We’ve been working with the pioneering design academy AOD for over ten years now, giving them consultation in strategy, branding and creating written content for all their work from proposals, pitches to promotions. As for any educator, one of the key promotional pieces for AOD is its academic prospectus. Every few years they invest considerable thought, energy and funds to rewrite and redesign a prospectus that resonates their most current offering, thinking and opportunities. Being an intensely active entity with large amounts of industry collaborations, events and projects, condensing all this into an academic prospectus along with information like curricula, course structures, faculty and alumni stories, is always a challenge for the writer and designer alike. Our writing was combined with the Indian designer Pushpi Bagchi for this edition of the AOD academic prospectus.
Akuru Collective is Sri Lanka’s first and largest typographic collection. This amazing group uses their love for letters to pull off some groundbreaking work for type and language. AkuruCon and local editions of international type forums like AtypI (Association Typographique Internationale) and Typoday are all their initiatives to bring in global typographic knowledge to Sri Lanka, and create valuable discourse out of the island.
We were excited to write and design their manifesto from Public Works. The final outcome was a pretty great example of what you can do with great design, even when the budgets are tight. The manifesto was printed using Riso technique and was written to highlight what brings this unique group together and where their sights are set.
The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum is probably the most interesting knowledge-sharing platform the the regional fashion business. We personally love being part of this forum each year to listen to incredible speakers from around the world, like The Future Laboratory—the world’s leading trend forecasting agency, and Bandana Tewari—the former editor of Vogue India. When Public Works was commissioned to create the annual theme, look-and-feel and the promotional content for the forum, we were excited because this was a chance to capture the depth of knowledge and fashion business intel shared at one of our favourite platforms.
The challenge for the writer was maintaining a tone that was formal—so that the local business audience would take it seriously, and a voice that was fresh—so that the local creative sector would also respond as a secondary audience.
Serendip Strings is an interesting children and music based charity set up in Sri Lanka by an Australian musician who wanted to share learning opportunities with rural children. When they approached us to create online content for them, we understood that the challenge was in creating flexible content that worked for web, and print. The idea was to give them a piece that could be used for information, or as a proposal to present to stakeholders, partners and possible investors.
When speaking to our client, we discovered a beautiful sentiment behind Serendip Strings that touched on bringing people together through music; we wanted to give this a focal point through the writing so that the reader will understand how much impact this project can really have.
We’ve been working with Sri Lanka’s e-commerce pioneer, Kapruka founder Dulith Herath for years now. His views on technology and its role in Sri Lanka’s economy are incredibly fascinating and his ideas remain as groundbreaking as ever. Among the many stories and written pieces we’ve developed on Dulith, this is the latest. When we met Dulith for this interview at his Java Lounge café in Jawatte, he explained how important it was for him to make local businesses understand the that e-commerce is no longer a choice. As much as the message came from a place of personal passion and conviction for Dulith, it was also important that the piece connected to his latest operation ‘Grasshoppers’ which gave local businesses the opportunity to streamline last mile delivery end-to-end. It was essential for the writer to make the connection between Dulith’s ideas and where they connect to a new opportunity with Grasshoppers.
Sri Lanka’s e-com pioneer Dulith Herath SPEAKS OUT in exclusive interview discussing how his network of online retail facilitators, from ‘Kapruka’ to the latest ‘Grasshoppers’, gives Sri Lankan businesses everything they need to ace the online retail game.
“Sri Lankan businesses need to take a good look at how dinosaur enterprises were affected in bigger markets across the world. They were big, once relevant but completely outdated when the digital revolution happened and the online buying culture erupted. It became a fast downfall to those dinosaurs. But, we don’t have to repeat the same mistakes here. There’s room to change, but not much time. So, now is the time you need to get behind this, before it’s too late,” says Dulith Herath. As the man who pioneered the ecommerce sector in Sri Lanka, Herath has a wealth of wisdom to offer any business on how to get their online game right. Right now, he has just completed what he calls ‘Sri Lanka’s first complete e commerce facilitator network’. For years now, Herath has been working in developing the country’s ecommerce sector through his own ventures like Kapruka and Grasshoppers; going as far as meeting Asia’s e-com king Jack Ma of Alibaba. Sharing more on this, Herath joined Daily FT for an exclusive interview where he discussed the future of e-tail, how Sri Lankan businesses are losing out by not tapping into the online marketplace, and why there are no more excuses left for local businesses to get their e commerce game on point. “It’s a do-or-die really,” he says.
