The 4th Dhaka Art Summit runs for nine days in 2018, with more than 300 artists and 10 curated exhibitions.
Art Radar explores some of the highlights of the programme of Dhaka Art Summit 2018, which runs until 10 February 2018.
A growing platform for South Asian art
The Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) has been running at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy every two years since 2012, when it was founded by the Samdani Art Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The Samdani Art Foundation (SAF) is a private arts trust established in 2011 by collector couple Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani to support the work of contemporary Bangladeshi artists and architects, and is the principal funding body for DAS, covering 90 percent of its costs that amount to around USD2 million for each edition. The Foundation is led by Artistic Director and Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, who has also been Chief Curator of the Dhaka Art Summit for its past three editions including 2018’s.
Although taking place biennially, DAS is not a biennale, as instead is the well established Asian Art Biennale, which has been running at the same venue as DAS for 17 editions so far. The Summit rejects the traditional biennale format to create a “more generative space for art and exchange”. The biennial event aims to foster dialogue and create new lines of inquiry on South Asian art and architectural practice, and to promote the work of local contemporary artists to an international audience, which is growing year on year.
Bunty Chand, Director of Asia Society, India has said that “Dhaka art summit has set the gold standard for the visual arts in South Asia.” This year, DAS has grown from four to nine days, running from 2 to 10 February 2018, with a rich programme of events in collaboration with 12 guest curators that includes 10 curated exhibitions.
DAS this year presents the work of over 300 artists from South Asia of which 65 percent are from Bangladesh only, with some participants from Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean Belt as well. On this latest expansion of scope of the Summit, Betancourt told The Art Newspaper:
We had to [widen it]. This all started from the Rohingya [refugee] crisis [in 2015], so when you look at this block, you see how it connects to south-east Asia. I also run a foundation full-time in the Philippines, which is where I’m based, and I’m on flights with all the migrant workers. There are millions of south Asians in south-east Asia and they are invisible. If you look at Indonesia, there is a huge Indian influence but this is from ages back. These regions are political terms, and they are not just cultural terms.
Almost one third of the work on show has been newly commissioned and funded by SAF and international partners for DAS 2018, including works by Rasheed Araeen, Sheela Gowda, Zihan Karim, Htein Lin, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Randhir Singh and Seher Shah and Reetu Sattar.
The Summit this year has introduced the Art Mediation Programme, which presents content in English and Bangladeshi and helps engage the public with the art on show and the programming of the Summit. DAS 2018 also includes a rich programme of talks, two symposia, illustrated lectures by major artists, a forum for artist-led initiatives in Bangladesh, a critical writing presentation, a screenings and performances programme, as well as an educational programme presented in the Educational Pavilion, a structure built on the winning project of the Samdani Architecture Award 2018 by Maksudul Karim, called Chhaya Tori, utilising traditional Shampan boatbuilding techniques, synonymous with fishing communities in Southern Bangladesh.
Bearing Points: finding South Asian art’s compass
Curated by Dhaka Art Summit’s Chief Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt with Maria Balshaw and Alexie Glass Kantor & Michelle Newton as co-curators on Raqib Shaw and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s contributions, the exhibition “Bearing Points” is the main part of the Summit, which this year comes as a substitute to the previous Solo Projects section. Organised in five parts, the exhibition frames the various group exhibitions at DAS 2018 and connects to DAS’s public programme, while reorienting us towards how we consider art and South Asia. The viewer navigates the five large-scale thematic presentations that include several commissions from artists and architects, engaging lesser-explored transcultural histories of South Asia.
The first section, titled “Politics: The Most Architectural Thing to Do”, presents works by Dayanita Singh, Seher Shah, Randhir Singh and Rasheed Araeen among others. Karachi-born, London-based Araeen’s blood-red bamboo sculpture Rite/Right of Passage (2016-18) installed in the forecourt of the Academy nod to the Summit’s interest in highlighting the the migration routes of contemporary art, and of the contemporary world’s population. His work, in its minimalist aesthetic, references both the ubiquitous use of bamboo in the region, as well as the influence of Islamic architecture and western art history on the artist’s practice.
