The second edition of Dhaka Art Summit which began in 2011 as an alternative to the art fair model, has been described by organizer Rajeeb Samdani as a ‘festival’, due to the lack of commercial focus. With more than 30 galleries participating in the fair, curator Diana Campbell Betancourt holds strong in her claim that the Summit’s intention was for artists to share information and find a platform to exhibit their works freely. The presentation stands are free of charge and the Samdani Art Foundation does not receive any income from sales that might arise from the display, says Diana in an interview with The Art Newspaper. This feature offers a refreshing change in comparison to other art fairs that focus solely on buying and selling of works.
The citywide biennial event featured works by 250 artists including 14 solo projects and 5 curated shows. The curatorial team for the highly anticipated second edition comprised of Diana Campbell Betancourt, director and chief curator of the Creative India Foundation, and Mahbubur Rahman, founder of the Dhaka-based Britto Arts Trust. Participating artists were mostly from South Asian countires as Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, the founders of Samdani Art Foundation wanted them to get a chance to explore their shared cultural histories and put Bangladesh on the global arts radar. “The Samdanis have shown a huge commitment to fostering the arts in Bangladesh and raising its profile internationally,” said Amin Jaffer, international director of Asian Art for Christie’s.
A non-profit organisation, the Foundation has organised and monetarily supported the Dhaka Art Summit since its inception. Planned in collaboration with the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the country’s national art institution, and the Bangladesh National Museum, this year’s Summit was also supported by the British Council, the Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise and the Bangladeshi artist collective, Britto Arts Trust.
From 7-9th February, all eyes were on Dhaka as the city was taken over by various collateral events of DAS. Raqs Media Collective commissioned its largest public art project to date during the Summit. The project, images for which were also used to promote the event, was spread across 160 billboards and road side mega signs, transforming these surfaces into artworks that explore ideas of time and space. Their unique use of South Asian languages, including Bengali gave it an exclusivity which strengthened the city’s participation in the event. Highlights of the Summit include Asim Waqif’s levitating sculpture, “Control,” a quirky cane and 1000+ helium balloon constructions of three separate words, “No Fly Zone.” Waqif released the words into the sky in a random sequence. “Zone” came first, followed by “No” and, finally, after awhile the word “Fly” completed Waqif’s artwork.
Rashid Rana, the Lahore-born artist created a monumental installation displaying photographs in a wallpaper format. It expands upon his Transliteration and White Cube series, creating a work that reflects his current reality of being an artist from Pakistan, but being integrated into the western exhibition model of the white cube. Meanwhile Rana Begum’s installation drew on her experience of weaving baskets as a child and of reading the Quran in a small mosque in her native village back in Bangladesh.
The series of curated shows coordinated by Betancourt constituted a large body of exhibits due to which DAS met with such unprecedented success. Chief among these were “B/Desh”, a show curated by Deepak Ananth, professor at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts; “Citizen of Time” by Indian curator Veerangana Solanki; “Ex-ist”, curated by Ambereen Karamat from Pakistan and “Liberty,” a show about Bangladeshi Modern and Contemporary Art curated by Md. Muniruzzaman. The diversity of works and their quality in terms of international events was par excellence. Moreover, the artists commissioned to make works for the event were given resources and grants but were not expected to run their works by the Samdanis. “To find patrons who will fund an idea without having to see an end product is unique in this part of the world,” said Betancourt. Artists commissioned to do the solo works also retained ownership of those works.
At the same time, the Summit did not entirely neglect the collectors. A gallery participating segment was included with 17 Bangladeshi galleries and 15 international galleries including those from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Karachi, Islamabad, Colombo, Istanbul and Barcelona at the invitation of the foundation. DAS showcased works by Tayeba Begum Lipi, Runa Islam, Naeem Mohaiemen and Mahbubur Rahman, all of Bangladeshi origin. Afghanistan was also represented in the series (Lida Abdul), along with Pakistan (Rashid Rana and Shahzia Sikander), Nepal (Ang Tsherin Sherpa) and India (Jitish Kallat, Shilpa Gupta, Asim Waqif, Rathin Barman and Mithu Sen).
DAS also announced Ayesha Sultana as the winner of the year-old Samdani Art Award. Selected from ten shortlisted artists whose works were exhibited at the Summit, The Samdani Art Foundation is offering the winner a three-month residency at Delfina Foundation in the UK.