Before the imposing Nelum Pokuna theatre became a landmark, before Colombo had begun its ambitious facelift, even before the end of war, the artists were there. They came from all parts of Sri Lanka, and exhibited their work by the road, then called Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, now Nelum Pokuna Road.
The ever-present exhibition of open air artists is an intrinsic part of contemporary Colombo culture. The steel fence of Viharamahadevi Park provided the wall to hang their paintings, and even as more renowned artists were featured at the National Art Gallery, the open air exhibition just outside never failed to attract crowds.
But now the fence is going down. Nelum Pokuna pavement is a construction site. The park is getting a facelift, and the artists are stranded.
We had an idea, almost five years ago, to create a website where these artists can feature their work, and possibly sell paintings. It never worked out, partly because we didn’t talk to the right people. Today, it seems, we have met our guy.
Ananda Rajakaruna is an artist from Kandy. He visits Colombo frequently and stays for a few weeks each time, painting and selling his art by the roadside. He has been at it for almost a decade now, and has become the spokesperson for the group. As we talk to him about our plans with Colomboard, he flips out an iPad, and shows us some of the recent interviews he did with media stations.
“We have no objections to the development project,” Rajakaruna says. “We understand that it’s necessary. What we’re asking for is provision to stay here once it is completed. We don’t think a relocation would benefit us or the public.”
We too hope Rajakaruna and his friends get to stay on their road—they add life to Colombo. We also hope to have them on Colomboard though, so that even when the fence is down, they still get to show their art to the world.