Ayesha Abdur-Rahman (MA 2000), who resides in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is the founding director of Lanka Decorative Arts, a society for the study and appreciation of the decorative arts of the island nation of Sri Lanka. In the last few years she has completed a digital documentation project and coordinated international conferences and symposiums.

What attracted you to the BGC’s program?

I was at a point in my adult life where I needed to pursue an academic study on the decorative arts, and in 1993 I heard about a new program in New York. I was interested in the interdisciplinary approach that was offered. I joined the second year of the BGC.

What was your focus of study here?

I needed a foundation as a base for all decorative arts and focused on the ancient period taking all courses and as well as auditing a course offered by Professor Elizabeth Simpson, whose guidance was brilliant. I also took classes in the European Medieval period, and all the non-Western courses offered i.e. South American, Chinese, African, Islamic, Japanese, and Korean. BGC’s initial sixty credit MA program was ambitious, daunting, and intensive. Thinking back it was the most rewarding study program for foundation studies for the understanding and knowledge of the decorative arts internationally.

You are the founding director of Lanka Decorative Arts. How did you get involved with this? What are your current projects?

After BGC, I returned to Puerto Rico (where I was living), but really needed to go back to Sri Lanka where I was born. Once here, I did a research project on the colonial furniture in national and private collections resulting in a web archive (dlir.org). The need to start an association was important to form a forum for serious studies on various aspects of the decorative arts of Sri Lanka.

Often neglected in the past, Sri Lanka studies is emerging as a concentration. The LDA is a non-profit organization. Our international conferences have brought together scholars and experts from around the world to speak on various aspects of the decorative arts. In ancient times, this tiny island was an emporium for Chinese goods shipped to the Mediterranean. Studies span all eras, including the colonial periods of the Portuguese, Dutch, and the British. The last conference, Ivory and the Elephant: A Historical Perspective, focused on the ivory trade between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

How has your experience at the BGC helped you in your career?

The BGC experience was amazing and gave me the background I needed. At this point looking back I would say this experience has led me to build on my ongoing lifelong career.

Ayesha Abdur-Rahman