Released November 2016

‘Conceiving Space’, Colombo Art Biennale 2016: A celebration of South Asia’s most innovative emerging and established creative artistic talent

| 2nd – 20th December 2016 |

Cristina Rodrigues, ‘The Queen’

This year sees the fourth edition of The Colombo Art Biennale (CAB), one of the world’s most significant celebration of contemporary South Asian art and culture.  Attracting over 2,500 visitors in its last edition, this year organisers expect it to be the most popular year to date. Curated by Alnoor Mitha, CAB2016 will herald community engagement and educational initiatives with its visual arts and architects programs.  Hosted across ten different famous sites around Colombo, from the Prana Lounge to Slave Island, visitors will enjoy a rich and diverse experience of Sri Lankan art, space and culture.

Founded by gallerist and cultural ambassador Annoushka Hempel in 2009, the mission of the Colombo Art Biennale is to raise the profile of artists in this fast developing market as part of south Asia and beyond.

The theme for CAB2016 is ‘Conceiving Space’, which seeks to re-imagine traditional concepts of the ‘spatial’ in relation to boundaries and engagement. With a focus on emerging Sri Lankan talent, over 73 international and local artists such as Faiza Butt (UK/Pakistan), Cristina Rodrigues (Portuguese) and Chila Kumari Burman (British/Asian) will showcase their work and projects.  Established Sri Lankan artists will act as mentors in order to promote and develop the work and careers of the younger artists involved, these young contemporary artists and diversify the art on view.


The Architectural Program at CAB will provide a rare opportunity for local and  international students to learn and assist leading artists and architects in the production of their works.  A number of workshops will also be taking place in the Architect’s Educational programme, which includes 2015 Turner Art Prize winners Studio Assemble (UK) with Madelon Vriesendorp (The Netherlands) allowing artists, architects and students to work in conjunction in favour of the community and education.  This program hopes to assemble useful structures and develop self-sustainability within the Slave Island community.

CAB2016 are also excited to announce that there will be numerous performances conducted prior to, and throughout the biennale, which will also extend beyond the festival, by Mullegema Art Centre, Jayne Dyer in collaboration with Unity Mission Trust, Theertha Performance Platform, Collective of Contemporary Artists (CoCA).

The finale of the program will showcase all projects created over the event bringing together artists, architects and visitors. It will culminate in “The Great Feast” on December 11th, a community engaged celebration of CAB projects.

Demonstrating the burgeoning content and interest in South Asia’s contemporary art scene, CAB2016 is not only an exciting but essential event in the art world’s calendar. Curator Mitha explains: “My ultimate vision is to create a South Asian artistic hub in Colombo that is inspirational – an artistic journey that captivates the imagination whilst exploring new ideas with young people, and with the local communities who live in Sri Lanka whilst welcoming international delegates.”


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Released September 2016

Colombo Art Biennale | Conceiving Space | 2nd – 20th December 2016

The Colombo Art Biennale (CAB) is the largest and most significant contemporary art manifestation in Sri Lanka. Established in 2009, CAB showcases contemporary art with an emphasis on Sri Lanka and the South Asian region.

The theme for CAB 2016, curated by Alnoor Mitha, is ‘Conceiving Space’, seeks to open up a paradigm of seeing, providing possibilities for creative production that engage with explorations of diverse senses of space. The Biennale will bring together 45 International & Local artists including: Mithu Sen (Delhi), Pushpamala N (Bangalore), Reena Kallat (Delhi), Faiza Butt (UK/Pakistan), Naiza Khan (UK/Pakistan), Ghada Khungi (Bahrain), Cristina Rodrigues (Portugal), Ruby Chisthi (US), Rajni Perera (Sri Lanka/Canada), Saskia Pintelon (Sri Lanka/Belgium), Priyantha Udagedara (Sri Lanka), Tracy Holsinger (Sri Lanka), Venuri Perera (Sri Lanka), S. P. Pushpakanthan (Sri Lanka) and Asvajit Boyle (Sri Lanka).

Conceiving Space’ reimagines traditional concepts of the ‘spatial’ in relation to boundaries and engagement; it demands a foray into space as public and private; space as protest; space as tangible and imagined; space as community, memory and legacy; space as architectural, conceptual, performative, temporal, spiritual, symbolic, intuitive and rhythmic; space as liminal and ritualistic; space as embodied and meditative, virtual and transcendent.

Integral to CAB’s vision for 2016 is the establishment of dialogue between local and international artists, curator Mitha explains:

“Artists are the conduits of engagement with each other and most importantly with their immediate audiences. We are increasingly living in a time that is dominated by political events that are transforming our globe, making it unsafe, creating a new paradigm that questions our humanity through conflict. However, artists bring a new light, a new wisdom that generates a genuine engagement with the visual narrative that encapsulates issues around space, memory, identity, place, and what I call the transformative architectural paradigm that brings a new experiential reality.

 My ultimate vision is to create a South Asian artistic Hub in Colombo that is inspirational – an artistic journey that captivates the imagination whilst exploring new ideas with young people, and with the local communities who live in Sri Lanka whilst welcoming international delegates. At the end of the day, art is transformative; it brings smiles to many faces and challenges the cerebral mindset.

The Queen

Cristina Rodrigues, ‘The Queen’                 

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CAB 2016 prioritizes community engagement and educational initiatives. Through multiple perspectives and approaches, these programmes survey a broad range of artistic media, considering artistic conceptions of space as alternatively a material environment, a historical experience, a lived reality, or as a sense of place. Participating artists include Studio Assemble (UK), Prof. Will Alsop (UK), Prof. Dr. Alex Lehnerer (Germany/Switzerland), Madelon Vriesendorp (The Netherlands), Mullegama Project (Sri Lanka), CoCA Collective (Sri Lanka), Jayne Dyer (Australia). Jean-François Boclé (France/Martinique), Cristina Rodrigues (Portugal), Mind Adventures (Sri Lanka) and Eva Priyanka-Wegener (Sri Lanka/Germany).

