Pala Pothupitiye / Sri Lanka b.1972 / Kalutara Fort 2020–21 / Synthetic polymer paint, ink and digital print on canvas / 123 x 157.5cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from Professor Emeritus Ian O’Connor AC and Anna Reynolds through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / © Pala Pothupitiye

Pala Pothupitiye
Kalutara Fort 2020–21

Not Currently on Display

The historical maps that Pala Pothupitiye appropriates as part of his practice are records of the many attempts to seize control of various areas of Sri Lanka — from the early years of the sixteenth century, with the arrival of the Portuguese and the Dutch, through to the British colonial period, to Sri Lankan Independence in 1948.

Many of these maps bear elaborate illustrations of monarchists and soldiers as well as natural and human resources that could be conquered and exploited. Pothupitiye manipulates and transforms these images: ‘I wanted to reveal how map-making was used as an instrument of gaining control over Sri Lankans’ relationship with their own land’.1 Some of the original maps are left clearly decipherable, while others are almost completely transformed, with landforms and symbols of past empires overlaid with native symbols, motifs and creatures.

Through the process, Pothupitiye considers Sri Lanka’s complex political history and its impact on the country’s identity, taking back ownership of the cartography.


1 Pala Pothupitive in Chintan Girish Modi, ‘Questioning knowledge, rethinking education: A conversation with Pala Pothupitiye’, Chintan Girish Modi, 24 December 2018, <>, viewed June 2021.

Pala Pothupitiye’s practice draws on both international history and local ritual in seeking new possibilities for contemporary art in Sri Lanka. In particular, he interrogates European colonial paradigms such as cartography and the effects these legacies have had on the development and perception of the nation’s art and culture.

Pothupitye also actively revives and draws attention to native Sri Lankan artistic practices. His parents were artisans in the small village of Deniyaya, where he was raised: his father a craftsman of ornate costumes and objects for healing rituals, and his mother a practitioner of indigenous medicine and traditional reed weaving.

Pothupitiye has also begun to find platforms to exhibit and collaborate with his father, advocating for these practices to be considered as contemporary art. He founded the Mullegama Arts Center (MAC) in Mullegama to support and advocate for craft and traditional practices. Through his work, Pothupitiye brings to light the complexity of a postcolonial Sri Lankan identity and reclaims visual edifices and artefacts to continue to develop the country’s contemporary culture.