“Bearing Points” then continues on with its four remaining sections, all with evocative titles like “Dozakh-I-Puri Nimat (An Inferno Bearing Gift)”, with works by The Otolith Group and Zihan Karim, “An Amphibious Sun” with Ho Tzu Nyen and Omer Wasim and Saira Sheikh, “There Once Was a Village Here” with Munem Wasif, Veer Munshi, Raqib Shaw and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, and “Residence Time” including works by Charles Lim Yi Yong, Liu Xiaodong and Pratchaya Phinthong, among many others in all five sections.
In the last section of “Bearing Points”, Bangkok-based Jakkai Siributr addresses the plight of the Rohingya, of whom close to 700,000 have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since August 2017. The Outlaw’s Flag (2017) is an installation of hanging, imaginary flags embroidered with debris lifted from beaches in Myanmar and Ranong in Thailand, where the Rohinga arrived during a previous exodus in 2015, during a wave of Buddhist fundamentalism in Thailand.
Integral to Bangladesh’s art history and development of its art scene is another exhibition curated by Betancourt, which presents an archive of the Asian Art Biennale, “The Asian Art Biennale in Context”. This presentation sheds light on Dhaka’s role as a place of innovation for art production in Bangladesh, and the history of the Asian Art Biennale, founded in 1981, as one of the longest standing biennials in Asia today. The show draws works from the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s collection, and the archive of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and focuses on the first four editions of the Biennale.
Bangladesh’s artistic talent: Past and Present
One of the many exhibitions presented at DAS is “Expression of Time”, curated by Mohammad Muniruzzaman, Director of the Department of Fine Arts, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, who brings together the work of older and younger generations of artists in Bangladesh, to show a cross-section of the country’s artistic production and an overview of its development over time. The show features early works by now prominent artists, juxtaposed to works by younger and emerging artists who will be representing the future of Bangladeshi art history. In addition to its focus on visual art practice, the exhibition also explores Bangladesh’s diverse practice of urban and folk art, from cinema banner painting to the centuries old tradition of kantha embroider.
Exploring history through art
Some shows within DAS heavily focus on exploring historical events, such as “One Hundred Thousand Small Tales” and “A Utopian Stage”, curated by Vali Mahlouji.
The first is an exhibition that addresses the art produced in response to many narratives, episodes and accounts of Sri Lanka’s recent history. It is part archive and part inventory, featuring the country’s art production from the lead up to Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948 to the present. The exhibition includes several generations of artists and incorporates archival materials alongside works on paper, paintings, photographs, film, sculpture and animation by Anoli Perera, Bandu Manamperi, Godwin R. Constantine, Kannan Arunasalam, Laleen Jayamanne and Ruhanie Perera, among many others.
“A Utopian Stage” explores another history, that of the Festival of Art, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-1977) and its radical ‘Third World-ism’. This performance festival situated Iran in relation to Asia and juxtaposed Asian and African artists with the international avant-garde. The exhibition uncovers the festival’s archives for the first time in Asia, and is accompanied by live performances, musical interventions and film screenings responding to the festival’s spirit of exchange. Included in the programme is late Pakistani artist and activist Lala Rukh‘s Rupak (2016), an installation of drawing, sound and animation, taking the form of a “monumental denouement” of every strand of thought that passed through her drawings, photographs, videos and sound pieces.
Planetary Planning: South Asia as axis mundi
Curated by Devika Singh, “Planetary Planning” draws from the 1969 Nehru memorial lecture titled “Planetary Planning”, delivered in New Delhi by architect and designer Buckminster Fuller. The exhibition explores notions of world-making through the work of three generations of artists from South Asia, whose lives have been marked by stories of travel and migration. They engage with notions of identity and hierarchies, while looking at key international and cross-regional exchanges from the 1960s until now.
Rukh’s drawings deconstructing landscapes from her 2011 “Mirror Image” and “Nightscape” series are included in this section, alongside Zarina Hashmi‘s “Letters from Home” (2004) and Ayesha Sultana‘s found photographs series “Threshold” (2012-13) featuring scratched and distorted skies, seas and cityscapes, among others. Many of the latter photographs were taken by Sultana’s father while he was posted in Kuwait with the Bangladesh Air Force in the years leading up to the 1991 Gulf War.
