The global unrest caused by ethnic conflicts and forceful migrations have been successfully addressed through the exhibits of the fourth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit that continued from February 2 to February 10 at National Art Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
The nine-day exhibition, organised by Samdani Art Foundation, an initiative by internationally acclaimed art collectors Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, in association with the government, at a cost of around $2.5m, is timely, logical and thus got appreciations from the local and foreign visitors.
Over 300,000 visitors went to the venue in nine days to watch displayed artworks of 300 artists under 10 curated exhibitions connecting artists from South, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean belt and highlighting the evolution of art in contemporary South Asia.
And kudos go to Samdani Art Foundation artistic director Diana Campbell Betancourt, an Asian art specialist hailing from Los Angeles, who led the biennale for the third consecutive time, for displaying diverse artworks under some common themes and giving the Summit a unique tone compared to other biennales organised in the country with public money such as Asian Art Biennale, National Art Exhibition and Young Artists Art Exhibition.
None of these biennales, organised by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, is theme-based like the other international art biennales and triennials are.
Diana Campbell said she extensively visited all across the globe for the past few years to collect some quality contemporary works for ‘addressing the present time global realities in the summit’. She also commissioned some artists to work on the theme. ‘We are going through a terrifying time and many countries across the globe are facing problems created for ethnic conflicts, migrations and others. So, I picked these problems as themes for this year’s summit,’ Dianna told New Age.
And like the other biennales and triennials, the summit emphasised on talks and seminars, with a particular focus on the South Asian region. This year's programme included 120 speakers participating in 16 seminars and two panel discussions. And some foreign media including Australia-based the Sydney Morning Herald and Japan-based the Financial Times praised the Summit organised in a developing country like Bangladesh, which is facing many problems like corruption, unplanned urbanisation and migration of Rohingyas from Myanmar.
Panel discussions and symposiums strived to develop art in South Asia within the region’s rich, yet lesser-known, past. And the panelists included representatives from Museum of Modern Art, New York, Britain's Tate Art Museums, and a top-line supporting cast of international curators, gallery directors, collectors and dealers.
The summit also played a role to promote artworks. ‘A Moscow-based museum has selected Bangladeshi artist Kamruzzaman’s work to promote it,’ Dianna said.
Dianna herself curated the main show of the summit titled ‘Bearing Points’--divided into five chapters named ‘Politics: the Most Architectural Thing to Do’, ‘Dozakh-i-Puri N'imat– an Inferno Bearing Gifts’, ‘An Amphibious Sun’, ‘There Once Was a Village Here’ and ‘Residence Time’-- featured artworks of over 50 artists from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and others.
The aim of the show was to lead the visitors for reconsidering the diversity found in the region beyond national narratives, and to begin to navigate South Asia as a long-standing zone of global contact.
‘These artists bear witness to religious and ecological violence on, what anthropologist Jason Cons terms, sensitive spaces which are often razed with its people forced to succumb to the state and to its needs’, reads note of There Once Was a Village Here show featuring demolishment of spaces by the ‘pressure of capitalist greed and religious fundamentalism.’
The plight of the Rohingya, -- over one million of whom have fled to Bangladesh in 2017 in wake of Buddhist fundamentalism in Myanmar -- has been addressed by Soe Yo New, from Myanmar.
The Bangkok-based Jakkai Siributr in his work, The Outlaw’s Flag, a ceiling installation of imaginary flags embroidered with debris lifted from beaches in Myanmar and Ranong in Thailand, where they arrived after an exodus in 2015.
The show also depicted sufferings of the ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Problems of the Bangladeshi expatriate workers in several countries like UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore have been showcased under the segment titled ‘Residence Time.’
‘These people are often treated as bodies without souls, having no culture of their own beyond their otherness,’ reads the note of the show.
The other shows of the Summit including ‘A Beast a God and a Line’, Total Anastrophes, Planetary Planning, A Utopian Stage, A Sunwise Turn and others curated by some internationally known curators and featuring artworks by artists from across the globe addressed various other issues such as rise of fundamentalism, impact of colonisation, global warming and others through various mediums.
Dhaka Art Summit also featured some displays depicting glorious past to give the visitors some reliefs and inspiration to move forward, Diana Campbell said.
Such shows included selected works from the Asian Art Biennale and selected works of local renowned and young artists. Several Bangladeshi art groups also participated with their collections.
Over 100 films featuring performance arts were also screened.
And the Samdani Art Award, a competition of works by 11 Bangladeshi artists shortlisted for the award, went to Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, for an installation consisting of a tower of plastic chairs topped with a TV monitor; a lawn mower, a fan and a wedge of shredded gold foil.
Maksudul Karim received Samdani Architecture Award for his design, Chhaya Tori which translates as Shadow Boat.
The visitors expressed satisfaction for getting chance of watching diverse works with similar themes under a roof. Many of them, however, complained that some good works got lost in midst of so many average works displayed in clumsy way and they faced problems to differentiate exhibits belonging to one segment from another.
Diana Campbell Betancourt said space constrains at the National Art Gallery was a problem, which would be resolved in the next edition of the Dhaka Art Summit in 2020 when Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy would extend the gallery.
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