The first exhibition of Sri Lankan art held at an American museum opened this month at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Jeweled Isle: Art from Sri Lanka showcases a wide range of Sri Lankan art pieces, from gold, silver, and ivory jewels to 19th-century photographs. More than 240 objects are on display and cover around 2,000 years of the country’s history and culture. Thanks to its natural beauty and the popularity of its precious gemstones, Sri Lanka is part of our collective imagination as the bejeweled island. The first accounts of the richness of the country were brought to the West by Greek sailors in the 4th century BCE.
The abundance and variety of Sri Lankan treasures is the focal point of the exhibition. The artistic influences from the European colonial domination and from neighboring India are evident in many of the artworks presented at LACMA. Images of sacred sites and temples show the importance of Hinduism in regard to the cultural and religious development of Sri Lanka. Concurrently, ivory statues like the Madonna of the Immaculate Conception reveal the impact that the British rule and Christian missionaries had on the themes and styles of the island’s art. On these influences, curators Dr. Robert L. Brown and Dr. Tushara Bindu Gude note that, “Sri Lankan culture developed in a complex web of foreign influences and local customs that have never been fully explored in previous exhibitions. These multiple influences were woven together in a fusion that is uniquely Sri Lankan. The art shown in The Jeweled Isle reflects this development and also offers a window onto Sri Lanka’s rich history and culture.”