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Sunday, 1 February 2015





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Kala Pola 2015:

Open air art fair for the masses

For the past 21 years there has been a different kind of market that sells art and that is the ‘Kala Pola,’ Sri Lanka's internationally acclaimed open air art fair and festival.

Nihal Sangabo Dias with his family. Pic: Imran Mohammed

‘Kala Pola’ was held for the 22nd year recently where art lovers made a beeline to Nelum Pokuna Mawatha looking for a work of art that would capture their hearts. It was free and open to the public and was presented by the George Keyt Foundation in association with the John Keells Group.


January 25 was a sunny and beautiful day. The green landscape where the open air art fair took place added beauty to the fair. It had a carnival atmosphere with music, huge crowd of people young and old, food and drinks. People from all walks of life flocked to the venue.

As we walked into the premises we could see the artists arranging their paintings and preparing their stalls. They were getting ready to face a challenging day. They had displayed their paintings for the visitors and buyers to see and buy in the morning. By 7.30 a.m the venue was alive with colour, vibrance and enthusiasm.

Bruce Chrisholm, from Canada who loves art has come to Sri Lanka to visit the ‘Kala Pola.’ He said, “It's great and beautiful. It is so different from the ones in Canada. We could learn a lot about the Sri Lankan tradition and customs. They are lovely.”

Sandya a buyer said, “I have been coming for the ‘Kala Pola’ for many years. I love paintings. ‘Kala Pola’ is free and anyone can come and see it on the roadside.”

As Plutarch, a Greek historian once said, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks” was experienced by all of us. The artists expressed themselves and spoke through their art. They said what they wanted to say and felt. Each and every artist were unique. They had their own styles and techniques.


One was different from the other in a way. There were wildlife, nature, portrait, human and animal paintings. The artists tried to explain something very deep and important about life. We felt that a painting was able to express more than a million words.

Speaking to the artists in the stall and getting to know about their talents were really interesting. There were different types of artists. Some of them were disabled and others had unique features. There was an artist who could paint using both hands.

Jagath K.G Punchihewa, the artist at the Sunday Observer.
Pic: Imran Mohammed

A renowned sculptor and painter Nihal Sangabo Dias was deaf since birth. He has a vivid image of his childhood from Galle. He is an artist who could capture the very essence of being Sri Lankan, its countryside, rural life and culture through his paintings on canvas or paper.

Dias with his bright smiling eyes through his sign language said, “My father was a school principal. I can remember a gravel path by the side of our house and the muddy canal that ran alongside. I used to plunge into it to collect clay that I used to make various objects.

On such occasions my mother used to punish me for playing with mud but my father used to encourage me by giving sheets of papers and colours. I have been participating in the ‘Kala Pola’ from it's beginning itself. So now I feel like I am growing up with it.”

Ranaweera hails from Kandy. He was a talented artist graduated from the University of Colombo. “I use both my hands to draw portraits. I was not like this before but recently I met with an accident and a disabled artist.

Today I am happy because I display my talent of drawing portraits in a unique way. ‘Kala Pola’ has helped me a lot,” said Ranaweera. Anyone would pause at his stall for a second because his paintings were very eye-catching. He drew portraits using pencil with both hands.


There was an artist who did sculpture as a hobby. He was Rajapaksha. His sculptures were so different as he had used parts of vehicles. He said, “I like to do assembling arts.

I found the stuff to create my sculpture from the garage. It is my hobby and I do this with a lot of pleasure and profit is not my concern.

Punchihewa, an artist at the Sunday Observer editorial was present at the fair. He has been participating in it for a long time. He is a very talented artist. He said, “ At office I usually do caricatures and this is quite different.

I have painted pictures portraying Sri Lankan culture and folk tales. Last year the sale was better than this year.”

Launched in 1993, ‘Kala Pola’ drew inspiration from the open air summer art fairs in European capitals such as the legendary Montmartre in Paris.

The deep rooted rationale for its existence goes beyond the mere search for fascinating colour, exuberance and camaraderie.

‘Kala Pola’ is a key platform for artists and sculptors to launch and develop their careers, build a steady clientele and thereby a viable source of income. It facilitates the exchange of ideas among artists for collective growth in style and genres.

Over the years, it has also become a reputed means of popularising the appreciation and patronising of visual art by the public.

In the recent past, ‘Kala Pola’ has featured over 300 artists and sculptors from various parts of Sri Lanka. They had been marketing their creations to an ever growing and appreciative Sri Lankan, expatriate and foreign clientele.

It is in a fun-filled atmosphere of music and camaraderie. Many artists have gone on to become successful professionals because of ‘Kala Pola’ with some proceeding to launch careers in the International arena.

Shehara Alahakoon, Executive Corporate Communications at John Keells Holdings PLC said, “This event had been growing from early times but at the beginning only a few artists participated.

Today there are a lot. We are expecting more this year as the tourism sector has improved a lot in Sri Lanka.”

The chief guest at the ceremony was Y.K. Sinha, the High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka.


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