Recalling Aubrey Collette’s Remarkable Talents and Journey in Life

I: An Appreciation  from Patrick Ranasinghe, 1 February 2022 …. Aubrey Collette 1920 -1992

Remember the cartoons of the mid to late 50’s and early 60’s. The issues he touched on are more relevant than ever now.


Cresside Collette grew up in Australia, far removed from the world of her father, Aubrey Collette, a renowned Ceylonese political cartoonist and artist, who was a founding member of the country’s ’43 Group. Forced to leave Ceylon in 1961 due to increasing hostility towards his political cartoons, Collette lived the rest of his life in Australia, where he died in 1992.

Despite an impressive career, the exile from Sri Lanka left Collette “heartbroken.” The talent, learned artistry and political voice of his cartoons captured a pivotal moment in the country’s early history — and nobody knows how much more he would have added to his legacy, if he didn’t have to leave when he did.












Artist In Exile: Aubrey Collette   …….

II: Ceylon Since Soulbury, by Aubrey Collette

Ceylon Since Soulbury’ is the first and only book of Aubrey Collette’s work to be published during his lifetime. The book covers a collection of his cartoons from 1945 to 1947. Though optimistically titled ‘Part 1’, the next volume never appeared. The cover illustration shows the ‘crowning’ of D.S. Senanayake (1883–1952), the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) by Lord Soulbury (1887–1971), who in his report commissioned by the British Government in 1944 laid the ground for Ceylon’s independence. On 4 February 1948, Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. Ceylon’s Dominion status within the British Commonwealth was retained for the next 24 years until 22 May 1972, when the country was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. Collette was a political cartoonist at the ‘Times of Ceylon’ in 1946, a post he held until the early 1960s when he was forced to leave Sri Lanka due to the political content of his work. He was one of the founding members of the ’43 Group—a group of modern mid-20th-century artists established in 1943—widely recognised as Sri Lanka’s first modernist art collective.


 Aubrey with his wife and child  ………………..


Filed under accountability, anti-racism, art & allure bewitching, Australian culture, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, citizen journalism, communal relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, education, ethnicity, heritage, historical interpretation, language policies, life stories, literary achievements, patriotism, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, press freedom & censorship, pulling the leg, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people, world events & processes, zealotry

4 responses to “Recalling Aubrey Collette’s Remarkable Talents and Journey in Life

  1. Colin Fernando

    These memories of Collette brought back pleasant reminders of “the good old days” I wish to add a couple of points. I distinctly remember that he was with Lake House and the Observer too. In the Sunday Observer, his contemporaries included Flybynight (Tarzie Vittachchi) and Sooty Banda, a satirical columnist.
    I also recollect with some pride that he was Art Master at Royal Primary and Royal College around 1946-47. I was in his Art Class for a while. Sadly, as my friends will testify, his skills failed to devolve upon myself at all.

  2. Hugh Karunanayake

    Aubrey Collette was my Form Master in Form 1A when I joined Royal from Royal Prep School in 1946. We were then housed at Carlton Lodge in Turret Road where the Lower school was. The School moved back to Racecourse Avenue in April 1946. I still recall Collette riding to school on his bicycle and parking it near the entrance to the building at Racecourse Ave.
    A strong opponent to the emerging forces clamouring for Swabasha as National languages Collette pilloried and ridiculed national figures in the Swabasha movement like Malalasekera and Mettananda. He also targeted SWRD and invariably caricatured him as a monkey. His other target was CWW Kannagara and his “pearl of great price” — namely, Free Education. Mind you all this while he was on the government payroll as a schoolteacher and “moonlighting” as an artist for the Times of Ceylon for which he produced a cartoon each Wednesday and Sunday. As his students we were privileged to see his cartoons before they went to press, and I personally felt elated at his gesture. CWW got his own back by getting him out of govt service for breaching the Administrative Regulations. Collette and Vittachi were two rearguard protagonists for conservative politics in Ceylon of the day. To say that he was forced to leave Ceylon is an absolute piece of fiction. The only person ever to be forced out of Ceylon was Rhoda Miller wife of Joe Silva who was whisked away at midnight and transported to USA for being a “Communist.” That was under the orders of JLK [Kotelawel]..
    Collette brought upon himself the ire of a vast section of the population for his cartoons which were becoming increasingly scurrilous. One notorious cartoon which turned the tide appeared around the time that Sirima B beacme PM in July 1960. He drew a cartoon of a highly pregnant MRs B on bed with NM and another (whose identity I cannot recall) standing by each disclaiming paternity for the pregnancy. Collette was fortunate that he was able to pack his bags and leavein one piece else he may have been hung, quartered and disposed of in a manner that only an angry mob can work out.

    • Sisira Jayasuriya

      HUGH, I agree with you that he was not forced to leave by the government through any legal mechanism. But it is not ‘a piece of fiction’ that he was forced to leave. But, as you point out yourself, he left because he was in danger — from people who were outraged by his cartoons: “Collette was fortunate that he was able to pack his bags and leavein one piece else he may have been hung, quartered and disposed of in a manner that only an angry mob can work out”. He may have met the same fate as the French cartoonist who recently caricatured the Prophet.

  3. Rex Olegasegarem

    Although Aubrey Collette may have over-extended on a very few cartoons ,.overall they were good and enjoyable.

Leave a Reply