Economics Biennial News Sri Lanka

Colombo Art Biennale soldiers on, despite a lack of funding

Curator calls on South Asian collectors to become patrons

A work by Aaron Burton at the 2012 Colombo Art Biennale

The future of the Colombo Art Biennale in Sri Lanka is in jeopardy due to a lack of funding. Now in its third edition, the event has grown from just five days in 2012 to 11 days next year. “Making History'” is due to open on 30 January and run until 9 February 2014, with exhibitions and events appearing in venues including the government-run JDA Perera Gallery, the Goethe Institute Sri Lanka, the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology, Park Street Mews and the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute.

Apart from Colombo, at least four other biennials have launched in South and Southeast Asia in recent years—Singapore, Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Kochi. The Singapore Biennale is the only one that is mainly state-funded. The rest have struggled to raise funds from private sources and the Sri Lankan capital's biennial is no exception.

While collecting contemporary art is still largely an elitist pursuit in the region, Amit Kumar Jain, one of next year’s curators, says that there is no shortage of collectors in South Asia. “But they need to come forward and support projects like this. Collectors have to become patrons. We were hoping to get individuals to sponsor an artist, but that has yielded limited results. Sri Lanka has a handful of collectors. Next time, we will tap into the diaspora.”

Apart from a number of galleries that are supporting artists, the Qatar Museums Authority is supporting the participation of the Qatari artist Khalifa Al Obaidly by paying for the shipment of his work. Galleries from India, including Latitude 28, The Guild and Blueprint 12, have contributed to shipping or have sponsored air tickets for artists to travel to Colombo.

Annoushka Hempel, the gallerist who launched the biennial in 2009, says: “We have also had a substantial amount of programme funding support from several international cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute, the British Council, In Situ, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Ifa), the Sovereign Art Foundation and the Scottish Arts Council. International governments have also lent their support through their embassies, including the US, France and in particular Germany for this edition.” However, the challenge of securing the Sri Lankan government's support, which is needed to organise and sustain this event every two years, still remains.

Meanwhile, Jain, along with his co-curators, Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Neil Butler and Ruhanie Perera, are trying to ensure that the biennial provides a fresh platform for artists whose works have not had much exposure. Jain says with optimism: “Now that the artists are selected, there is only one thing left: to put on a great show in a limited time and with a limited budget, and to show how communities can support each other to fulfil a dream.”

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