by Robert Michael Poole
When it comes to contemporary art, the Sri Lankan scene is still in its infancy. The Colombo Art Biennale is only on its 4th edition, opening this November 25, and many of the contemporary art galleries in the city are just a decade old, including the Red Dot Gallery (2007) and the Saskia Fernando Gallery (2009).
Opportunities for new artists are opening up though, and one place in particular has loaned its walls to aspiring teenagers, letting them paint the town red across several floors of their tower.
The Red Rave Art Walk runs around the car park floors at the bottom of Cinnamon Red, a modern 5-star hotel located just south of Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo. Here, working with a canvas that includes the sloped walls of the car park, 10 artists were originally given free reign to use their imagination, with more being commissioned subsequently.
All the works here burst with color. 19-year-old Udani Samaraweya based her creation on the style of French Knife painter Francoise Nielly, using her own brush as a sword and used to large canvases, she depicts two emboldened faces for her first wall art.
Lishni Tilakartna, a student from the Informatics Institute of Technology (ITT), decided to take a cue from the space itself, with a theme of the urban metropolis she used her love of anime and games to work a hero-to-villian story in to her vibrant wall art.
It’s not just solo artists showcased here though. A collective of street artists known as The Hermits, with a background in graffiti, created a piece dubbed “Carouselambra” that was chosen as the winner piece of the first ten works. Described as “a representation of the kaleidoscopic nature of the hotel itself, along with our contemporary Sri Lankan atmosphere and love for urban creativity.” The work combines several styles, influenced by notable European street artists Aryz (Spain), Nychos (Austria), Etam cru (Poland) and Herge (Belgium).
The art theme continues through the hotel itself, with art in each room. The lobby contains an abacus-like art-installation around the elevators for guests to play with and change the color of the space, while up top on the 26th floor Cinnamon Red boosts the best roof-top pool and views in the city. Significantly, it is also located ideally to see the historic art of the city, from the murals of Bellanwilla Rajamaha Viharaya, a temple dating back to the 3rd Century BC, and the 1877-founded National Museum of Colombo.