ARTRA’s Art Ecosystem

2023 was an incredibly successful year for India’s art industry. Earning a massive turnover of $144.3 million through the sales of 3833 artworks during the fiscal year, the success of their art industry paralleled their economic boom, with India closing off 2023 with a GDP of $3.73 trillion USD. As Mark Jones, former Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum succinctly envisaged in 2009, “The growth of Indian art reflects the success of India as a global economy” (Nag, 2009). In recent figures, India’s creative economy is estimated to have a market size of $36.2 billion, and contribute to 8% of the country’s overall employment. Not only is the creative and cultural industries one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, the growth of the art industry can serve as a strong indicator of economic health, and cultivates brimming potential in crucial areas such as income generation, job creation, tourism, human innovation and cultural exchange. 

India’s profound success in the global art market indicates a rising global institutional interest in South Asian art and culture. In line with this, the outlook of Sri Lanka’s art industry from 2022 to 2026 includes projected data that the exports of Sri Lankan works of art is expected to reach around $153,000 by 2026. The sustained growth of Sri Lanka’s own creative economy lies in the crucial cultivation of the local art ecosystem– the circulatory system that maintains the heart of the art industry. This ecosystem is the industrial web connecting the various institutions and communities within the arts and culture sector. A successful rise in Sri Lanka’s art market will not be credited to one specific sliver of the creative sector, but to individual units within it– artists, art collectors, auction houses, galleries, art organizations, art foundations and so on– operating in an intertwined manner. The key is to be in concert with each other, as well as different sectors adjacent to their own, that together contribute to the production and consumption of arts and culture in the country and beyond.

For 12 years, ARTRA has continued to uphold its philosophy towards fostering an abundant local art scene in Sri Lanka. Since ARTRA’s inception in 2012, it has endeavoured to build upon the ecosystem of the local art industry in an inventive fashion. ARTRA has presented media coverage of the contemporary art world, published over 65 editions that present the work and life of Sri Lankan modern and contemporary artists, as well as hosted art talks, tours and exhibitions to dynamically engage large audiences with Sri Lankan Modern and Contemporary Art across a myriad of mediums, striving to strengthen the local art economy, and bolster its art ecosystem by tapping into the country’s potential in Art Tourism.

Art Experiential Festival March | Jetwing Lighthouse

The Investment Value of Art

Over the years, ARTRA has aspired to tackle the gap of integrating new audiences into the larger mechanism of the art industry’s ecosystem. New art audiences would expand beyond the established primary and secondary markets of the art industry, integrating new markets beyond art galleries and art collectors such as corporates, hospitality, travel industries, literary and creative initiatives, as well as banks and their clientele. This would simultaneously bolster the established markets within the local art industry while also building an economy for art that adds value to the external industries that invest in arts and culture. In recent years, it has engaged in various initiatives including holding talks in 2020 and 2023 at The Club HNB in Kandy and Colombo concerning the investment value of art, collaborating with renowned hospitality and cultural institutions such as Jetwing Lighthouse for the Launch of ARTRA Magazine’s Works of Laki Senanayake Edition E64, Cinnamon Bentota Beach and Brief Garden by Bevis Bawa for the Launch of ARTRA Magazine’s Comics & Caricatures Edition E65 to host their respective Art Experiential Festivals in March and October last year, partnering with the Galle Literary Festival in January 2024 to merge the literary sphere with that of visual art in the name of social advocacy through the Art Trail, as well as through the initiative of the ARTRA Collection, which enacts the platform’s foremost interest in building up the country’s arsenal of cultural assets by promoting ARTRA’s Emerging Artists– the burgeoning creative minds that will form the future of contemporary art in the nation.

Ismeth Raheem at the October Art Experiential Festival | Cinnamon Bentota Beach 

Michael Meyler at the March Art Experiential Festival | Jetwing Lighthouse 

Azara Jaleel, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ARTRA Magazine emphasizes on the role art can play in bolstering the economy, saying: “The vision behind ARTRA’s portfolio that includes Magazines, Art Experiential Festivals, Art Talks, Art Tours, Art Exhibits outside of conventional art spaces in formidable formats are to garner larger reach and consumption for Sri Lankan Modern & Contemporary Art and Artists inventively. Whilst also shedding light to the role art can play in sharing the unbridled personas of Sri Lanka from inimitable and inventive personal standpoints, the focus of our portfolio is to provide more invigorating and perceptive narratives that not only contribute to the strengthening of the art economy, but also of other industries as we cascade consumption and returns through our initiatives, thereby utilizing our cultural assests exponentially.”