“It’s not even a question to ask whether e commerce revolution will happen in Sri Lanka; it’s just a question of when, and it’s already happening”
Dulith has studied the e-commerce landscapes in markets all over the world, from US, Canada, India, China to Thailand, observing the common traits. He pointed out that everywhere, the online buying phenomenon was welcomed at different paces— but surely and most definitely, it was always welcomed by consumers to eventually dominate the everyday purchasing habits. “It’s not to say that people will never go into a shop, but traditional retail will only survive at the more experiential end of the spectrum. For everyday shopping people will always resort to convenience, and online is hard to beat in this matter.” Herath also added that in every country, the entry of a giant player with major investments would bring about a significant ‘hockey-stick’ spike in the e commerce sales causing the entire sector to grow rapidly. “We’ve seen this in every country, from Amazon to Flipkart… Because when investment comes, the concessions to convert consumers into adapters become possible, and once they convert, the it’s a matter of continuing the habit. In Sri Lanka, this happened too, and the ripples of this are felt across the entire chain…and this is exactly what I hope will happen more often here with big companies like Softlogic being present. The share that investors can also gain is massive, because they’re breaking new paths here.” He assures that it’s only a matter of time for Sri Lankan businesses to realise that without e commerce, they’re not even scratching the surface of the possibilities available in the worldwide markets. “Accessibility to the online market is there now, the question is, are you ready to work towards it?”
“The idea that the markets in the South Asian region are not ready is a myth. About 15% of the Indian market is online. It’s only 22% even in the US.”
“If you look at the biggest retailers here in Sri Lanka, they’re not online. And when I say online, I mean really online. For most, getting online is a matter of adding a shopping cart to their website, cutting a ribbon and a cake, releasing a press story and waiting for something to happen. And when nothing happens, they fire the team, start again, maybe give a discount, and have the customers flock, take the discount and never return…so it will keep dying this natural death, and they give it up saying the market is not ready. It doesn’t work like that. For me, even if 99% of my retail is brick-and-mortar, I will still go after developing that 1% because that’s the future. You need to get into it, and be serious about it.”
Herath explains that for e commerce to really work and become a success for a company, it takes the business leaders to understand that it is the future. With global statistics pointing out that online marketplace will only continue to boom, bringing in new accessibility and market shares from every corner of the world, it seems only obvious that e commerce will be the most popular form of buying and selling tomorrow. “Leaders need to motivate their teams to keep digging at it; keep investing; keep analysing the data; keep communicating with the customer…only then, it will begin to happen. And if you invest in this now, when the primary commercial channel becomes e commerce in the very near future, you will still be in the game.”
“And remember, the world is your competition now…”
Hearth spins the conversation to zoom in on another point of view. What does radical accessibility mean to the consumers here? Will Sri Lankan consumers stay loyal to local brands that don’t take the online retail world seriously, when the same or better products are available from abroad, at the click of a button? “It’s not just the Sri Lankan businesses having access to the consumer markets across the world. It’s the other way round too… our businesses need to remember that the local consumers now have access to products from every corner of the world. They can just order what they want, and have it shipped from the other corner of the world, right to their doorstep—especially with ventures like Grasshopper that we just started where last mile delivery becomes simplified and extremely economical. So what’s stopping your consumers from switching to a international competitor now?”
Herath adds that local retailers who go online and maintain their presence in the e commerce sphere will stay at the top of the consumer mind as people spend more and more of their time focused on screens.
“Everything you need to make e commerce work in Sri Lanka is there. There are no more excuses for failing at preparing your business for the inevitable future.”
