Dakshana Bascaramurty is a Globe and Mail journalist specializing in features on demographic change.

Sri Lanka has close and long-standing ties with Canada, and a recent trip by Toronto Globe and Mail journalist Dakshana Bascaramurty (pictured right) was a chance to focus on our historic architecture and contemporary design.

She writes: “When it comes to tourist draws, Sri Lanka is known best for its beaches: those lined with palm trees in Mirissa, the whale-watching ones in Kalpitiya, the kind that draw surfers in Arugam Bay.

“But I didn’t so much as dip a toe in the Indian Ocean on this journey. I had come here to explore how … this tiny island country has quietly established itself as a design destination.”

And it was famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, internationally hailed as the ‘father of tropical modernism’, and his celebrated house in Bentota, that really drew Dakshana’s attention.

She writes: “The late Geoffrey Bawa, the Frank Lloyd Wright of Sri Lanka, is a household name here. His most famous work is in Colombo—the Sri Lankan Parliament building, the Seema Malaka Buddhist temple—but here, to his former country estate in Bentota, halfway between Galle and Colombo, to see the best example of the style of architecture he pioneered: tropical modernism.”

The garden has “a certain wild, untamed quality: moss-covered concrete stairs that led up to Bawa’s buildings echoed the terraced land around it, simple concrete structures framed spectacular panoramas of wide green fields, an intentional clearing in the trees opened up the view over Cinnamon Hill.

“There was no prize-winning rose garden. Vines that hadn’t been pruned back in ages had twisted recklessly over small buildings, becoming secondary roofs.”

Meanwhile, the capital Colombo was not to be missed, and provided many examples of Sri Lanka’s contemporary creative talent. “Where I find Sri Lankan art is strong lies in its history,” she quotes Annoushka Hempel, the founding director of the Colombo Art Biennale at her eponymous Saskia Fernando Gallery.

She adds: “From that incubator, paintings, photographs and installations that dwell particularly on themes of identity, conflict, loss, separation and memory have flowed out – many by young, emerging artists.”

The Sapumal Foundation, a house originally occupied by Harry Peiris, an iconic portrait artist and the founder of Sri Lanka’s influential ‘43 Group, also engaged her.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the endless rooms filled with Peiris’s work and that of comrades George Keyt, Lionel Wendt and Ivan Peries might be the largest private collection of art, private or public, in the country.”

Read the full report here.

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