Past event

Queer Ecologies and Anti-Colonial Abundance in Lionel Wendt's Ceylon -- Dr Edwin Coomasaru Art History Research Lectures

Dr Edwin Coomasaru is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Edinburgh University, Contributing Editor at British Art Studies, and Co-convenor of the Courtauld's Gender and Sexuality Research Group. He researchers gender, sexuality, and race in modern and contemporary UK and Sri Lankan art. Coomasaru has been awarded Postdoctoral Fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre and the Courtauld, alongside working as a Research Assistant on the Association for Art History's decolonial and anti-racist resource portal. He has edited a book on Imagining the Apocalypse: Art and the End Times (Courtauld Books Online, 2022), as well as having contributed to Third Text, Oxford Art Journal, The Irish Review, British Art Studies, Irish Studies Review, Architectural Review, Burlington Contemporary, Photoworks Annual, and the Barbican's Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020) exhibition catalogue.

Queer Sri Lankan photographer Lionel Wendt (1900-44) took surrealist photographs depicting island life from 1933-44, in the decades before Sri Lanka's (formerly Ceylon) independence from the British Empire in 1948. Wendt's work proclaimed an eco-queer politics, presenting abundant images of male nudes and environmental ritual landscapes in a challenge to the logic of scarcity imposed by colonialism. British rule in Sri Lanka (1796-1948) outlawed homosexuality as being ‘against the order of nature' and destroyed common land, creating mass tea and coffee plantations to extract wealth back to the UK. Wendt collaborated with queer, anti-imperialist British filmmaker Basil Wright on his 1934 documentary Song of Ceylon. Exhibited internationally during his lifetime, Wendt's photographs were published posthumously in the 1950 book Ceylon. This lecture explores connections between anti-colonial art, queer politics, and environmental thinking in Wendt's practice. Ceylon's modernist photomontages contributed to a larger national consciousness, picturing speculative and imaginative dreamlike worlds.