“Imagining Peace” The first Colombo Art Biennale

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The effect of the first Colombo Art Biennale (CAB) in Colombo made an unexpectedly vastly positive impact on the artists, city, country and its people.

In a country where the average number of visitors for an art exhibition in Sri Lanka would be about 150, the number of visitors at the Biennale was estimated at about 3,000. For five days the whole of Colombo was buzzing with the Biennale with people returning again and again.

The Sri Lankan Tourist Board being avid supporters of the first Colombo Art Biennale, without hesitation endorsed the event and committed to continuing to support future Biennales. The CAB press conference hosted the deputy minister of tourism, the chairman of the tourist board and Dutch ambassador on its head table. Every single local press publication attended and covered the event. Countless professional photographers documented the event, MTV and Young Asia TV both produced 30 minute programs and the Goethe Institute sponsored a film crew to photograph and film the event and produce a 45 minute documentary film.

What was all the hype about? This was the first Art Biennale in Sri Lanka. It was the first time that artists in Sri Lanka had the opportunity to be fully creative and not restricted by limited space or the market forces. In addition the theme “Imagining Peace” was imagined at a time when the war in Sri Lanka was at its peak in February 2009. Serendipitously, after nearly 30 years of war, in May 2009 war suddenly ended, this gave the theme “Imagining Peace” a deeper significance. Perhaps of most significance is that it was also the first time that different artists from different schools of thought, from different backgrounds who normally do not interact, came together under one roof with ‘Imagining Peace’ in CAB 2009. Six pavilions, fifty artists, (forty Sri Lankan, ten international), six curators.

The effect that Colombo Art Biennale 2009 has had on both artists and audiences has changed the face of the art scene in Colombory and to some extent the count. It has not only been an important landmark in the history of art of Sri Lanka and has changed the recent history of art in Colombo but is also being hailed as a springboard to new standards in contemporary art in Sri Lanka.