BARBARA SANSONI EDITION - FROM AN ARTIST TO A GALLERIST
Barbara Sansoni’s creative vision is a celebration of beauty and vitality, enhanced and depicted to reflect the multi-dimensional characteristics of her perspectives and observations. Each of the eminent artist’s endeavours are intrinsically attentive to the heritage of the nation and its community. As Barbara practiced her own artistic endeavours, she paved ways to share the works of other artists. The renowned Ulrik Plesner was commissioned to design and build the Colombo Gallery for Barbara in 1968 at her home in Anderson Road, which began to exhibit and sell art which gave Colombo, its first private gallery. The Colombo Gallery exhibited artists who are now respected locally and internationally including Ivan Pieris, Harry Pieris and Richard Gabriel of the 43’ Group. Tissa Ranasinghe, Laki Senanayake, Neville Weeraratne, H. A. Karunaratne, Sybil Keyt, Nadine Ratnam, Noeline Fernando were amongst those who exhibited their works at the time.
After a lull that the Colombo Gallery endured in the 1980’s due to the country’s civil war, it returned as Gallery 706 in 1991 at the space now, which is known as Barefoot Gallery, Colombo. Managed by Nazreen Sansoni, Gallery 706 hosted a number of prolific exhibitions of artists, while also operating as a space that facilitated performance, poetry readings and alternative theatre. The artists that showcased included Anoma Wijewardene, Matthias Spiess, Peter Scala, Laki Senanayke, Alex Stewart, English & Scottish artists- Edward Scott & Rachel Sutherland, performances by Upeka Chitrasena and significant book launches to name a few. In conversation with Nazreen Sansoni, we discuss the scintillating details of the evolution of Sri Lanka’s first private gallery initiated by Barbara Sansoni.
Q | What do you find most fascinating about Barbara Sansoni?
A | Barbara is an artist and a performer. She's like a walking work of art, and she dresses brilliantly! Always the life of the party, she can't help but be the centre of attention. Mostly she likes to shock, while she entertains, to some people's dismay. As an artist, I think she has one of the most original approaches to artistic expression. Her architectural drawings are distinct, and when she starts using colour, they become especially so. Her drawings of portraits are geometrically configured so that when one looks at a face it's possible to instantly think of her fabric design that took the world by storm for its unique juxtaposition of colour. Her works also extend to sculpture, figurative paintings and prints of course,which also reflect her excellent creative aptitude.
Q | Can you give us insight into the very first exhibition Barbara hosted at the Colombo Art Gallery
A | I believe it happened organically. Barbara and her artists’ friends decided to start a gallery in 1967 at her home on Anderson Road, Colombo 5. For the first exhibition that took place in 1968, Barbara chose wildlife photographer Nihal Fernando’s astounding photographsand her very own paintings to be showcased. Being true to her quirky nature, she imaginatively used clothespins to string them on wires while leaning the framed ones against the shelves, and they sent out invitations to their friends, families and those interested along with the press. This showcase proved to be a great success as exhibitions continued to take place for the next couple of years.
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Q | Of Barbara Sansoni’s manifold exhibitions, what did you find to be most memorable?
A | I found the exhibition curated on the Silk Route that Barbara presented along with her husband Ronald Lewcock, who is a renowned conservator and scholar in Architecture to be very memorable.There were plenty of indigenous fabric on display including garments too. Ron’s lecture at the exhibition was most indepth on the Silk Route as much as it was. In retrospect, I find the exhibition to have been significant for its comprehensiveness in documenting a critical subject matter.
Q | Can you kindly brief us on the evolution of the Barefoot Gallery, from its inception as the Colombo Art Gallery to date
A | The Colombo Gallery closed its doors in 1971. Barefoot did not have a formal exhibition space until thecharming 1920’s house behind Barefoot came up for sale, that which Barefoot purchased so that the properties connected. From 1993 to 1999, the gallery was known as Gallery 706. It was an honor and a privilege for me to have been accepted by Gallery 706 as the Gallerist. From inception to date, all works of art were genuine and executed with care while being imaginative. We hosted exhibitions by our own modernists, The 43 Group. But during the 90’s I was very excited by the postmodernists, led by artist Jagath Weerasinghe. I wasn’t afraid of being radical and in a way we were. The postmodernists were not figurative in the way they painted, but used a variety of materials to show their message and the surprise, sometimes shocking in the way they interpreted was very exciting indeed. I would like to end this answer with a quote by Jagath Weerasinghe, ‘Nazreen, for over three decades, with a purposefully intransigent eye for art “that speaks differently” helped invigorate the changes in contemporary Sri Lankan art. She has always been sharp in capturing the moment of disjuncture from which an avant-garde realizes itself by re-coding renewed idealisms. Her support to art of the ‘90s Trend’ has been immense. She made space for Colombo's modernist art to be reinserted into the problem of art making itself’
In a building designed by Barbara’s friend, Ulrik Plesner, the legacy of Barefoot Gallery was born and now it continues to thrive. Cultivating the arts and nurturing the artists and their essence, the creative vision and agenda of Barbara Sansoni precedes, existing as a platform for artists from all walks of life. Nazreen Sansoni, in her direction as the gallerist of Gallery 706 and Barefoot Gallery, ensures that authenticity continues and is genuine in its endeavour in reflecting the honesty behind the ideals upon which the space was built and founded.
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