The Samdani Art Foundation has announced the first details of artist projects for the Dhaka Art Summit 2023. Taking place at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy from 3-11 February 2023, the Summit is a hub for contemporary art in South Asia and one of the largest contemporary art events of its kind. A bridge connecting Bangladeshi artists to the rest of the world, the Summit is arranged around a series of intersecting exhibitions, and in 2023 it will bring together over 120 local and international artists and architects including: Rana Begum, Bhasha Chakrabarti, Simon Fujiwara, Antony Gormley, Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Ashfika Rahman, Joydeb Roaja, Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty, Lapdiang Syiem, Sumayya Vally and Anpu Varkey.
This sixth edition, titled Bonna, will explore the theme of Bangladesh’s climate, and how this has shaped the country’s history, identity and culture. As both the word for ‘flood’ and a girl’s name in Bengali, Bonna will examine the multiplicity of meanings around weather and water through the lens of Bangladeshis, as both life givers – bringing regeneration and renewal – and takers. To explore these ideas, the Summit invites participating artists to engage with the country’s relationship to flooding from a contextual perspective. Set amid a region facing the realities of climate change and the ongoing debate about our global futures, the Summit will also engage younger voices to respond to this critical theme.
Diana Campbell, the Chief Curator of DAS, elaborates: ‘Over the last ten years, the Dhaka Art Summit has catalyzed unprecedented artistic exchange between Bangladesh and the rest of the world, resulting in the unique and inclusive platform that we know today. This is the first edition of the Dhaka Art Summit to take a Bangla name, Bonna, as its core theme; we want to lead our visitors into a more nuanced understanding of Bangladeshi ways of life outside of globalized urban contexts, especially as more parts of the world are starting to experience climatic challenges similar to those that Bangladesh has been grappling with since its birth.’
Dhaka Art Summit Curators
Campbell is joined by returning guest curator Bishwajit Goswami (Assistant Professor, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh), whose exhibition দ্বৈধ (a duality) – a collaboration Brihatta Art Foundation with
research support from Muhammad Nafisur Rahman (Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati) – will contextualise how the country’s artists have worked with the subject of climate change across generations. Sean Anderson (Associate Professor, Cornell University) curates To Enter the Sky – a presentation centred around an architecture of turbulence and the climatic challenges affecting the discipline; and Anne Barlow (Director of Tate St. Ives), who will curate the 2023 Samdani Art Award, an ongoing collaboration with Delfina Foundation which champions emerging Bangladeshi artists.
The Summit will also present Very Small Feelings, an exhibition and platform co-produced by Samdani Art Foundation and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi and co-curated by Campbell and Akansha Rastogi (Senior Curator, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art) with Ruxmini Choudhury (Assistant Curator, Samdani Art Foundation). The first South Asian institutional collaboration on this scale, the exhibition will highlight the work of younger artists and under-represented art historical narratives made visible via the work of a transnational folklore research team with contributions from Kanak Chanpa Chakma (artist and activist) and other indigenous thought leaders, connecting traditions across Bangladesh, Northeast India and further across the world. The exhibition will travel to Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in July 2023.
Resilience and adaptability
New commissions – which make up most of the works in the Summit – deliver powerful and timely visual messages as they respond to the theme and context. Local and regional first-hand perspectives speak to community specific experiences which hold globally relevant lessons for those living with climate risk. Rithika Merchant’s three-panel watercolour Transtidal is inspired by the Bede community, and their adaptation to life on the river delta. Infused with symbols and references to Banglalore, Merchant’s depiction of the delta as an environment presenting both challenge and opportunity reflects one of the Summit’s key messages. Bangladeshi architects and Aga Khan prizewinners Kashef Chowdhury and Rizvi Hassan present projects which look at climate resilient solutions for the built environment. Chowdhury’s photographic series will reference his adaptive approach to building for the regions increasingly destructive cyclones, while works by Hassan will reflect his designs for countering the vulnerability of displaced Rohingya communities as well as those impacted by the 2022 floods in Central Bangladesh.
History, identity and culture
Bangladeshi artists – who make up 60% of Summit participants – will draw on histories and cultural narratives that reference the country’s more poignant relationship with its lands and waters. Joydeb Roaja’s new work Lake of Tears references the flooding caused by the construction of the Kaptai Dam in 1962, where 250 square miles of Chakma land was submerged along with the palace of its King. Roaja imagines its people rising from the bottom of the lake in an immersive three-dimensional artwork that reflects on dams and floods as weapons of violence against indigenous people. নরম অতিক্রমণ (Tender Transgressions) is a large-scale installation by Bhasha Chakrabarti specially commissioned for the Summit. It explores Bonna as the feminine form of Bonno – meaning wild and excessive – words historically used to denigrate women’s sexuality. Nine anthropomorphic feminine forms are wrapped in jute, a rainy season crop and essential to the economy of Bangladesh. The caryatids of cloth and crop reference Navapatrika, a Hindu practice common in Bengal, where plants are wrapped in sarees and worshipped as embodiments of the Goddess. Another new work, Tears of Behula by Ashfika Rahman is inspired by a Sanskrit love story which the artist has recontextualised for a contemporary audience. It reflects the reality of women living in the country’s isolated wetlands who suffer from domestic abuse. With an unprecedented number of emerging women artists featuring in this edition of the Summit, Rahman’s work also highlights how women are more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change. Elsewhere Belgian artist Miet Warlop touches on the theme of power and gender relations in a reimagining of her earlier work The Board. Working with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Warlop invites garment workers to collaborate both in the making and activation of a performative piece that examines women’s economic empowerment and identity in modern Bangladesh.
