Press RoomPhoenix Art Museum showcases rare and never-before-seen Sri Lankan artworks in new exhibition

Phoenix Art Museum showcases rare and never-before-seen Sri Lankan artworks in new exhibition

Phoenix Art Museum showcases rare and never-before-seen Sri Lankan artworks in new exhibition
Oct, 28, 2021

Exhibitions and Special InstallationsAsian Art

Phoenix Art Museum showcases rare and never-before-seen Sri Lankan artworks in new exhibition

Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka features more than 50 sculptures, prints, and more spanning 1,000 years from the island nation, including recently discovered black-and-white documentary photographs

PHOENIX (October 27, 2021) –This fall,Arizona audiences will have the unparalleled opportunity to experience a selection of rare and outstanding Sri Lankan artworks—many of which have never been publicly exhibited—in Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka at Phoenix Art Museum. The latest exhibition in the Museum’s Art of Asia galleries will feature more than 50 artworks that date from as early as the sixth century and span 1,000 years, illuminating the influence of Buddhist and European traditions on the nation’s art history. Featured objects including technically refined and solid bronze sculptures, paintings, and original black-and-white photographs that were only recently discovered. Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka will be on view from November 27, 2021 through April 24, 2022.

“We are excited to present Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka to our audiences in Arizona,” said Mark Koenig, the Interim Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “This exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to experience some of the rarest examples of Sri Lankan art in the United States, while also discovering an intimate view into life on the island nation during the mid-1900s.  This collection of outstanding documentary photographs will enjoy their world premiere in the Museum’s Art of Asia galleries.”

The island nation of Sri Lanka, formerly known has Ceylon, has a deep history spanning more than 3,000 years, with a culture influenced by nearly every major human civilization and dominant world power, including the Persian Empire, Ancient Greece, Rome, and the European world. Buddhism, which originated in northwestern India, found a home on the island approximately 2,000 years ago and has since maintained a strong influence on the nation’s culture. Beginning in the late 16th century, the island entered a long period of colonial rule, beginning with the Portuguese in 1597. Then in 1640, the Dutch colonized the island, followed by the British in 1815. The British largely supported the Buddhist theocracy maintained under the Kings of Kandy, the last indigenous monarchy to rule the central and eastern portion of Ceylon from the end of the 16th century into the 19th century, when the British officially took power. Ceylon finally achieved independence in 1948, followed by a period of insurrections and civil war. In 1972, a constitutional republic was established, which led to the naming of a new nation, Sri Lanka.

Through more than 50 artworks created over 1,000 years, Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka provides insight into this expansive history, allowing Arizona audiences to see for themselves how works from the island nation have been influenced by Buddhist and European cultures. The majority of featured works, dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries, are drawn from the Museum’s dynamic collection of Sri Lankan art, amassed through the generosity of several donors including, most notably, Arizona collectors Drs. Coleene and Barry Fernando, the latter of whom was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1957. Exhibition highlights include paintings, palanquins, and other rare and outstanding objects, as well as technically refined and large solid-bronze sculptures—some of which weigh as much as 50 lbs.

“Sri Lanka has a diverse history and a very multifaceted cultural influence,” said Janet Baker, PhD, the Museum’s curator of Asian art. “Through works in Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka, which features works from both the Museum’s collection and the Fernando family’s private collection, it is possible to trace, for example, how Buddhist bronze-casting techniques and aesthetics evolved over 1,000 years. When Buddhism first came to Sri Lanka in the third century, artisans and artists made small, technically refined sculptures. Over time, that technique evolved and reached its apex in the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors will be able to see that evolution through works spanning a millennia.”

Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka also premieres original black-and-white photographs by Quintus Fernando, PhD, who passed away in 2004. These photographs, which were only recently discovered, were taken just prior to the Fernando family’s emigration from Sri Lanka. These works will be exhibited to the public for the first time and depict simple, everyday slices of mid-20th century life, as well as Buddhist ruins and other iconic locations. With these photographs displayed alongside works of historical significance, the exhibition offers deep insight into pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial life on the island nation.

About the Exhibition

Legacy of Ceylon: Art and Photography of Sri Lanka will be on view from November 27, 2021 through April 24, 2022 in the Art of Asia galleries. The exhibition is organized by Phoenix Art Museum and made possible through the generosity of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, with additional support from the Museum’s Circles of Support and Museum Members. For more details about the exhibition, please visit

Admission is free for Museum Members; veterans, active-duty military, and their immediate families; and youth aged 5 and younger. Entrance into the exhibition is included in general admission for the general public. During voluntary-donation times, the exhibition is offered to the general public with pay-what-you-wish admission. Voluntary-donation times include Wednesdays from 3 – 7 pm and the first Friday of each month from 3 – 7 pm. For a full breakdown of general-admission prices and hours, see

High-resolution photography can be downloaded here. To request interviews, contact the Communications Office of Phoenix Art Museum at 602.257.2105 or

About Phoenix Art Museum

Since 1959, Phoenix Art Museum has provided millions of guests with access to world-class art and experiences in an effort to ignite imaginations, create meaningful connections, and serve as a brave space for all people who wish to experience the transformative power of art. Located in Phoenix’s Central Corridor, the Museum is a vibrant destination for the visual arts and the largest art museum in the southwestern United States. Each year, more than 300,000 guests engage with critically acclaimed national and international exhibitions and the Museum’s collection of more than 20,000 works of American and Western American, Asian, European, Latin American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. The Museum also presents a comprehensive film program, live performances, and educational programs designed for visitors of all ages, along with vibrant photography exhibitions made possible through the Museum’s landmark partnership with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. To learn more about Phoenix Art Museum, visit, or call 602.257.1880.

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