In 1967 Barbara Sansoni, a talented Sri Lankan born artist and designer, opened the Colombo Gallery in order to exhibit her work and to promote local talent. The gallery was located at Anderson Road in a building designed by Ulrik Plesner, an innovative Danish architect of the mid 20th century; and continued to operate for four years until 1971. Thereafter, it was closed as Barbara turned her interests towards writing; while also managing the retail store Barefoot, which sold her brilliantly-hued hand loom designs.
In 1991, two decades later, the Gallery was reopened by Barbara under the name Gallery 706′ Colombo. It was also moved to its new location on the Galle Road in an old 1920s townhouse. The gallery was quite successful; especially after the name was changed to Barefoot Gallery in 1999, in connection to Sansoni’s Barefoot store. It became one of the most sought after places; hosting a number of local and international artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers. They display their talents in a variety of ways; including exhibitions by artists and photographers (The World Press Photo Exhibition 2000-2003 took place here), concerts, poetry readings, movie nights, and plays. The café on the premises serves wonderful food and hosts private dinners and parties at night. Barefoot is one of the most exciting and cutting edge landmarks of Sri Lanka; which helps cultivate art and other creative talent.
Barbara was born in Kandy; and educated in both Sri Lanka and India. She showed an early interest in art and developed an intense love of color. The vibrant hues of South Asia provided her with a lifetime’s worth of inspiration for painting and cloth design. This resulted in her drawing and painting from early childhood; though she was not initially drawn to weaving as a means of expression. However, in the early 1960’s she started doing cloth designs at the suggestion of a family friend; Mother Good Counsel of the Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd.
Once she had complete understanding of the principles of weaving, Barbara became by the creative possibilities. She found inspiration for her designs in the colors of life and nature around her; and represented what she saw and felt without the aid of representative figures. Barbara became obsessed with finding more interesting sights to include as inspiration for her designs; and travelled the island, observing, sketching and taking notes.
Sansoni’s bold, brilliantly-hued hand loom designs soon began attracting attention and the very first sale of her handwoven cloth took place from her home in Colombo. In the late 1960s Barbara opened her first retail store, HOUSE in the Fort region of Colombo; and a second shop BAREFOOT, which sold her first collection of clothes, at the Galle Face Court.
While Barefoot grew under her influence, Barbara continued her creative work, as an artist and later also as a writer. She held her first one-woman exhibition in London in 1966 and continued to exhibit regularly in Sri Lanka and abroad. Having worked as a journalist and essayist at the Ceylon Daily Mirror and the Times of Ceylon during the early 1960s; Barbara published the books – Vihares ; Verandas in 1978; Architecture of an Island in 1998; Missy Fu and Tikkiri Banda in 2002; Press with the Toes in the Grass in 2004; A Passion for Faces in 2014; and Missy Fu in Yala in 2015. She continues to be a very powerful presence in the creative world both in Sri Lanka and globally.