Bawa 100: The Gift

Jan 13 2020.

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The Lunuganga Trust continues to mark the 100th Birthday of one of; if not the most, influential creative Sri Lanka has ever produced, with “The Gift”: an art installation by 6 world renowned artists at Geoffrey Bawa’s country estate in Lunuganga on the 5th of January 2020. I had the pleasure of visiting this incredibly inspiring space on a beautiful Sunday morning, and engage in a creative forum which unveiled works of art which acted as a conversation between the artists and the environment itself.

Kengo Kuma – “Kithul-Ami”

The first piece of artwork, presented by Kengo Kuma, was a tea house, which really reminded me of something out of Wonderland. Inspiration for this work was taken from Japanese tea house while also incorporating Bawa’s use of curvatures in his previous works. The structures itself is made of a steel frame which gave the piece its shape and the magnificence of this piece is the Kithul weaving around the metal frame, incorporating the beautiful structure into nature itself. It is interesting to think that it would only grow in beauty with time. Drawing from the spiritual side of Japanese tea drinking and the importance of tea in our own country, Kuma’s idea was to create an intimate space which was also open to the environment, allowing anyone inside the structure to bond with nature in a special way. The pavilion is in fact still a work in progress, yet it already had me in awe.  It is a strong homage to Geoffrey Bawa and his knack for incorporating a natural breeze, creating beautiful shadows and most importantly his use of both traditional as well as contemporary materials.

A special mention should go to Disna Shiromali, the inspiring woman behind the final outcome of the project. Shiromali worked painstakingly to create a weave of Kithul which gave the structure its beauty and while it has hints of traditional designs, it is unique to this location. The design process took almost a year with Shiromali making concept models, eventually working with a team to make what we saw unveiled. The pavilion is situated both in a space protected by the forest and also makes a very interesting sun dial as time passes. Kuma hopes that anyone who was to step into this space would experience a spiritual feeling, even mentioning the connection of the wave like structure, with our beautiful oceans.


Lee Ming Wei

The second piece of art presented that morning was by Taiwanese born Paris based artist Lee Ming Wei whose work was based on themes of trust and encounter. The structure is purely built to respond to the change in winds and in essence, is a large wind-chime like piece, which works as a space where a person can be surrounded by sounds created solely through the behavior of nature. It parallels Bawa’s designs which created different experiences both inside and out. While the original work was copper, it was eventually made of Brass, in order to create the sound the Ming Wei desired. It is interesting to see how the artist was conscious of the space he was creating in as the circular space of the wind chimes works into the circular nature of the sun dial just nearby and the surrounding trees.

Dominic Sansoni

Dominic Sansoni had his own interpretation of a “conversation” with his collection of photography. Having experienced the wonders of Lunuganga since he was somewhere near the age of 14, Sansoni tells the story of his association with the beautiful garden and his photography of it, acts as a record of his recollections. Continuing to capture the ever changing space that is the Lunuganga estate, Sansoni  still manages to discover things he hadn’t before.  It was in fact Geoffrey Bawa who gave Sansoni his first commission. His collection of photographs consisted largely of Lichens found in and around the estate. Part of protecting this garden over the past 15 odd years has been the careful curation of that sort of decay. It is pure brilliance to see how Sansoni has captured aspects of this beautiful space which we would usually not notice.

The Lunuganga Trust has been working tirelessly to preserve the estate and its surroundings over the past 15 years or so, for the future generations to appreciate the environment. The pieces unveiled as well as the ones yet to be revealed only add to this beautiful space. The artist’s work revealed last weekend was only half of the entire installation, with the rest being unveiled later in March. The installation itself takes inspiration from Bawa and his habit of inviting artists of various disciplines over to Lunuganga and be inspired by its beauty.

Every work of art was created by individuals who had a unique relationship with Bawa, be it personal or from afar and is a tribute to this inspiring soul and also Sri Lanka itself.  I am truly excited to see what the rest of the installations have in store. If you get the chance, drive up to the estate and witness these beautiful pieces of work for yourself!

Text Vihan Wickramasurendra

Pics Nimalsiri Edirisinghe


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