An Audience-Centered Approach to Education: The Model Museum

(MENAFN- Colombo Gazette)

The “Encounters” exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Sri Lanka (MMCA Sri Lanka) completed the first of its three exhibition rotations on May 22, 2022. A total of 37 free public programs were offered to engage the public of all ages, taking inspiration from the works on display. Public programs are specially curated by MMCA Sri Lanka staff and form an extremely important interface between gallery content and audience engagement with it.

The exhibition was launched with contemporary artist Pradeep Thalawatta (b. 1979) talking about his work “Athi Vishesha (Extra Special)” (2008) and its connection to the ideas of friendship and love. Thalawatta’s work was exhibited as part of Rotation 1 of “Encounters”, set in conversation with a painting by George Keyt (1901–1993), entitled “Friends” (1982). Visitors also had the opportunity to hear art historian T. Sanathanan pay tribute to artist Asai Rasiah (1946-2020), whose work ‘(வாழ்க்கை) கைவினைஞன்’) (Life) Craftsman ) (1970) was exhibited in the same rotation. This was the first public lecture on his work since his death in 2020. Conversations also took place between patron Malaka Talwatte and chief curator Sharmini Pereira about George Keyt and the various personal and professional influences that have could play an important role in Keyt’s practice. All seats for these free events have been sold out, indicating strong interest from local audiences to engage in discussions with and about artists who deserve greater critical attention.

The changing exhibitions will foster further public events around Keyt’s practice, whose work will be featured again in Rotation 3 of “Encounters” which will open on October 19, 2022. MMCA Sri Lanka has also held four readings of thematic poetry on ideas of love and intimacy. Poets Malinda Seneviratne, Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Phusathi Liyanaarachchi, Surekha Samarasena, Saumya Sandaruwan Liyanage and Anar responded to the works in Exhibition 2 with poems in English, Sinhalese and Tamil. At an Open Mic event, young and emerging poets between the ages of 16 and 21 read their poetry on the subject of “intimacy”. The poetry events brought together a total of 40 participants and generated how interest in modern and contemporary art connects to poetry and the spoken word.

Pramodha Weerasekera, Assistant Curator of Education and Public Programs, said, “It is important to curate unique experiences that enable the public to meaningfully engage with the arts. In Sri Lanka, we want to encourage a museum audience. Our goal is to make this a long-term reality through regular events and accessible, free experiences. All of these events are funded with support from the European Union, the Foundation for Arts Initiatives and the John Keells Foundation, who view investment in public programs as essential to the impact that modern and contemporary art can have on society as a whole.

MMCA Sri Lanka’s public programs also place special emphasis on activity-based learning experiences for younger audiences in the form of workshops. A Kiyawana Muddara workshop, for example, trained young adults to learn history through stamps issued on various significant moments in Sri Lanka. The stamps are among the ephemera on display in Exhibition 1, which focuses on the Non-Aligned Movement, on view until January 8, 2023. Similarly, artists Sabeen Omar and Shahdia Jamaldeen led a workshop on experimenting with storytelling using fabric, sewing and embroidery, drawing inspiration from the much-talked-about work “White Curtain and Women” (2016) by contemporary artist Susiman Nirmalavasan (b. 1982) who was exhibited as part of Rotation 1. Sharmi Thavayogarajah, Education and Public Programs Coordinator, spoke about the workshops: “Visitors participate in the hope of learning various things, from history to mediums of the They also want to relax after a long day of work, for example by learning to sew and embroider. Thanks to such workshops, the exhibition space becomes more dynamic and the participants end up interacting with the works on display without even realize it.

Along with public programs, MMCA Sri Lanka also works directly with schools and universities by arranging tours for students that meet the needs of their program. During the first three months of “Rencontres”, the museum welcomed up to 78 schoolchildren and 116 university students. Curator Sandev Handy commented on how MMCA Sri Lanka “can view museum galleries as classrooms, where learning can go hand in hand with reflection, wandering and playing; hoping to encourage students to come back with friends outside of school hours. The MMCA Sri Lanka team is not only made up of exhibition curators but also education, learning and training curators. Three dedicated staff members are involved in ongoing discussions with teachers and university professors about the many ways MMCA Sri Lanka can work with the formal education sector and how, in turn, students begin to think of the museum industry as a career path.

Admission to the museum alongside all of its events is free. Visitors are encouraged to stay informed of all our events via the museum’s website and social networks: Facebook and Instagram. For questions about its education and public programs, visitors can also write to .


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