Dooland de Silva at the October Art Experiential Festival | Brief Garden

ARTRA’S Emerging Artists & ARTRA Collection

ARTRA was elated to present its Emerging Artists | Best of 2023 Malki Jayakody, Marco Manamperi, Mohamed Hathi & ARTRA’s Emerging Artist | Best of 2022 & 2020 Kopalapillai Mathiskumar & Pulasthi Handuge on a national scale at Art Trail through a series of individual exhibitions. The Art Trail, which thrived in the citadel of the Galle Fort from 25 - 28 January, was an interactive visual arts component concurrent to the Galle Literary Festival’s Literary and Gourmet programmes. It featured a dynamic programme line-up of international and ARTRA’s Emerging Artists | Best of 2023, 2022 and 2020 exhibitions, curated tours, Meet-the-Artist sessions, open houses to heritage art spaces and exclusive workshops hosted by established contemporary artists. For a period of 4 festival days, the individual collections of the artists were exhibited across the Galle Fort, converting hospitality spaces integral to the Fort’s tourist sector into lively art galleries. This featured the transformations of the Galle Fort Hotel, The Fort Printers, Thambili House and The Charleston as their historical and contemporary spaces became further characterized by the potent perspectives, themes and idiosyncratic styles of the individual Emerging Artist’s collections of works.

As an architect, Pulsathi Handuge’s passion lies in the intersection between art and architecture. His collection of mixed-media paintings titled Reflections conveys the mounting societal pressure to emigrate amidst surging inflation and an escalating economic collapse. Malki Jayakody has participated in online, international and local exhibitions, her collection Colourism subverts colourist ideologies through her intricate wielding of visual motifs. Mohamed Hathi’s collection Resilience and Resistance delves into the systemic oppression of women that has become part of the fabric of normality, within communities worldwide, as well as Sri Lankan society. Through his series of digital paintings Pixel? Visual? SOMETHING Symphony, Marco Manamperi displays works rife with political symbolism, conveying voice for the common discontent felt by Sri Lankan society towards matters of economic collapse, civil war, forced migration and more. Kopalapillai Mathiskumar scrutinizes the normality of class and wealth injustice within society’s architecture through the micro-setting of the slums of Lucknow, India in his mixed-media painting collection Poverty and Prosperity. The poignant works of Emerging Artists Marco Manamperi and Mohamed Hathi are currently exhibited at The Club HNB, Colombo, the works of Kopalapillai Mathiskumar are exhibited at The Charleston, 78 Lighthouse Street, Galle Fort while Malki Jayakody and Pulasthi Handuge’s art are exhibited at the Galle Fort Hotel, No. 28, Church Street, Galle Fort. 

Launch of ARTRA Magazine's Galle Fort in the Contemporary e66 at Art Trail, Galle Literary Festival

The platform’s Emerging Artists were selected through a rigorous criterion including strength of concept, articulation and execution, professional engagements, unique identity and depiction of either a reflection, celebration or critique of a local context or form of creativity. The Emerging Artists are under the ARTRA Collection, and were deliberately selected from regions outside the artistic hemisphere of Colombo, and thus sources artistic minds from areas otherwise isolated from the country’s main art culture epicentre. As an art platform, it formulated the ARTRA Collection to showcase Sri Lankan contemporary art in a curated format across public spaces. Ultimately, it  aims to cultivate regional epicentres of art where a diverse range of artists can voice their alternative narratives of the story of Sri Lanka, and thus facilitate the growth of the Sri Lankan art eco-system and art tourism. Under the ARTRA Collection, the contemporary works of the Emerging Artists are acquired under the platform, and are integrated into a broad range of initiatives conducive towards promoting artistic expression in pursuit of uplifting local art and creative fields, involving the facilitation of the ARTRA Collection artists. 

Aiming to penetrate new markets outside the art industry and to promote inventive platforms for contemporary art, ARTRA endeavours to cultivate a local culture where institutions outside the art industry will be encouraged to promote art, where art is perceived as the vital asset it is for cultural investment in the country. ARTRA Collection strives to expand the art industry into new markets such as corporates, banks, travel and hospitality. In addition to exhibiting contemporary works under ARTRA Collection through Art Experiential Festivals in 2023 and the Galle Literary Festival in January 2024, on-going exhibitions are being held across the Galle Fort and Colombo. 

Written by Kavinu Cooray


22nd March, 2024 Visual Art | Paintings