Lo­cal’s Guide: Colombo

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - NOVEMBER - As told to NATASHA DRA­GUN

De­signer Udayshanth Fer­nando shares the food, art and cul­ture of his home­town.

Cred­ited with putting Sri Lanka on the style map, home­wares maven Udayshanth Fer­nando re­veals the food, art and life­style at­trac­tions that drew him back home.

iWAS BORN IN Colombo and ed­u­cated here. When I was 22 I moved to the Nether­lands for three years, then spent an­other three years in New Zealand, then a decade in Syd­ney. I ran an im­port­ing busi­ness, bring­ing gift­ware into Aus­tralia. I was im­port­ing from Eu­rope when the Aus­tralian dol­lar col­lapsed, so I started im­port­ing from Sri Lanka in­stead be­cause it was cheaper. Re­con­nect­ing with my home coun­try is what ul­ti­mately drew me back here. I started vis­it­ing Sri Lanka to work on the launch of my own mer­chan­dise. Then one day I re­alised I be­longed here. I found I could be my­self here, and I love that there’s never a mun­dane day; there seems to be more time. I re­turned to Colombo with my wife and two daugh­ters 31 years ago and I’ve never looked back. It wasn’t al­ways easy — liv­ing in a war-torn coun­try has highs and lows, and we had 20 years of un­cer­tainty. But re­cently, since the war ended, the coun­try has come alive, and it re­ally is one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world.

At first, I thought I could run my busi­ness in Aus­tralia re­motely, but then I opened a lit­tle store in Colombo called Par­adise Road — it grew and grew, and is now a to­tal life­style con­cept. The flag­ship is lo­cated in an old man­sion that is an at­trac­tion in its own right, and is stocked not only with home­wares I’ve de­signed but also beau­ti­ful an­tiques, ce­ram­ics, lo­cal hand­i­crafts and cloth­ing, all united by my sig­na­ture mono­chrome aes­thetic. Then two years ago, I opened Par­adise Road Col­lec­tion, which is a more ex­clu­sive range of fur­ni­ture and art, cu­rated by my gal­lerist daugh­ter Saskia.

I have an ob­ses­sion with art and have a pri­vate col­lec­tion of more than 300 pieces in my home. I also launched Par­adise Road Gal­leries, which is cel­e­brat­ing 20 years in 2018. It’s lo­cated in one of Colombo’s most beau­ti­ful build­ings, the for­mer of­fices of the renowned Sri Lankan ar­chi­tect Ge­of­frey Bawa. There’s an ex­hi­bi­tion ev­ery month, and it’s a great show­case for lo­cal artists. It’s also home to an ap­plauded cafe that serves Sri Lankan favourites as well as an in­cred­i­ble se­lec­tion of more than 30 cakes, which come cour­tesy of my Ger­man wife An­ge­lika.

My daugh­ter runs the largest con­tem­po­rary gallery on the is­land, the Saskia Fer­nando Gallery, where there are two ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces and more than 300 works. She rep­re­sents artists that are either Sri Lankan or have some con­nec­tion with the lo­cal art scene.

On Sun­day morn­ings in Colombo there’s an art mar­ket at Vi­harama­hadevi Park, with af­ford­able pieces by lo­cal

creatives hung ev­ery­where you look. Then twice a year the city holds a larger art fair, which sees new and es­tab­lished artists sell­ing on the street.

Colombo has a beau­ti­ful sea-fac­ing prom­e­nade, wide roads and rich colo­nial her­itage. I tell any­one who vis­its to go to the old fort area — sadly the fort was de­mol­ished in the 1870s, but along the fore­shore where it once was is the Galle Face Green prom­e­nade, a five-hectare rib­bon of coastal park­land that was used for horse rac­ing and sports in its hey­day.

To­day, peo­ple come here to fly kites and have pic­nics, and there are a lot of food ven­dors, par­tic­u­larly at sun­set. It’s a great at­mos­phere, as is Pet­tah Mar­ket, a chaotic labyrinth of lanes where stal­l­keep­ers sell ev­ery­thing from saris to Ayurvedic medicine and gold.

We’ve seen a lot of de­vel­op­ment in re­cent years since the war ended.

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