Launch of “George Keyt: The Absence of a Desired Image”

Dr SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda


The latest and by far the most comprehensive study of Sri Lanka’s pre-eminent painter, George Keyt: The Absence of a Desired Image was launched at The Residence at Cinnamon Life on Tuesday, January 23. The event was attended by many of Sri Lanka’s leading intellectual figures, members of the diplomatic community, and representatives of sectors inclusive of the media, advertising, academia, civil society, and the corporate world.

Authored by Dr SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Sri Lanka’s leading art historian, and published by the Taprobane Collection, one of Sri Lanka’s most extensive collections of art, George Keyt: The Absence of a Desired Image places Keyt in the context of his times, focusing on areas that have not been studied in relation to his career.
The book features paintings, photographs, illustrations, and images hitherto unpublished, and archive material hitherto undocumented in previous studies on Keyt. Crucially, it features interviews with people who knew or know of Keyt, including the historian K. M. De Silva and the American anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake, as well as Dr Sarath Amunugama, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Tilak Samarawickrema, and Keyt’s daughter Diana.

Reputed in not just Sri Lanka but also India, and exhibited in not just Asia but also Europe, George Keyt (1901-1993) shaped the course of cultural modernism across the region. He associated closely with the leading modern Indian artists of his day, including the novelist, Mulk Raj Anand and the painter, M. F. Husain. The book sheds light on these aspects of his career, drawing from both written and oral sources.

The book also explores his early career, where he embraced Buddhism and came under the influence of Kandyan art and culture. It incorporates archive material from this period, including a series of his line drawings that depict stories from the life of the Buddha, among other subjects, as well as several of his poems, essays, and stories.
Speaking at the launch, the author of the book Dr SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda reflected on Keyt’s evolution in a rather interesting presentation. Following an intervention by Research Coordinator, Uditha Devapriya, the owner and curator of the Taprobane Collection, Shamil Peiris emphasized the importance and relevance of the study, and the Collection’s efforts at promoting Sri Lankan art through exhibitions and publications.

George Keyt: The Absence of a Desired Image is for scholars of art and art history as well as for general readers interested in the art and society of Sri Lanka. It will be available at leading bookstores in the country in the near future. For more information, the publisher can be reached via [email protected].   

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