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Kala Pola returns for its 26th run on February 24

8 February 2019 - 219   - 0

Twenty six years ago, 30 artists took part in an art festival. They would have hoped but may not have believed that this festival would lead to domestic and international recognition.
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By Amali D. Wijeratne

Twenty six years ago, 30 artists took part in an art festival. They would have hoped but may not have believed that this festival would lead to domestic and international recognition.

Little did they know that the same art festival would become one of the biggest and most celebrated art festivals in Sri Lanka. What started with just 30 artists has now increased to a number greater than 350. This art festival is what we now know to be Kala Pola.

The vibrant, colourful art festival, Kala Pola will return for its 26th run on February 24 at Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha from 8am to 9pm. It is Sri Lanka’s biggest open art fair and provides a platform for aspiring and established artists to share,market and network themselves and their craft to local and international audiences; in 2018, there were 28,000 visitors and more than Rs.15 million worth of artworks were sold.

In the past, artists would be forced to book a gallery themselves and hold an exhibition to gain recognition. However, most of the time this was simply an additional financial burden and the artist would rarely gain any recognition as most visitors would simply be family and friends. Today at Kala Pola, it only costs Rs. 1000 to reserve a stall making it an affordable venture to display art.

2019 marks 25 years of partnership between the George Keyt Foundation and John Keells Group to hold the Kala Pola annually. Representing the two organisations at a panel discussion on February 6, were Chairman of The George Keyt Foundation Michael Anthonisz, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at John Keells Holdings Nadija Tambiah, Vice President of John Keells Holdings Dileep Mudadeniya, artists Sudath Abeysekera and Zamshiya Kaleel. The discussion was moderated by Arun Dias Bandaranaike.

Chairman of The George Keyt Foundation Michael Anthonisz, believes that Kala Pola has created a market for art in Sri Lanka and is now a ‘great launching pad for artists’.This is evident from the many artists who have gone on to gain international recognition. Sudath Abeysekera is one of artists whose art is now displayed in Bangladesh and India through the exposure he has received. He has participated in Kala Pola for 15 years and does not intend to stop as he says he has great respect for the event which has helped make him a full time artist. This thought has been reiterated by Zamshiya Kaleel who is also a veteran participant. She expressed her gratitude for the organisers as this was her way of making a living. The exposure and interest garnered through the fair has enabled her to do what she loves whilst providing for her family. Sh says, ‘we would eagerly await the day when the next Kala Pola was announced every year.’

Kala Pola has continued to evolve and is no longer simply a place to display and buy art; it has now also become a place of learning. Many schools and art students visit Kala Pola and talk to artists to further their understanding of how to create great artwork. There will also be a kids corner for children to tap into their creative side. This is a very positive development and one which Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at John Keells Holdings PLC, Nadija Tambiah, strongly supports as she believes that ‘the development of art is fundamental to the development of our culture’.

With no entrance fee, Kala Pola 2019 is expected to demonstrate the best of Sri Lankan art for everyone to experience and enjoy.

Pix by Priyantha Wickramarachchi

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