ArtReview | A History of Experimental Photography in Sri Lanka

April 3, 2024

Pivot Glide Echo at Lionel Wendt Art Centre, Colombo unravels an open and multiethnic vision of the island’s identity

Artist, critic, curator, collector, pianist and patron Lionel Wendt pioneered experimental photography in early-twentieth-century Sri Lanka, founding the island’s modernist art movement, the 43 Group, a year before his death in 1944. Wendt set up a photography studio, and insisted that exhibitions should tour the island to reach as wide an audience as possible. A member of Sri Lanka’s social elite, his privileged position – complicit in structures of class, gender and race – certainly complicates him as a potential symbol of national identity. The Lionel Wendt Art Centre opened in 1953; today the institution houses a collection, gallery, archive and theatre. A new group show at the centre, Pivot Glide Echo, curated by KALĀ, a new platform for South Asian art, uses Wendt’s life and work as a conceptual framework to display work by 19 modern and contemporary artists from Sri Lanka and its diaspora, covering almost a century of Sri Lankan art from the 1930s to the present.

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