Herath has connected an entire network of businesses and collaborators that can help any company to start their e commerce success story in Sri Lanka. He says that everything from infrastructure builders to delivery is now available in the country, leaving no room to hold back on the exponential growth that online retail world offers retailers. “You cannot say that there are no payment gateways in Sri Lanka—it’s there; you cannot say that there is no consumer adaptation here in the island—it’s clearly there; you cannot say there are no last mile delivery—companies like Grasshoppers are international award-winning experts at it. So, Sri Lankan retailers really have no excuses to get their online game right. It’s the future of retail, and with everything you need available in the country, what are you waiting for? Go on, make your business future-proof.”
The article is online on Daily Financial Times DFT here
We have been working with the prominent contemporary Sri Lankan artist Anoma Wijewardene for years. Anoma’s commissions for stories are always a challenge because they need to capture the complexity of her art and the emotions behind it. From a professional point of view, it was important for Anoma to bring in her future work, collaborations and partnerships to stories, and it was part of the writer’s challenge to incorporate these without compromising the flow and emotion of the story on Art. This particular piece was on Anoma’s latest international show during the legendary Venice Biennale. The monumental significance of the Biennale and a Sri Lankan artist’s presence there made the story an important one, and was featured on The Sunday Times in June 2019.
Life can break us; But, courage allows the healing that makes us stronger where we were once broken. When Anoma Wijewardene was invited to exhibit at the European Cultural Centre’s Personal Structures: Identities, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale, it was her series Kintsugi, which explores the search for harmony and renewal in a world of unconscionable intolerance and division, which she chose to submit. True to Anoma’s artistic voice that has always commented on what goes unnoticed despite it burning in our very midst, these works were a reflection on fragmented and wounded societies, and reflecting upon our common humanity in the face of conflict, misguided religious fervour and human insecurity—a conversation that is more relevant to Sri Lanka than ever before. The installation Kintsugi invites us to accept the stewardship we share of our fragile planet. Within days of returning from Venice, Anoma Wijewardene joined for an interview about what it meant to have ‘Kintsugi’ shown to a global audience at a time when the emotions behind it returned in full force after Easter 2019, and how she sees art as a crucial part of our cultural and social dialogue.
It was 2014 when Anoma started painting the series that will be viewed by thousands over the next five months of the duration of the legendary Biennale in Venice. At the time, she was dealing with her emotions on the racial tensions mushrooming around Sri Lanka. Longing for a real reconciliation and ‘togetherness’, Anoma was drawn to the Japanese art of restoration ‘Kintsugi’—which translates to golden seams. Here, shattered fragments are fused with gold enamel, revealing and embracing, rather than disguising the mistakes. It is a concept which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed and imperfect and celebrates reconstruction and re-unification. She found a powerful message in this statement on the necessity of reconciliation for survival, and the strength in embracing our history and our differences. She found that perceiving breakage and repair as part of life that needs no disguise and must be central to the attitudes that make for reconciliation and renewal.
Half a decade after the series was originally created and the work was being reconstructed to be a part of ‘Identities’ Anoma was struck by how the relevance of ‘Kintsugi’ also resurfaced. “Easter was just ten days before I flew out. The work had been shipped already but I couldn’t help but notice how apposite it was” she says. But, this is precisely the power of art; artistic work that stems from the human core will always move parallel to our own evolution, and even collective destinies. The ringing relevance that ‘Kintsugi’ bore to critical social issues resonated with the curators, and the overall theme—‘May You Live In Interesting Times’; a title encompassing the highly polarised and turbulent times the world is currently experiencing.
Speaking about being invited to show at a collateral show of the Venice Biennale—or the Olympics of art as Forbes deems it—Anoma was both humbled and grateful. The last time that Sri Lanka had the honour was seventy years ago, with the inclusion of the 43 group at the Arsenale. “The project’s complexity and the scale itself had me taken back a little, but at the same time, I knew it was a collateral exhibition of THE Venice Biennale! A six month viewing period, close to an estimated 500,000 visitors, and most importantly, an opportunity for Sri Lanka to share a voice on diversity, unity and healing—something I felt the world really needed right now. I am so grateful to the curators of the European Cultural Centre for including my work in their exhibition.”
