New York City is home to many different museums, including renowned institutions like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where various exhibitions showcase art and culture from all over the world. However, one Sri Lankan museum in Staten Island seeks to add to the vibrant culture in this city. Hailed as the first of its kind outside of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Art & Cultural Museum opened on March 27th, 2017. Located in the basement of Lakruwana restaurant, the first Sri Lankan-themed restaurant in the United States, the museum is owned by Lakruwana Wijesinghe and run by the Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka Inc.
The museum displays artwork, Buddha statues, gemstones, ceremonial weapons and more items that exhibit Sri Lanka’s rich, cultural history. One of them is a replica of a seated Buddha, which is considered to be the fifth-greatest statue in the world. Such artifacts can also be found throughout the restaurant.
The concept for the museum came from the owner’s 18-year old daughter, Julia Wijesinghe. She was born in New York to her Sri Lankan-born parents and three years ago, she had the idea to open a museum to celebrate her Sri Lankan heritage. Over the years, through summer visits with her grandmother
in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and with her father’s help (as an artist and archeological enthusiast), Julia gathered the collection and had them shipped to New York in a 20-foot shipping container so that they could be exhibited in the museum. She hopes to educate people about Sri Lanka because even though she wasn’t born there, it is still a part of her.
As she told The New Yorker in August, “the amazing, wonderful country of Sri Lanka is my home too.”
Lakruwana restaurant, located on 668 Bay Street, is owned and operated by Lakruwana Wijesinghe and his family in the “Little Sri Lanka” neighborhood of Staten Island. It opened in its current location in 2004 and serves authentic dishes from his native Sri Lanka. The museum is open on Fridays from 5pm-10pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-10pm.
Also, check out Julia’s video below about the opening of the museum and the ceremonial tradition in its opening.