CAB 2016 will be held at over ten different sites around Colombo including, Prana Lounge, The Old Town Hall, Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Slave Island, Theertha Red Dot Gallery. Parallel events will also be held at Barefoot Gallery, Saskia Fernando Gallery & CoCA.

Notes for Editors – Biographies

Alnoor Mitha – Curator

Alnoor Mitha joined the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in 2012. He is a Senior Research Fellow (Asian Cultures) at MIRIAD and Manchester School of Art. Before that he held posts as curator at both Huddersfield and Oldham art galleries. During 2001-2011, Mitha was the founding Artistic Director of Shisha, the international agency for contemporary South Asian crafts and visual arts. Whilst at Shisha, Mitha founded the award winning Asia Triennial Manchester (ATM). Through his vision, the ATM is now part of MMU as a strategic international festival of contemporary visual culture. Mitha has also produced numerous publications and is a trustee for Cubitt (Turner Prize nominated artists), London. He was also nominated for the TSB Asian Jewel Award for his outstanding work for Asian arts.

Gihan Karunaratne – Director/Curator of Architects/Community Engagement Programme

Gihan Karunaratne is a graduate of Royal College of Art in London and is a recipient of the Bovis and Architectural Journal Award for Architecture. Karunaratne is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for Architecture, Design and Education and writes and researches extensively on art and architecture.

Karunaratne’s philosophy and interest lies in urban conditions within cities, which are undergoing constant physical, economic and social changes in patterns of urban living. In many of his projects he has researched and explored the underbelly of the city in great detail, specifically the peripheries and incidences where people hide from social normality.

Gihan has recently started a detailed urban/architectural study into the slum housing communities of Sri Lanka, specifically in parts of Colombo. This study also involves research into low cost housing architecture and design. Due to the results of displaced communities following civil wars and tsunami, his research also focuses on the social impact of architecture and how it can unify broken, fractured families and communities through design.For ‘Conceiving Space’ Gihan is bringing together internationally renowned architects from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany/Switzerland, Australia with the support of international universities from New Zealand and the UK, along with Sri Lankan artist collectives, to engage with the local community of Slave Island through a series of workshops, installations and events.


This nine-day programme will see internationally renowned and award winning architects and artists working with the local community with the support of both international and local students and artists.  The finale of the programme will showcase these collaborations in and around the community area, culminating in a ‘Great Feast’ on the last day bringing together 500 artists, architects and visitors with the local community who will be cooking.

Participants include Studio Assemble (UK), Prof. Will Alsop (UK) Asst. Prof. Dr. Alex Lehnerer (Germany/Switzerland), Madelon Vriesendorp (The Netherlands), Mullegama Project (Sri Lanka), CoCA Collective (Sri Lanka), Jayne Dyer (Australia). Jean-François Boclé (France/Martinique),Mind Adventures (Sri Lanka), Eva Priyanka-Wegener (Sri Lanka/Germany).


This programme will see international and local students from Auckland University (New Zealand), Sheffield Hallam University (UK), Hertfordshire University (UK), Architecture Graduates (Sri Lanka) collaborating with the Architects/Artists in the nine-day programme in and around Slave Island. Students will be involved in a series of creative workshops and assisting Artists in the production of their works. In addition young students from Sri Lankan will be given the opportunity to participate in workshops with leading international artists such as Madelon Vrisendorp, Will Alsop and Studio Assemble, as well as local big names such as Pala Pothupitiye and Vimukthi Jayasundera.

Studio Assemble

Studio Assemble

‘Yard house’

Plebeian Archive by Hardeep Pandhal, Photo courtesy Max Slaven

Hardeep Pandhal

‘Plebeian Archive’

Woven-chronicles by Reena kallat

Reena Kallat

‘Woven Chronicle’

The Colombo Art Biennale 2009-2014: Background

The CAB was conceived in a time and place where peace was not a reality; the inaugural theme, “Imagining Peace” in 2009, was a hopeful pledge for the future. In its second edition in 2012, the CAB set new goals with its theme “Becoming”, capturing the excitement and optimism of the moment as a nation newly freed from conflict, contemplating its future. In 2014, the theme “Making History” was selected as a provocation to embark on a journey through art that engages with ‘history’ as versions – narratives and counter narratives; memory both collective and personal; violence as performed and remembered; and resistance as approached through a multi-dimensional art practice. Its socially conscious slant positioned the artists as witness, commentator and interrogator of social moments.

In 2009, the CAB featured 20 local and seven international artists and was curated by five leading Colombo artists/galleries. It attracted over 2,500 visitors. The CAB 2012 featured 24 local and 17 international artists selected by its two curators from Bangalore and Vienna. In 2014, the “Making History” edition featured 56 artists, both local and international, and performance artists (from India, Bangladesh, Qatar, Nepal, Germany, Austria, the UK, France, Scotland, Ireland, Iran, Sweden, Switzerland, China, the USA, and Italy) curated by a team of four curators, and hosted over 3500 visitors from around the world. Seven locations were used for the main events. The CAB has also attracted an international institutional presence from two professional art organisations including the Berlin Biennale, IFA, Mimeta, OCA, iapsis, The Qatar Museum Authority, the British Council, the Goethe-Institut, the Alliance Française, Sovereign Art Foundation, Dhaka Art Summit, InSitu, Pro-Helvetia, Creative Scotland and 1 Shanthiroad. Locally, the CAB welcomed associations and links formed with representatives from the government, diplomatic missions, cultural institutions, senior business leaders, curators, collectors and gallerists.


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