Memory, modernity and history: the landscapes of Geoffrey Bawa in Sri Lanka, 1948-1998.

Robin Jones

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This paper discusses selected Sri Lankan landscapes designed by the architect Geoffrey Bawa between 1948 and 1998, in particular Lunuganga, a landscape garden created by Bawa for himself in the South West coastal region of the island. It assesses these spaces as sites of memory and locations where modernity and history are negotiated. Bawa?s architectural and landscape designs have been amply documented. Prior scholarship has, for the most part, narrated his life?s work. However, less attention has been paid to contextualizing Bawa?s output in a longer continuum. In addition, this article theorizes Lunuganga in relation to the production of modernity in Sri Lanka after independence and negotiation of the island?s relationship to colonial and pre-colonial histories, using this landscape as a case study. The island of Sri Lanka has a long history of the development of cultural landscapes. The place of water in these landscapes has also been a significant feature. Bawa?s landscapes can be located within these traditions. Furthermore, the time he spent in Europe furnished him with an understanding of the picturesque landscape tradition. However, Lunuganga could be described as a site where these (colonial) histories and vernacular traditions re-staged or re-presented the modern in contemporary Sri Lanka. Conditions of the pre-colonial, colonial, and modern in South Asia are discussed here but Bawa?s landscapes can also be ?read? as ?sites of memory?, where, although of the modern era, the past is recalled. In the making of Lunuganga, Bawa negotiated his relationship to the past through constructions derived from colonialism. The landscape of Lunuganga references these negotiations between slavish adoption of a universal modern, with its taint of colonial subjugation, the wilful neglect of this troubled past and the pursuit of an uncomplex indigenism and, in so doing, intervenes in the production of modernity in Sri Lanka.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-24
Number of pages16
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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