Nelum Pokuna: A Walk Through Colombo's Stunning Art Street

Artworks on display
Artworks on display | Siobhan Ali / © Culture Trip
Photo of Siobhan Ali
28 May 2018

Across the road from the scenic Viharamahadevi Park, Nelum Pokuna Art Street is a picturesque roadside attraction that characterises the beauty and local talent of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Aspiring young artists showcase their work at this market-style road, offering a unique insight into the thriving art scene.

A vibrant explosion of creativity

Located directly behind the National Museum of Colombo, Nelum Pokuna Art Street is in the heart of city. Easily accessible to tourists, this roadside market is a kaleidoscope of colour, bringing the city streets to life.

The art market allows visitors to immerse themselves in Sri Lanka‘s art scene directly through the paintings of locals. From canvases of traditional stilt fishermen and tea plantations, to Buddhist monks and elephants, the works offer an insight into key Sri Lankan symbols and their long-standing cultural connotations. This unique format allows a further understanding of the artworks, as you can interact with the artists and discuss their experiences and the inspiration behind each painting.

Canvases line the street | Siobhan Ali / © Culture Trip

Behind the scenes

The market undoubtedly plays an important role for tourists to Sri Lanka’s capital city, with snapshots of the stalls featured in most travel albums. However, the market is also intrinsic to the professional careers of the artists themselves: many are students who are looking to sell their art to cover the cost of their university education, and Nelum Pokuna Art Street provides a stepping stone in their careers.

Artists also hope to get recognition as they cannot afford the high fees charged by galleries – the street allows a client base to be developed and artists to receive patronage, with art being promoted as a lucrative career path. Artists here have been commissioned to brighten up the corridors of various international embassies in Sri Lanka as well the homes of high-profile clients such as diplomats, ambassadors and politicians. In this way, the tourist hub is able to give many budding artists their ‘big break.’ The market fosters creativity, giving back to the local community.

Artwork featuring local fishermen | Siobhan Ali / © Culture Trip

Kala Pola

An annual event that celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, Kala Pola is an open-air art fair that is held in Colombo’s capital city. Allowing artists from all across Sri Lanka to come down and display their paintings and sculptures, Kala Pola is a national celebration of art and a beloved cultural event. As with the regular daily market, the event offers networking opportunities. In recent years, over 300 artists have presented their work and the market has welcomed 22,000 visitors and generated RS. 13 million (USD$82,300) in sales.

Artwork featuring a monk | Siobhan Ali / © Culture Trip

Tips for visiting Nelum Pokuna Art Street

As well as admiring and taking photos of the art, do try to show your support and purchase a painting (or two!). Most are quite affordably priced and you can haggle to negotiate a price that works for you and the artist. In this way, you can contribute to the local art scene, encouraging talent and allowing these young artists to continue doing what they love. You are also directly paying the artist themselves, rather than paying a gallery’s commission.

If you’re worried about transporting large canvases back home, don’t be! The artists can easily remove the painting from the canvas and roll it up for you to take along on your travels. They also sell painting storage tubes for added protection.

The practice of adding your signature to your artwork is attributed to the Renaissance period. Unfortunately, many of the paintings sold along the Nelum Pokuna Art Street are lacking their creators’ unique insignias. With that in mind, do ask the artist if they would be willing to add their initials and the date to your painting or if they would like to pose with the painting. This will be a unique token for you to remember your trip and the artist behind the stunning work you will display in your home.

A forest scene | Siobhan Ali / © Culture Trip

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