by Vladimir Belogolovsky Jul 23, 2020
Renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003) has been celebrated across the world for his architecture and work that invented ‘Tropical Modernism’. The year 2019 marked 100 years of his birth and it became important for Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga Trust to reflect upon his significant achievements and everything that catalysed it. The celebration of the centennial, titled Bawa 100, was designed around both broadening and deepening the trust’s engagement with Bawa’s legacy and to inspire works that span geographic, generational and medium-specific divides, using the background of Bawa’s life and work.
Geoffrey Bawa incrementally shaped Lunuganga estate over a period of 40 years. It is considered to be a seminal expression of his practice, and believed to be a place where much of Bawa’s architectural thinking was explored and expressed through a series of built structures and the creation of the garden. “Lunuganga has been and continues to be a quiet source of generosity for those interested to draw from this gift,” says exhibition curator Shayari De Silva.
De Silva further notes, “In his seminal book on the subject of gifts, Lewis Hyde remarks: ‘When we are moved by art, we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he laboured in the service of his gifts. If a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift and if it is received by its audience as a gift, then is it, too, a gift?’ These questions are key to how we perceive Lunuganga and how we continue to engage with it today”.
With the Bawa 100 initiative, a series of programmes brought together artists and contemporaries that commemorated Lunuganga to reconnect with this energy and celebrate the many ideas, thoughts and renditions left behind by Bawa through his work to contemporary architectural discourse relevant even today. Themes of nurture, shelter, labour, journey, generosity, perception and reflection offered each artist a unique opportunity to respond to the work of Bawa and his garden.
The creative professionals invited for the exhibit rightly titled, The Gift, feature architect Kengo Kuma, artists Lee Mingwei and Chandragupta Thenuwara, and photographers Dayanita Singh and Dominic Sansoni.
As part of The Gift exhibition, five installations at Lunuganga are:-
1. Kithul-Ami by Kengo Kuma
Kengo Kuma is a Japanese architect and his practice has been characterised by a commitment to using traditional materials and crafts in innovative forms and techniques. Pavilions have played a significant part in Kuma’s architecture practice and this pavilion design is a testament to that. Kithul-Ami draws inspiration from the outdoor furniture at one of Bawa’s most recognised works, hotel Kandalama, and the local Kithul craft of using the flower strands to create household objects. Working with Galle-based weaver Disna Shiromali, and a metal smith from Bentota, Indika Kumarasingha, the Kithul-Ami installation merges the local culture with Bawa’s design aesthetic into an artistic outpour.
2. Zephyrus’ Breath by Lee Mingwei
Lee Mingwei is an American-Taiwanese artist who creates participatory works that explore issues of trust and intimacy often through the lens of time and chance. Mingwei’s installation at Lunuganga draws from his own work titled Trilogy of Sounds (2010) in Scotland. He brought the bells to Sri Lanka that were then adjusted according to the local context and made in three dimensions using locally available pre-cast brass tubes, resembling the temple bells of the island. Zephyrus’ Breath also refers to Bawa’s own use of 14 different bells throughout Lunuganga - each bell with a distinct register to help identify his location in the garden. This work brings the senses alive while making one sensitive to the place and let the visitor have a memorable experience.
3. Symbiotic Organisms by Dominic Sansoni
Dominic Sansoni is a photographer and has been documenting Lunuganga since 1977. Sansoni has published several books - Bawa: The Sri Lanka Gardens, The Architectural Heritage of Sri Lanka: Measured Drawings by the Anjalendran Studio, among others. For his work in The Gift, Dominic took a very close look at the garden, through a photographic lens. A "garden within a larger garden”, which Dominic has photographed, reflects many of the themes he has used in his work over the years; an interest in chroma, or the qualities of colour, landscapes and things observed as they are naturally found to be. This photographic installation shows Dominic’s acute observations of the ever-evolving elements of the garden, the people, and an attempt to see it as Bawa did.
4. Lunuganga Chairs by Dayanita Singh
Dayanita Singh is a renowned photographer whose work has been presented at Hayward Gallery, London, the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Singh’s work for The Gift follows an extensive body of work on Bawa. With this installation, the artist states, “Somehow — alongside my interest in architectural structures, came the clarity about the limitations of the photographic print. Box 507 emerged precisely because the photographs revealed too much and not enough at the same time. As though a photograph could not get to the essence of what I experienced in the sublime Kandalama. Similarly, when I printed the Lunuganga Chairs — they seemed almost vulgar in how much detail they revealed. There was too much information — and then, by chance, the painting started. I no longer wanted the dark blacks or the highlights — just if I stayed in the mid tones, maybe something more would reveal itself. Perhaps closer to my experience of the place”.
5. Beautification II by Chandragupta Thenuwara
Artist Chandragupta Thenuwara’s practice is deeply intertwined with the politics of Sri Lanka. His works are featured in the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, and Fine Arts Museum of Udmurtia, Izhevsk, Russia among others. Thenuwara’s work at Lunuganga picks up the theme of beautification, the subject of his solo exhibition in Colombo in 2013. In this new work, Thenuwara primarily uses nature to engage with the garden and represents it in his own unique style. Amalgamating Bawa’s style of using grids and axes that formed a crucial structure to his work, the installation brings a sensitive exploration of the immediate natural landscape conveyed through a unique artistic expression.
The Bawa 100 initiative by the Lunuganga Trust and the Geoffrey Bawa Trust also hosted various other allied programmes, exhibitions, talks, podcasts and organised day and virtual events. Among many other programmes was the Unseen Bawa exhibition by Sebastian Posingis, the Greedy Forest exhibition, the Decorative Arts exhibit from the Geoffrey Bawa collection while the fifth triennial award ceremony for the Geoffrey Bawa Awards for Excellence in Architecture will be held in July 2021. With modifications due to the changing pandemic regulations in Sri Lanka, The Gift is currently open to the public. The closing reception has been extended until further notice.