The wheels are in motion for the 4th edition of the Colombo Art Biennale (CAB), Sri Lanka’s largest showcase of contemporary art running from the 2nd to 20th December around Colombo.

Launched in 2009 the CAB emerged from the vision of Annoushka Hempel, an art enthusiast born and raised in England with a background in public relations and events and a university degree in the arts. Hempel moved to Sri Lanka in 2003 with her family and set up the first art gallery in Galle showcasing contemporary Sri Lankan artists. With a fervent passion for local Sri Lankan art, Hemple together with Jagath Weerasinghe subsequently founded the very first South Asian Art Biennale collaborating with leading local curators, artists and art historians. Since then artists from different backgrounds and schools of thought have continued to come together under one roof and one theme.

Following the CAB themes of previous years, including the thought provoking ‘Imagining Peace’ in 2009, “Becoming” in 2012, and ‘Making History’in 2014 – the theme for 2016 ‘Conceiving Space’ focuses on re-imagining traditional concepts of the ‘spatial’ in relation to boundaries and engagement.


‘Conceiving Space’ will set the scene for 67 local and international artists of varying diciplines including installation, sculpture, sound and performance to delve into the paradigm of seeing. Space will be considered 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.

This year’s CAB will see a local line-up of artists from different corners of the island, including Jaffna, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Gampaha and Colombo. These homegrown participants include Rajni Perera, Saskia Pintelon, Priyantha Udagedara, Tracy Holsinger, Venuri Perera, S. P. Pushpakanthan and Asvajit Boyle, to name a few. This segment will focus on young emerging artists of Sri Lanka who will comprise 50% of local artist involvement. Overseas artists include Mithu Sen from Delhi, Pushpamala from Bangalore, Faiza Butt from the United Kingdom/Pakistan, Ghada Khungi from Bahrain, Cristina Rodrigues from Portugal and Ruby Chisthi from the United States.

The various exhibition venues scattered across Colombo’s cityscape will provide the backdrop for these artists to unite and creatively explore diverse senses of space. The sites will include the Old Town Hall, Slave Island, Prana Lounge, Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour and Theertha Red Dot Gallery, as well as parallel events to be held at Barefoot Gallery, Saskia Fernando Gallery & CoCA.

Fundamental to the CAB vision for 2016 is the establishment of dialogue between local and international artists as Alnoor Mitha, this year’s lead curator 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.

The 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.”

A top priority this year is community engagement and educational initiatives and as such, a nine-day architects programme will take place from the 3rd to11th of December. Internationally renowned and award winning architects will work as artists alongside the local community with the support of both international and local students and artists, including a series of creative workshops involving the Slave Island community. The collaborations will be showcased on the last day of the programme in and around the community area as well as the ‘Great Feast’ that will bring together the local community, artists, architects and visitors.

Some of the artists taking part in this branch of the CAB 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).

The Colombo Art Biennale endeavors to nurture, encourage and promote the finest of Sri Lankan contemporary art, to strengthen the island’s art scene and continue an international reciprocal exchange of artists. As a platform for and a showcase of some of the most progressive contemporary artists of the region and further afield, the 2016 Colombo Art Biennale is an art manifestation not to be missed.

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