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Summit of creativity
February 18, 2016
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Over 1,38,000 visitors, from across South Asia and the world attended Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), the largest non-commercial research-based event for South Asian Art, which was the result of an public-private collaboration between the Samdani Art Foundation, Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Ministry of Cultural Affairs at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh (Feb. 5 – 8).

DAS was led by Artistic Director and Chief Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and founded by Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani. Visitors included 2,500 local students and 700 international visitors, including directors and curators from 71 museums and institutions.

They gathered over the weekend at Bangladesh’s National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Dhaka to see the work of 300 artists, scholars and speakers (65 per cent Bangladeshi).

Tate Modern, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Kunsthalle, Zurich; Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; Rubin Museum, New York and Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, were among the institutions who were involved in the programming of the summit, through guest-curated exhibitions.

“I could not be more thrilled with the breadth and quality of all of the exhibitions and for all the intellectual discourse thriving in the Critical Writing Ensemble, which percolated in formal and informal meetings across the four days of DAS”, said Betancourt.

“We are thrilled to see that the international community has recognised that this is a true research platform for South Asian Art. The response was far greater than we expected, and we are proud to have created a world-class event in our hometown…If you want to know about South Asian Art, this is the place to be”, said the Samdanis.

“The Bangladesh Cultural Ministry is a proud supporter of the incredible initiative of the Dhaka Art Summit, the world’s largest platform for South Asian art. It is wonderful that this event occurs in Bangladesh and we look forward to getting back to work on the next edition”, Aktari Mamtaz, Secretary, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Bangladesh, commented.

The biennial event featured a programme of over sixty free events, including exhibitions, art installations, performances, film screenings, workshops and talks. Hundreds of established and emerging artists from across the region and beyond took part, including Lynda Benglis, Simryn Gill, Waqas Khan, Prabhavathi Meppayil, Sandeep Mukherjee, Tino Sehgal and Dayanita Singh.

Also taking part in DAS were seventy-one directors and curators from museums, galleries and art institutions from around the world, including the New Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York; documenta14, Athens and Kassel; the Art Gallery of New South Wales; the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art; Ullens Center, Beijing; CSMVS Museum, Mumbai; the V&A and Serpentine Galleries from the UK; the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, and many others, including biennales and festivals from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the UK.

The summit provided an important meeting point between South Asia’s art scene and the international art world, serving as a springboard for future collaborations and closer cultural relations.

The winner of the Samdani Art Award - Bangladesh’s premier art award - was also announced. Rasel Chowdhury was selected from a shortlist of thirteen emerging Bangladeshi artists and will take part in an all expense paid, three-month residency at the Delfina Foundation, London.

“I think the judges considered both my physical and mental journey through portraying the works. I travelled on foot covering all railway stations from Kamlapur, Dhaka, to my hometown, Jabalpur, and photographed the changing landscapes, including greenery, barrenness, structural changes and what I watched in my journey”, said Chowdhury.

A major highlight and an exhibition was Betancourt, Amara Antilla, Beth Citron and Sabih Ahmed’s ‘Rewind’, which presented rarely seen works by South Asian artists active before 1980. Other highlights of the exhibition included the rhythmic patterns and folk colours of Rashid Choudhury’s seven tapestries spanning from the late 1960s to 1985 on loan from the National Museum, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and private collections in Dhaka, and also rarely exhibited tapestries by Indian artist Monika Correa created during the same period. According to one source, there was much praise for the political inclusiveness of the summit. Artist and poet Shumon Ahmed’s solo project ‘Land of the Free’ re-enacted the images, sounds and emotions of those subjected to torture at Guantanamo Bay, evocatively connecting visitors with the aggression and emotions of those who suffered there.

Also related to post-9/11 policies of the US was a poignant new chapter of the Index of the Disappeared. Created by Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh, it was commissioned specifically for DAS with the support of Creative Time Reports, Yale Law School and the Samdani Art Foundation and included in the Mining Warm Data exhibition, curated by Betancourt.

“It’s about trying to keep a secret which everybody already knows”, said Ghani and Ganesh. “This piece comes from research that we did in Afghanistan, which is just next door, and one of our goals was to bring the work to specific places in the region that were affected; that’s why it’s really fantastic to have this premiere in Dhaka”.

Another highlight of the Mining Warm Data exhibition was Lida Abdul’s ‘Speaking and Hearing’ (1999-2001), an autobiographical work showing the social deformities affecting lives and the history of the region in a way that was far more real than any statistical analysis or documentary approach.

Also notable was the space given to Bangladeshi art spaces. It gave visitors a chance to discover the local art scene in a safe and inclusive environment.

DAS presented no less than six exhibitions across one weekend. Among them:

* The Samdani Art Award Finalists exhibition, curated by Daniel Baumann, Director, Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland, presented the works of the thirteen emerging Bangladeshi artists who were short listed for this year’s Samdani Art Award

* The Missing One, curated by Nada Raza, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern, London, which was inspired by the first sci-fi story in the Bengali language, and featured a watercolour by one of the earliest modern artists in India, Gaganendranath Tagore

* Architecture in Bangladesh, curated by Aurelien Lemonier, Curator of Architecture at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, explored the contemporary architecture scene of Bangladesh via the legacy of Muzharul Islam (1947-2017)

* The Performance Pavilion curated by Nikhil Chopra, Madhavi Gore and Jana Prepeluh featured performances by eight artists and took place all day throughout the duration of the summit

* Critical Writing Ensemble, curated by Katya Garcia-Anton from a collaboration led by Betancourt, Chandrika Grover, Garcia-Anton and Bhavna Kakar, gathered writers, critics, poets, philosophers and curators to potentiate writing across histories and working from the context of South Asia.

There were also thirteen new art commissions and four works reconfigured within the Bangladeshi context on display across the summit site as part of the Solo Projects, curated by Betancourt.

Highlights included works by Singh, Khan and a second chapter of Po Po’s VIP Project commissioned in November 2014 in Dhaka, questioning the deeply entrenched VIP (Very Important People) culture in South Asia. The success of Sehgal’s Ann Lee (2011), where he had local schoolgirls performing and drawing crowds from across the spectrum, was also noteworthy.

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