Anoma said that showing in Venice, at the Palazzo Bembo by the Rialto Bridge on the Canale Grande, was daunting; but she felt that the entire Biennale was a collective statement from the world’s artists, looking to stimulate an understanding on how we relate to each other and the planet across the social and cultural divide. “Borders are powerful symbols, whether political, religious, cultural or psychological. The Personal Structures curators were focusing on how division forces us to look closely at our own identity and distinguish between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’; the ‘us’ and ‘them’. But, how do we find beauty in our differences and cherish our cultural commonality? Kintsugi is a work that invites us to embrace our diversity and understand how it makes our experience richer.”
Kintsugi installation has a quiet intensity; it grows on you, and takes hold of you with a ‘broken togetherness’. This quiet intensity is elevated with the inclusion of powerful poetry and haunting music to create a book and a video installation. “Multimedia, mixed media and sensory immersion with a video installation, and a book…..it was a mix of all these that completed Kintsugi.”
The poetry followed the art when Anoma’s childhood friend writer and poet Romesh Gunesekera visited her in 2015 while she was painting the series. He was moved. “I just mused out loud about him writing a paragraph or two for it; and some months after, out came this incredible poetry that was crafted using shards and fragments, just like my art. They examined the fundamentals of the paintings in a parallel process of separation and renewal. I felt that ideas like isolation, conflict, displacement, as well as reconciliation, healing and harmony, were expressed even more profoundly when the images and the words came together.” When Anoma went still further to incorporate music and video into the art, she was opening the experience out to yet another dimension. What grips you in the video with Anoma’s art and Romesh’s poetry, is the music. So precisely composed, so hauntingly evocative, the music was specifically created for the art by Sharon Smith who synthesised the words recited by Romesh with tones from several cultures and music genres. The Canadian music editor and composer based in Los Angeles has worked with Hollywood directors, playwrights and choreographers. “All these collaborations evolved organically, through friendships. I was so fortunate to have the wonderful response from Romesh to Sharon, and so many others whose input was so crucial”, Anoma says. Despite her true love being pure painting, Anoma has clearly never been afraid to explore other realms. Even in Venice, Anoma’s installation carries a another element, with the scent of cinnamon—a fragrance so closely linked to the spice island of Sri Lanka—incorporated into the work; “ Spices must have traversed the Silk Route from ancient Ceylon to the emporia of the City State of Venice for centuries; and so it seems I have naturally now moved into the realm of olfactory art,” she says.
Kintsugi will remain in Venice for another five months. During this time, five hundred thousand minds are expected to encounter and engage with the art at the European Cultural Centre’s two palazzos. And to them all, Anoma’s art will present a brave new perspective on what hopes there are for reconciliation and harmony—a viewpoint that comes from Sri Lanka, an island struggling to heal, yet trying nevertheless.
Taking this powerful story out to a global audience was made possible by a collective of patrons who understood the significance of art in crafting Sri Lanka’s international image; “The John Keells Foundation and Cinnamon Life, Ceylon Tea, the National Lotteries Board, AOD, Etihad Airways and a few amazing individuals were part of taking this work to Venice. They were so incredibly generous and progressive in their thinking to understand the importance of a Sri Lankan presence there. I am deeply indebted to them for believing in my work and understanding its message. Thank you!”
Anoma’s work over the last two decades has extensively covered topics like climate change and the call for a collective harmony and peaceful coexistence. Her last major international group show was in 2016 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, where Anoma was the only South Asian artist in the exhibition ‘One Belt One Road’. Her monograph was just launched in London in March 2019 and will soon be released in Sri Lanka.
The story is also available on The Sunday Times online edition here.
When the writer, Burgher cultural authority and researcher Deloraine Brohier passed away, we penned a tribute to her. The memoir was published on the Sunday Times as the official feature to celebrate Brohier’s life and work. This piece was written as a personal memoir to a friend, and captures the significance of Brohier, her work and life. It touches on her work’s significance to culture, writing and women in general as an example of a woman who did not live her life conventionally, but was loved and celebrated nevertheless.
The piece was published on The Sunday Times in 2017, following a week after Brohier’s passing.
‘Red for her funeral dress? No.’‘It’s too bright!’
‘Isn’t it inappropriate?’
‘But, she was very clear in her instructions. She wanted to go in the red dress.’
