50 million years ago the Eurasian and the Indian plates collided and created the Himalayas which rise north of the delta of Bangladesh and span across South Asia from Afghanistan to Myanmar as a geographic marker. Inspired by a geological reading of the word “summit” as the top of a mountain, the fifth Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) looks at movements generated by energy released from pressure– geologically, socially and politically. While Bangladesh has no mountains within its borders, DAS has risen from this delta as a movement over the past eight years as its collaborators and community grow. More than just an exhibition, DAS is a platform to catalyse a rich context for research and artistic production in the future by empowering artists and the public through its exhibition, education, and public programmes. This will be a summit of humanist potential rising above the boundaries geopolitics hold us to. Just as seismic movements don’t adhere to a singular timeframe or scale and can build up slowly or erupt in an instant, the exhibition plays with time in non-linear ways and builds on layers of ideas and collaborations born in its previous four editions.
“I propose the planet to overwrite the globe,” writes Bengali intellectual Gayatri Spivak. Elaborating on this notion, artist Shuddhabatra Sengupta of Raqs Media Collective speaks of the word “planet” as an allusion to the past, present, and future of the wandering star we struggle upon. In this sense, DAS is expanding its geographic and temporal scope to consider Bangladesh from a planetary perspective, looking at the world from the immediate and near to the unfathomably far, destabilising the human by shifting the time scales. Significantly, both Spivak and Sengupta have participated in previous editions of DAS.
Samdani Art Foundation Artistic Director Diana Campbell Betancourt returns as the Chief Curator of DAS 2020, thinking collectively with leading curators, artists, and academics.
“Inspired by the 1414 gift of a giraffe by the Sultan of Bengal to Emperor Yongle of China, I hope this summit will widen its view to look at historical layers of connectivity across Asia, Africa and the Indian Ocean, becoming a platform where former colonial subjects can come together without a western intermediary to imagine new futures from Dhaka inspired by similar utopian movements of the past. The word “summit” calls to mind the physical signs of plate tectonics, and ideas of Pangea and existences far beyond the span of a human lifetime or even the cumulative history of mankind. How can we as artists, curators, writers, art’s many supporters and publics come together to make a constellation of seismic shifts toward a better world outside of the myopic individual interest that is threatening our existence on this planet?”
Free to the public and ticketless, DAS brings together over 300,000 people to discuss ideas for alternative futures and more informed histories outside of national frameworks through the arts. The Summit is a cumulative exercise of sharing knowledge and community, with each edition building on scholarship and themes of previous iterations, dynamically responding to its time. While DAS began as a South Asian art platform, given tightening borders in the region, the idea of the region as one is untenable today and insufficient to understand the complex context of Bangladesh, especially from the perspective of climate change. DAS 2020 connects widely across the global south based on shared struggles rather than current geopolitical definitions. The title of DAS is inspired by art historian Dr Zahia Rahmani’s The Seismography of Struggles, a sound and visual inventory of non-European critical and cultural journals—including African, Indian, Caribbean, Asian, and South American diaspora—produced in the wake of revolutionary movements at the end of the 18th century up to the watershed year of 1989. The project, which comes to Asia for the first time, shows shared energy, movements and solidarities across time and diverse geographies. A seismography of human and non-human struggles grounded in Bangladesh and spanning past, present, and speculative futures will comprise the immersive exhibition (linking the ideas and programs across the whole summit) curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt. As in the past, portions of the exhibition will be co-commissioned and co-curated with international partners, and DAS is delighted to be partnering again with Artspace (Sydney) for DAS 2020 and will announce further partners in September 2019.
Returning to DAS 2020, The Otolith Group curates a film programme spanning 9 days entitled To welcome the end of the world as we know it. The recurrent task of the Black Feminist Critic and the Black Feminist Poet, according to philosopher Denise Ferreira da Silva, is to work towards “the end of the world produced by the tools of reason.” Working towards the end of a certain kind of world, which is decolonization, requires the emancipation of “the category of Blackness from the scientific and historical ways of knowing that produced it in the first place.” Emancipated from narratives of science and history, Blackness “wonders about another praxis” as it “wanders in the World’ guided by the “ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing and doing.” Inspired by Ferreira da Silva’s Feminist Poethics of Blackness, To welcome the end of the world as we know it assembles wandering sounds and wondering images that open up other ways of knowing and doing. A Cinema that imagines politics released from the grip of universal reason. A Cinema that imagines a World that precedes space and time but which operates in space and time.
