that aims to demystify how art is perceived, how it is discussed, and whom it is for. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka launches at a time when definitions of what a museum is and whom it is for are being reexamined and questioned widely around the world. These key questions will accompany the development of the country’s first modern and contemporary art museum as it looks to the perspectives and histories that are unique and relevant to the contexts of Sri Lanka. For example, how to grow and generate a network of skilled professionals capable of working and delivering across all aspects of a functioning museum. To this end, the museum is geared to be one of the first cultural institutions in the country to prioritise the training of skilled professionals in order to generate long-term employment and job creation opportunities for the benefit of the museum that will, in turn, serve the country’s growing cultural sector.

As part of its public programming activities, the museum will initiate forums of discussions and events with a broad spectrum of artists, curators, scholars, writers and cultural institutions in Sri Lanka. Over the next 3 years, these forums will explore how the museum can develop its purpose and vision. These forums will be ongoing and integral activities to the delivery of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka.

“Museums are evidential institutions presenting and preserving an inexhaustible variety of human artistic spirit. As such, the making of a museum constitutes an intellectual feat that will never reach completion or closure and can only aspire to a ‘symbolic totality’. The life and the fate of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka would not be any different from this understanding of museums and as such, it needs a large amount of patience and active engagement from its audiences,” said Jagath Weerasinghe, Artist; Former Member, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka, Founding Committee.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka’s debut exhibition is titled one hundred thousand small tales and is curated by Sharmini Pereira. Commissioned by the internationally acclaimed Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), one hundred thousand small tales was first shown at DAS in February 2018. It will be accompanied by an education and public engagement program for the exhibition’s three-month duration (12 Dec 2019—12 March 2020). Entry to the exhibition will be free to everyone. Further details about the next exhibition and education programs will be announced in due course.

“Following the international success of the exhibition in Dhaka, I am delighted to bring one hundred thousand small tales to Sri Lanka, within the context of a much-awaited first for the country, as it steps out to establish a museum - on its own terms and its own journey. The opportunity to present the exhibition in Sri Lanka makes it not only possible to add to the list of artworks but most importantly to bring the work of over 45 modern and contemporary artists to audiences in Sri Lanka,” said Sharmini Pereira, Curator, one hundred thousand small tales.

Working alongside the Founding Committee, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka is pleased to announce the appointment of the following staff: Sharmini Pereira, Chief Curator; Sandev Handy, Assistant Curator; Ruhanie Perera, Curator, Education and Public Engagement; Pramodha Weerasekera, Assistant Curator, Education and Public Engagement.

Founding Committee of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka also include Shiromal Cooray Chair, Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Travels, Sri Lanka; Channa Daswatte Architect, Partner MICD Associates; Chair, Geoffrey Bawa Trust; Trustee, Lunuganga Trust; Chair, Galle Heritage Foundation, Sri Lanka; Abbas Esufally Group Director, Hemas Holdings Plc., Sri Lanka; Ajit Gunewardene Chairman, Bluestone Capital Ltd., Sri Lanka; Dr Sujatha Arundathi Meegama Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore; Sharmini Pereira Founder / Director, Raking Leaves; Co-founder / Director, Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Architecture & Design, Sri Lanka; Suhanya Raffel Executive Director, M+, West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong; Michael Snelling Photographer, Writer and Curator, Former Director of National Art School, Sydney; Former Director, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Acting Director, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Nadija Tambiah Executive Vice President, John Keells Holdings PLC; Head, John Keells Foundation; Trustee, Lunuganga Trust, Geoffrey Bawa Trust and George Keyt Foundation, Sri Lanka; Jagath Weerasinghe Founding Director, Theertha International Artists’ Collective; Director, Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka; and John Wickremeratne Deputy Director, Museum Operations (CFO), M+, West Kowloon District, Hong Kong; Former COO & CFO, Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney.

By embracing works of art, a museum has the capacity and ability to reach societies far, wide and into the future, allowing the concepts and nuances of reality to be altered distinctively in the notion to celebrate reverent subjects and significant causes. The significance of a museum remains still as critical and vital as it always did and we believe the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Sri Lanka will proceed to complement and progress intrinsically in the institutions of art.


5th November, 2019 Visual Art | Paintings