“Imagining Peace” by Annoushka Hempel

When I first came to Sri Lanka in 2000 I immediately fell in love with this magical island. The smells, the colours, the rythms and the feelings of this majestic island rang through my being, striking a deep, long chord that eventually led myself and my family to move to Sri Lanka and live.
Truly this is an island of contrast. I can’t think of anywhere else I have visited in the world where within a few km you can see the entire living history of humanity from stone-age Vedas to the 21st century urban culture, from pristine rain forests to the modern urban jungle.

Nearly 30 yrs of war has isolated and impoverished Sri Lanka and its artistic talent, which as a consequence has left Sri Lankan art and artists without an audience. With barely any forum for contemporary art in Sri Lanka and yet such an inherent creativity, there remains an enormous void. Artists have so much to express: the beauty of the island and its deep mystical culture, the struggle and joy of living in such an extraordinary country of rich and diverse history. Contemporary art has always been a reflection of the ever-changing culture of a people.
A platform from which to showcase this countries boundless creativity is therefore both needed and inevitable. Colombo Art Biennale was born from this need, a need for a forum of Sri Lankan art, a platform for Sri Lankan artists to showcase their Works to both Sri Lankan and international audiences, for Sri Lankans to appreciate their own artistic capabilities and create a window for the international community.

Once the concept was born, the speed at which this project was put together has been extraordinary. It was conceived at an exhibition I organized in January this year during a conversation over a glass of wine with my dear friends Giles Scott and Jagath Weerasinghe. In no time at all the concept ballooned from being a simple exhibition to being Colombo’s first Art Biennale with satellite exhibitions dotted all over the city.
Sri Lanka’s first Art Biennale now boasts the involvement of 50 artists at the main Biennale venue with more than 25 satellite venues independently organized but in association with CAB as a unified expressive consciousness under the title of “Imagining Peace”.

The challenge of getting this project off the ground in such a short timeframe has been both exciting and demanding. Achieving funding being paramount. However, not only has the project come together in record time but it has been met with tremendous positivity and voluntary collaborative energy.
Very quickly I suddenly found myself totally immersed in this project as with the birth of a new child. However, it wasn’t long before CAB took on a life of its own, growing, developing, expanding to such an extent that I had to run to keep up with events while gently steering the rapidly expanding, self-evolving event. Since starting this project I have had that wonderful feeling of amazement and gratitude one has when one is doing the right thing in the right place at the right time and when the universe swings in to support in ways one could never expect or anticipate.

All this could not have happened without the tremendous support and inspiration from so many: Jagath and Giles for being birthing partners, curators Thenu, Jagath, Nazreen, Saskia and Chaminda for all their work and contribution and of course the artists whose enthusiasm to rise up to the challenge has been admirable. A special thanks also goes out to our sponsors, particularly the Dutch Government who shared our vision from the start.

I dream, hope and pray that in the coming years the Colombo Art Biennale will grow and prosper, widening its sphere of influence to include art and artists from the region and the world in general. Thus allowing Sri Lanka to take its place, contributing and sharing in the contemporary creative dialogue of the 21st Century.
Please accept our humble yet excited effort at launching what we hope will be the first of many future Colombo Art Biennales.

Annoushka Hempel
Founder & Director
Colombo Art Biennale