‘We must respect her wishes, but it’s definitely not ordinary.’
Well, neither was Deloraine Brohier. Nothing about her life stood out as ordinary. All too often ‘women’ and ‘empowerment’ are mentioned in the same sentence, but too few women really lived the philosophy before it became a hashtag, a movement and another over-coffee conversation. Deloraine Brohier was one of them. A historian, writer, and encyclopaedic authority on Burgher life and customs, she lived her life as a gutsy response to what was considered ‘female’ in an orthodox society.
Educated, and more importantly, rich with a prevailing sense of intellectual curiosity and wonder, her lifetime was one long pilgrimage consecrated to the arts, history and culture. She possessed a refreshing confidence in her own intelligence and abilities as a single being. She travelled all over the world for work, for pleasure, all on her own, with family and similarly curious friends, gathering an incredible string of experiences that shaped her person. All this through the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, in Sri Lanka’s conformist society where a single woman living alone, travelling and working at her free will, was rare.
She was her father’s daughter. The searching spirit of that great historian and explorer R.L. Brohier lived in his youngest child- Beryl Deloraine Brohier born April 13, 1927. She watched her parents and how they moved about life as her father served in the Survey Department pre and post-Independence. The way he and her mother continued their search for answers to satisfy their own sense of wonderment in nature and human culture, unfettered by the ordinary weights of life, such as children, their schools, moving homes etc. She graduated from the University of Ceylon- Colombo in 1950, was involved in education and broadcasting before working with the United Nations.
Deloraine was the closest to her father’s heart after his wife’s somewhat early demise. In the years that she cared for him and assisted him in his last works, she became the sole custodian of a vast ocean of historical research and knowledge that Dr. R. L. Brohier left behind. This was the beginning of her lifelong mission to preserve some of his works through reprinting, editing and publication. At the same time, she found his legacy guiding her to discover the expansiveness of this world and the human experience, through her own research too.
Deloraine Brohier dressed impeccably. Her treasured wardrobe pieces were scarves, clothing and jewellery sets entwined with exotic stories from the faraway places. She loved wearing a certain pearl set not for its monetary value but because it was fished in the Australian seas by an indigenous people who possessed a fascinating art of pearl harvesting. For Deloraine, her possessions were always special, a part of her voice, her persona and her worldview. She collected such things as her personal tribute to human craftsmanship which she regarded so highly.
Deloraine thought the arts to be the most profound expression of emotion. The painting ‘The girl with a pearl earring’ by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer was one she often spoke of with reverence as an example of the power of art to transport us to intellectual reverie. Hers was no blind fascination with the arts for the sake of arts, but a true all-embracing appreciation stemming from the understanding of its role in our evolution. This allowed her to fall freely into experiencing the arts and their materialisation throughout history without inhibition, going from orchestral music and traditional dance to the irrigation heritage of Sri Lanka, the secrets of Burgher culinary history and the trinkets made by the forgotten Boer prisoners in Diyatalawa who etched their nostalgia for home onto their crafts during their lifelong entrapment. Her many books and the editorial republications of her father’s work wove in and out of such incredibly diverse historically rich stories that reflected her breadth of interest and knowledge.
Deloraine was committed to being in a state of ‘wonder’. In our discussions about creativity, inspiration, curiosity and education, she shared little gems of her knowledge embellished with her twinkling wisdom. “If you don’t teach children to love that emotion of conscious, questioning wonder, through whatever medium- history, music, art, literature…they will never learn to chase a muse, to search for answers. And they will always be disinterested in everything including themselves,” she lamented the ineffectiveness of traditional education systems and the mindless drowning into digital screens.
Deloraine often spoke about how she and her siblings were not allowed to sleep during their many travels with their parents- her father gave them a continuing commentary on the history of sites and towns and her mother on the flora and fauna en route. From this early inception into the sense of wonder, ‘living’ as her interpretation, was to ‘follow this sense of wonder we have in us, because it simply makes you happy or because it can even give you the answer to life.’