Responding to local context
Bringing together global voices and artistic practices, international artists will also engage with the theme of climate from a Bangladeshi perspective. This includes a pavilion by South African architect Sumayya Vally, which will host a series of performances that draw on the traditions of rain-making and harvest. Inspired by the IsiZulu proverb ‘He who brings rain, brings life’, Vally’s installation draws cultural parallels with the importance of rain in Bangladesh as the most important catalyst for agricultural production in the country. Nearby, British sculptor Antony Gormley will collaborate with local makers in Dhaka, experimenting with local materials to catalyse visitors’ relationship with space. Returning to the region for the first time since the early 1970s when he spent two years studying Vipassana meditation, Gormley’s engagement acknowledges the deep impact that South Asian culture has had on his own and many international practices.
Oral history and folklore
The projects and programming for DAS 2023 will bring together voices from Bangladesh, India and the global diaspora, drawing on myth, folklore, fables and the power of oral histories – of telling and retelling stories. Participating artists tease, question and engage with the narratives embedded in one’s consciousness. Renowned author Amitav Ghosh’s Jungle Nama, an adaptation of a legend from the Sundarbans which speaks to nature, human boundaries and balance, will come to life through its audio-visual presentation and collaboration with Salman Toor and Ali Sethi. Ghosh says, ‘This is a collaborative project and there could be no better way of bringing the different aspects of the work together than in an installation for this exhibition, which celebrates the role of storytelling in society.’
A performance work by Indian artist Lapdiang Syiem (co-commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Art Dubai) connects India and Bangladesh via the folklore of the Shillong’s Khasi hill tribes, and a presentation by the Anga Art Collective focuses on the memories of village elders in western Assam close to the Bangladesh border, who were forced to abandon their homes because of mining activities. Many of these works highlight the closeness of Bangladesh and East and Northeast India, through language, shared borders, stories and climate challenges. Focusing on the experience of indigenous communities, a panel on the opening day will widen out these perspectives into Guam and the Pacific, which share similar language and climate struggles.
Looking beyond the subcontinent, the Summit will premiere Afrah Shafiq’s work Nobody Knows for Certain, a narrative video game resulting from a three-year research project – supported by the Field Research program of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art – on the cultural exchange between the USSR and South Asia during the Cold War. Soviet children’s books were translated into 15 Indian languages, leading to Slavic fairytales and Soviet stories forming a significant part of a generation’s childhood memories – leaving them with an abiding affection for a nation that was never theirs and which no longer exists. Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s Desire is Tender is Love is Love II, is a response to the Point Four Program, a colonial post-war educational programme to help developing nations ‘help themselves’ that was active in South Asia at the same time as the spread of Soviet children’s books. Through exploring the political and domestic associations of soap as a material turned art object, this project examines the politics of education and the process of colonising the mind.
The Samdani Art Award
Curated by Anne Barlow (Director of Tate St Ives), the Samdani Art Award presents new works by 12 emerging Bangladeshi artists who reflect on social, economic and ecological concerns in the midst of one of the most difficult climatic periods for South Asia. In an ongoing collaboration with Delfina Foundation, the Award gives artists the opportunity to create new work for the Summit and to be supported in a residency at Delfina. The shortlisted artists are: Ashfika Rahman, Dinar Sultana Putul, Dipa Mahbuba Yasmin, Faysal Zaman, Habiba Nowrose, Md Fazla, Rabbi Fatiq, Mojahid Musa, Purnima Aktar, Rakib Anwar, Rasel Rana, Sohorab Rabbey and Sumi Anjuman. Past winners of the award have included Ayesha Sultana, whose works have gone on to be acquired by SFMoMA, Tate and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.
Nadia Samdani MBE, Co-Founder and President of SAF and Director of DAS, comments: ‘We’re incredibly excited to bring the Dhaka Art Summit back to life after three years. Offering a local and international platform for Bangladeshi artists, the Summit has launched so many artistic careers over the years, with many of its commissions still travelling or acquired by institutions all over the world. 2023 is an opportunity to create new opportunities for artists and watch their journeys continue to grow.’
Press release from Dhaka Art Summit.