Kala Pola 2021: Online edition 

Chic by Jayantha Silva

Kala Pola 2021 – the 28th edition of Sri Lanka’s annual art fair, presented by the George Keyt Foundation in association with John Keells Group and John Keells Foundation (JKF), is taking place online this year, in lieu of the pandemic. The fair, which started on 21 February, will continue till 21 March 2021.

Kala Pola was initiated to nurture, value, and sustain the art and livelihoods of aspiring, as well as established, artists around Sri Lanka, providing them an opportunity to earn their keep for their tireless efforts. One may see a wide variety of styles, ranging from contemporary to classical to abstract. 

Over the years, the event has fostered a sense of learning, and helped artists network with other artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts alike, while also providing a rare experience for both the artist and buyer. 

Kala Pola has served as a launch pad for many local artists to gain recognition and propel their work into the international arena. This year, it was taken online due to restrictions arising from the Covid pandemic.

Speaking to Projects and Communications Manager for John Keells Foundation Yashara Nathaniel on the fair, she said: “Kala Pola is Sri Lanka’s annual open air art fair showcasing and promoting visual art. Since its launch in 1993, it has provided unique opportunities for painters and sculptors to showcase and market their creations to a growing and appreciative audience each year.” 

Unlike previous years, this year’s Kala Pola is a month-long event. It gives the audience plenty of time to browse the site and pick out work that they would like to purchase. Kala Pola is also not limited to buyers residing in or visiting Sri Lanka, a welcome side effect of it being online. Nathaniel explained that any buyer, collector or art enthusiast could browse through the site and inquire. Further, she added that this year, they have also organised four fringe events that will showcase various panel discussions and workshops for collectors, kids, artists, and art lovers as a whole. 

Nathaniel explained that even though the Sri Lankan Art Gallery was readily available, there were many enhancements made to the site to host an event of this nature for the first time. Talking about the challenges they faced while organising this event online, she said: “One of the biggest difficulties faced was to get artists to move to a digital platform. JKF staff and volunteers supported the artists to upload their work while creating a digital presence.”

For the organisers – the George Keyt Foundation and the John Keells Group – the primary aim was to build and develop sustainable livelihoods for Sri Lankan artists. “Beyond the immediate sales during the event, it has enabled them to build a steady clientele, and thereby sustainable market opportunities, over time,” stated Nathaniel. The event also facilitates learning and interaction among artists. Over the years, it has also become a reputed means of popularising the appreciation and patronising of visual art by the general public.

We at The Morning Brunch spoke to a few artists showcasing at the fair on their concepts for this year and thoughts on the fair. 


Belly dancer by Charitha Lay

Art is more accessible: Charitha Lay 


Speaking to The Morning Brunch, figurative artist Charitha Lay told us that she had been interested in art since her childhood, and has had the opportunity to exhibit in other countries outside Sri Lanka as well. Talking about the concept behind the artwork she displayed at Kala Pola this year, she added: “We live with people and see a lot of faces around us. These faces can express a lot of things in life so I wanted to portray that with my style.” 

She also explained that her style of figurative art is a lot more interesting to paint than if she were to do a realistic portrait of a person. “I prefer abstract painting because we all want to see something different from the reality we live in.”
She opined that the online show was not a bad move, as she had already sold a few of the paintings she had put down the website, thus making art more accessible to collectors all over the country. 


Kala Pola caters to the demand of original art: Jayantha Silva 


Having won many awards for his art, even as a child, Jayantha Silva could easily be labelled a prodigy. In one particular competition in 1969, he won the first, second, and fourth prizes. He so impressed the judge Mudliyar Amarasekara (one of the most famous Sri Lankan artists), that he offered Jayantha a one-year scholarship at his art school. Unfortunately, as a child, Jayantha felt that one did not need to learn art formally, and did not take the scholarship – a decision he now regrets.
Jayantha’s style is one of realism as opposed to abstract art. He described himself as a perfectionist who strives for excellence. He explained that he draws inspiration for his art by actively looking at the environment everywhere he goes, and also through his photographic memory, which enables him to see something and store it in his mind, and recall it many months or years later. 

Talking about his art, he added: “I also have the ability to see a finished work, where one could see only a blank canvas. My forte is painting the human figure. Even as a child, I loved to paint figures and nudes, at a time when children did not have the access to see such images.”
Jayantha feels that anyone can be a good artist, as everyone has good eyesight, muscle control, and the ability to observe and appreciate a subject. He said that many are going into art as a profession to cater to the growing demand of the public to purchase original art for their domestic and corporate locations, which is why Kala Pola is such an important event for artists and collectors alike. 


Online exhibitions are easier for the artist: Seevali Illangasinghe 


In conversation with Tharushi Yashodha, who represented her grandfather Seevali Illangasinghe, a veteran artist that has exhibited at Kala Pola many times before, she said: “He has participated in Kala Pola from its inception in 1993, and has seen it grow from a small festival of around 35 artists to the large scale festival it is today.”
Talking about how the festival was made to move online this year, she said: “Everything is in one location on the website, which makes it easier for everyone to access it, so we see it as a good thing.” She added that they feel that the online exhibition makes it easier for the artist to upload their work as well.
She also went on to describe the concept behind the paintings Illangasinghe displayed at this year’s Kala Pola as village-based: “He likes to pour his memories and experiences from his childhood days until now into his paintings.” She added that he has a particular liking towards painting many landscapes of his memories from the village he grew up in – Siwalakulama, Anuradhapura. “Some of his paintings are a fond throwback to his childhood, while also portraying the traditional culture of Sri Lanka.”
Illangasinghe mostly works with oil paints for his work, as Yashodha noted that he found it to be very appealing to his audience, which is also what most of his paintings displayed this year are done with. 


The event will be held until 21 February. You can find the art on their website: https://www.srilankanartgallery.com/kalapola