She was hungry for inspiration, and meticulous in recording it. After seeing how one of her traveller-friends dedicated an entire day after the journey to record-keeping, she adopted the habit and stuck to it faithfully over the years writing down the notes of her expeditions in detail: a trait she advised on cultivating in order to make the most out of our experiences. Her hurriedly scribbled notes on rock formations, landscapes, stars, types of trees and animals crowded her books and photographic recollections that she shared with us. ‘Don’t wait too long to clear your desk, and put your mind to rest with what you have seen. It stays somewhere in your memory and comes back when you need it. Our mind is the most amazing thing.’
She was a rebel, a quiet female revolutionary in a sense: Deloraine knew that the only sure way to bring about a change for the way women lived in our society was by simply going out there and living the life of a free woman. ‘People must see how you live and what it does to you, to change how they would live,’ she insisted, staying true to her intuitions until their time to become widely accepted would come. ‘I shall maintain’ is also the motto on the badge marking one the greatest honours she received in her lifetime- Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau by Queen Beatrix of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Her bright red funeral dress that caused miniature uproars, was a memoir of this treasured occasion when she was awarded the knighthood.
She was 89 when she passed away last Monday, but she hadn’t even considered slowing down. Her last work on the Ceylonese women doctors, which she discussed with me at length with shining enthusiasm, sits ready for its final edit. Her work remains, speaking to masses, changing minds, uncovering knowledge both old and new.
She will be remembered for her incredible contribution to researching and recording the arts, history and cultures that are part of our existence. Deloraine Brohier was sent off from our world in her vivacious red dress, attesting to her spirit, her wonder, her guts and her glory; the knight with the pearl earring rode on to her next expedition.
The article is also available on The Sunday Times online edition here.
When Urban Island commissioned our studio Public Works to design a product series that captured some of Sri Lanka’s most iconic cities, we were excited for two reasons; it was a project that combined both our individual expertise in writing and visual art, and it was an opportunity for us to crystallise some of our favourite experiences and places in Sri Lanka. The series was to target both Sri Lankans and travellers. We understood that for travellers, the city stories series should be about taking back a fond memory from their time in Sri Lanka. Our strategy for the Sri Lankans, was to make the series about celebrating a memory about their hometown, or a place they have a connection to in their country.
The challenge for the writer was capture a special story, feeling, icon or an experience about each city, in just a few words; and, because we wanted to make the writing for this project to take the form mini poetry, the challenge also meant there had to be some form of rhythm or rhyme.
The project was fun to work on, and from what we hear from the Urban Island team, the series is becoming somewhat of a cult favourite among their shoppers.
The success of the series had Urban Island creating a larger product series going from pillow cases, T shirts and bags, to notebooks, mugs and aprons. The city stories series by Public Works is still going strong at the Urban Island outlets.
This video script was commissioned by Sri Lanka’s leading design college AOD. The brief was to capture the energy of young people who aspire to change the world with their creativity. The video script was given a tone of rebelliousness that syncs with the undercurrents of youth culture, while embracing the potential held by young people to build a different tomorrow, by nurturing their skills. The words were carefully chosen to be aspirational and positive connecting to the idea of the future and tomorrow, while also bringing in word choices that hint at being courageous. This video played a critical role as a powerful social media advertisement, and the client succeeded in making its recruitment targets expected from this campaign.
Tomorrow is a new place.
The rules have been remade.
Innovation, radical thinking and creativity run the world.
New ideas make the world.
Ideas like clothing that enhance lives.
Languages that break boundaries
Spaces that influence human wellbeing
Stories that change the way we see the world
Businesses that build new parallels in our experience.
This tomorrow needs a different kind of person at the lead.
The kind that believes,
the kind that thinks different,
the kind that dares to dream big.
What about you?
(The music and film recommences with new and intensity)
Get #readyfortomorrow with AOD.
This editorial project was commissioned by the Sri Lankan design college—AOD, as part of its international campaign to attract students from overseas. Considering the target audience, the words, tone and the ideas brought into the text were carefully considered. These elements were crafted to be in line with the thinking and aspirations of twenty-something-year-olds in predominantly European markets. At the same time, content was also developed with the idea of presenting a modern design education destination out of Sri Lanka, bringing in strategic direction to the writing.