Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence visited the British Council office in Colombo on Friday, 12 January for a series of engagements as part of their visit to Sri Lanka.
They were welcomed at the British Council with a traditional dance performance by schoolchildren from the Dikhena school. They then viewed the ‘Arches of Awe’ exhibition at the British Council library which has been curated by diplomatic historian and curator George Cooke.
The panel exhibition comprised photographs of the 21 arches that were erected across Colombo to welcome Their Royal Highnesses Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Sri Lanka in 1954. Dating back centuries, such archways, also known as ‘thoranas’ were found across Asia, including in India, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Often connected to traditional religious rituals, these arches have symbolised good fortune, victories and conveyed greetings to visitors.
This was followed by a meeting with leading Sri Lankan arts organisations who have worked with the British Council to celebrate 75 years of UK-Sri Lanka diplomatic relations in 2023-24. Representatives were present from the Museum of Modern Art (MMCA), The National Trust Sri Lanka, Design Development Corporation, Ceylon Theatres, Scope Cinemas, Agenda14 and The Gratiaen Trust. These partners have delivered many impactful British Council-supported projects including:
- Camara Chica filmmaking workshops for young children who have gone on to produce award-winning documentaries on the theme of ‘environment’ (Agenda 14: Colombo and Jaffna)
- ‘A Scottish Artist in Ceylon 1907 Edward Atkinson Hornel exhibition’ celebrating Sri Lankan heritage with an exhibition of photographs shared by the National Trust for Scotland which toured Jaffna, Kandy and will go to Galle and Matara (National Trust Sri Lanka)
- ‘88 Acres’ – an exhibition which celebrates the work of renowned Sri Lankan female architect Minette de Silva, and her links with RIBA (MMCA)
- Creative writing workshops led by award-winning British authors Monique Roffey and Sita Brahmachari for Colombo, Galle and Peradeniya school and university students and teachers (Gratiaen Trust)
- English National Theatre Live screenings of award-winning theatre productions including Life of Pi, starring the award-winning Sri Lankan actor Hiran Abeysekara, and Othello (Ceylon Theatres)
- London’s Royal Opera House has brought world-class ballet and opera – and David Bowie – to Sri Lankan cinemas (Scope cinemas)
- The Ceylon Literary Festival in Kandy and Jaffna will feature UK authors Anna Metcalfe and Louis de Bernières (Design Development Corporation)
The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence were then greeted by enthusiastic young students from the British Council Teaching Centre before being received by Upali Ratnayake (President of the English-Speaking Union in Sri Lanka) and presented awards to previous Public Speaking Competition winners.
They also met with several upcoming fashion designers, each of whom has a strong connection to the UK, or has graduated from a UK university, who displayed their work and spoke about Sri Lankan textiles, garments and the fashion industry. The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence then unveiled a plaque that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the British Council in Sri Lanka.
Orlando Edwards, Director British Council Sri Lanka said: “We are honoured and privileged to have welcomed The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence today. Their visit to our Colombo office marks two major milestones for the British Council. In 2024 we celebrate 75 years of the British Council in Sri Lanka as we opened our offices in this beautiful country in 1949. Also in 2024, we mark the landmark 90th anniversary of the British Council which was founded in 1934. Over the last 75 years in Sri Lanka, we have supported countless young people to fulfil their potential through formal and informal educational opportunities, as well as cultural exchange. It was a great pleasure to be able to share a glimpse of some of the life-changing work we do with our esteemed guests.”