Seher Shah reflects on remembrance and disapperance, with her record of Brutalist architecture across the globe, translated into drawings based on photographs. The otherwise heavy-built structures are transformed into light, airy constructions on paper, rendered in layers of broad horizontal lines and appearing as spectres of the past.
This exhibition also includes the work of a Turkish artist, Istanbul-based Hera Büyüktascıyanl, whose collages explore the social memory of architecture and its connection to power. On show is her recent series “Reconstructors” (2017), as well as new works further exploring the historical conscience of architecture, collective memory, fluvial routes and aquatic landscapes.
Bengal and its surrounding geographical networks
“A beast, a god, and a line” is curated by Para Site’s Cosmin Costinas and is co-produced by DAS, Para Site, Hong Kong and the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw and will tour to TS1 Yangon in 2018. The exhibition considers Bengal’s position at the core of different geographical networks, reflecting the circulation of people and ideas in different historical times. The exhibition unfolds in several chapters, exploring the maritime geographies of the Austronesian world and the histories of globalisation from the early 16th century onwards. The show positions the material histories of textiles as a central thread carrying the traces of these historical exchanges.
For instance, Zamthingla Ruivah revives a traditional weaving technique to remember the violence inflicted by the Indian army against her native Naga community. Sarat Mala Chakma preserves and builds on the weaving tradition of the Chakma people, a mark of cultural identity within Bangladesh, while Raja Umbu weaves an ancestral story of migration to Sumba, a collective foundational myth of her native island.
The show includes the work of both South and Southeast Asian artists, such as Charles Lim Yi Yong, Anida Yoeu Ali, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jimmy Ong, Munem Wasif, Nabil Ahmed, Nguyen Trinh Thi, Praneet Soi, among many others. The exhibition also introduces the works of a some key modernist figures who have shaped the language of art during the past half century in South Asia, like Rashid Choudhury (b. 1932, d. 1986) and Mrinalini Mukherjee (b. 1949, d. 2015).
The Samdani Art Award 2018
A highlight of the Dhaka Art Summit is the Samdani Art Award, Bangladesh’s most prestigious art prize presented by DAS’s major funding body biennially, now in its fourth edition, dedicated to honouring Bangladeshi artists between the ages of 22 and 40. Past winners of the award are Rasel Chowdhury (2016), Ayesha Sultana (2014), and Khaled Hassan and Musarrat Reazi (2012). An international jury chaired by Delfina Foundation Director Aaron Cezar and composed of artists Sheela Gowda, Runa Islam, Subodh Gupta and Mona Hatoum selected the winner from among 11 shortlisted artists.
In association with the Liverpool Biennial, each of the shortlisted artists received curatorial mentoring support from the New North and South network, and submitted a newly commissioned artwork which is now on show at DAS. This year’s winner is Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury (b. 1981), whose work sits between installation and assemblage of everyday objects. He creates unfamiliar situations for familiar things, creating new ways of perceiving the obvious and exploring uncharted territories, opening up new possibilities for experiencing life.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
Dhaka Art Summit 2018 runs from 2 to 10 February 2018 at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, 14/3 Segunbagicha, Segun Bagicha Rd, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- “Art, Ritual and the Everyday” at M+ REORIENT: Conversations on South and Southeast Asia – Part II – Talk summary of Artist Sheela Gowda – February 2018 – the symposium comprised one-on-one conversations, short presentations and panel discussions
- 10 highlights from Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography 2017, Dhaka – February 2017 – held biennially since 2000, the ninth edition of the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography is shaped around the theme of transition
- Transforming lost urban spaces: the Sassoon Dock Art Project in Mumbai – interview – December 2017 – this unique initiative includes the works of both Indian and international artists and will be open to the public until 30 December 2017
- Contextualising Contemporary South Asian art: Diana Campbell Betancourt on Dhaka Art Summit 2016 – interview – January 2016 – Chief Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt speaks to Art Radar about the third edition of Dhaka Art Summit
- “Readymade”: 9 Bangladeshi artists to know – August 2014 – Art Radar takes a look at the nine Bangladeshi artists in Aicon Gallery’s exhibition “Readymade” in New York
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