By Jamila Najmuddin
COLOMBO, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's popular street art, which has been on display on the streets of Colombo for decades, is now seeing a boom in sales due to enthusiastic Chinese buyers.
China has in recent years emerged as one of Sri Lanka's leading markets with the most number of tourist arrivals here, and while this has benefited the lucrative tourism industry of the country, it has also benefited the local art industry, with Chinese nationals showing a keen interest for Sri Lankan art.
Many well-known local artists who were forced to choose alternative careers due to a slump in sales during the civil war, which ended in May 2009, have now re-emerged in the art field hoping to make Sri Lankan art globally popular.
"During the war, sales were very bad and many of us had to stop painting. But now the war is over and we are seeing a rise in tourists so we are hoping to show our paintings to the world," Sugath Kumara, a 42-year-old artist, told Xinhua.
Sugath's passion for art developed from his father. He watched his father paint for hours a day and then helped him take his painting to the streets of Colombo hoping to find buyers. Sugath decided to follow his father's dream and has now been an artist for 25 years.
"Like my father's art, my paintings also portray Sri Lanka's rich culture and heritage. My paintings are modern, and tourists, especially Chinese customers, really like that," Sugath said.
Sugath's most expensive painting, valued at Sri Lankan Rs.150,000 (about 978 U.S. dollars) was recently bought by a Chinese tourist. He said the Chinese buyer had really valued his painting.
"Chinese tourists are our highest buyers. They appreciate Sri Lankan art. It is because of them that the industry is now booming," Sugath said.
Another artist, 63-year-old Sripala Ratnayake has been selling his art on the streets of Colombo since 1983. Specializing in "woodburn" art, Sripala says that while the industry faced a bleak period during the civil war, it has now improved with many locals and foreign tourists becoming aficionados.
"Foreigners, especially Chinese nationals, are easily attracted towards our art. They prefer art portraying Sri Lankan wildlife and from these pieces we have good sales," Sripala said.
"They also value art portraying our culture and we cater to them," he said, adding that his livelihood had now improved, especially due to Chinese visitors.
The colorful paintings and wooden art on display on the streets of Colombo portray Sri Lanka's famous historical sites, the island's beautiful beaches, the pera hera, which is a Buddhist religious parade featuring dancers, elephants and fire dancers, wildlife and abstract art.
While these streets have now become a popular tourist attraction, the lives of these local artists, many of whom have studied the talent from their parents, is now improving.
"Just as the locals appreciate our hard work, we are proud that tourists also appreciate our work. We hope tourists, especially the Chinese, continue to visit our country so that Sri Lankan art can be taken to the world," art seller Indika Saman said.
"We hope to make Sri Lankan street art a global brand," the art seller added.