The art scene of Bangladesh thrives on the energy and infrastructure built by artist-led initiatives who have developed networks and spaces to support their practice in the absence of centrally funded institutions and a local market for contemporary art. The Samdani Art Foundation supports many of these dynamic organisations through its Samdani Artist Led Initiatives forum and grant programme. The Samdani Art Foundation supports many of these dynamic organisations through its Samdani Artist Led Initiatives Forum and grant programme. Working collaboratively with Kathryn Weir (Cosmopolis, Centre Pompidou Paris), Gudskul (Jakarta), a public learning space established by ruangrupa, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara (Jakarta), Para Site (Hong Kong), and RAW Material Company (Dakar), the Samdani Art Foundation will expand this platform at DAS, bringing together over thirty collectives from Bangladesh and Bangladesh and across Australia, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, and Oceania. The resulting platform is a confluence of exhibition programming and workshops between and across the collectives and the public on how to build and sustain grassroots institutions in contexts with little existing local infrastructure and how to work collaboratively. The entire second floor of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, in Gudskul’s words, will transform into a “learning space established to practice an expanded understanding of collective values, such as equality, sharing, solidarity, friendship and togetherness.”
Parallel but connected to this platform, Bangladeshi writer Mustafa Zaman will curate a historical exhibition exploring the vibrant work of art, architecture, film, literature, and theatre collectives active in Bangladesh around the 1980s years of Martial Law. One of these collectives, the Chetana Architectural Research Society, was founded in 1983 by the pioneering modernist architect and political activist Muzharul Islam (1923-2012) who shaped the country through his teaching, ideology, and architectural legacy, both via his own buildings as well as also those of figures he invited in and supported in Bangladesh including Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, and Stanley Tigerman. Diana Campbell Betancourt will curate with advisors Sean Anderson (Assistant Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art New York) and Nurur Khan (Director, Muzharul Islam Archive) an exhibition that engages the vision of contemporary artists to allow for new readings of Muzharul Islam’s work by engaging with details of his buildings and drawings that speak to the architectural movement he galvanized, especially through his educational initiatives.
We are all students at DAS. Bangladesh is less than 50 years old and was built by students with conviction who risked their lives in the Language Movement and Liberation War. Being a student, learning and giving back have become a core part of what it means to be Bangladeshi, especially after the brutal massacre of its intellectuals in 1971 by the Pakistani army just ahead of the country’s independence. Bangladesh and DAS remain places where students both international and local can encounter a platform outside of western paradigms. The Summit invites the people with the most potential to make a change in a critical mass – students. They have the best “weapon” at their disposal: time. In addition to DAS’s critically acclaimed local school programme and arts mediation programme that will continue in this edition, curatorial graduate schools around the world are invited to bring their classes to DAS where they can encounter a platform outside of binary East/West North/South paradigms early on in their thinking process.
A research initiative supported by the Getty Foundation in collaboration with Cornell University’s Institute for Comparative Modernities and the Asia Art Archive, Connecting Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia, brings together a team of leading international faculty and emerging scholars to investigate parallel and intersecting developments in the cultural histories of modern South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa, ensures visiting curators learn from established and emerging scholars in the region and bridges the growing gap between exhibition-making and academia. The team for this initiative is led by Dr Iftikhar Dadi (Associate Professor of History of Art and Director of the South Asia Program, Cornell University) with a guest faculty of Dr Elizabeth Giorgis (Director of Gebre Kristos Deta Center, Addis Ababa University), Dr Simon Soon (Senior Lecturer, Visual Art Department, University of Malaysia), Dr Ming Tiampo (Professor of Art History, Carleton University), Dr Salah Hassan (Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture, Cornell University), and Dr Sanjukta Sunderason (Art History and South Asian Studies Lecturer, University of Leiden) with support from organisers Amara Antilla (Curator, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum) and Diana Campbell Betancourt (Artistic Director, DAS), and the Asia Art Archive team led by John Tain (Head of Research, AAA) and his team of researchers, Dr Sneha Ragavan, Dr Chuong-Dai Vo and Michelle Wong. Building on DAS’s inaugural scholars weekend in 2018, this initiative is convened by Diana Campbell Betancourt and Amara Antilla across Dhaka and Hong Kong.
Conceptualized by the UC Berkeley South Asia Art Initiative and the Subir & Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies, Indian Ocean Imaginaries as World History, returns to the Indian Ocean Littoral, in the past and in the present, to recover modes of being in the world that exceed Westernism’s conceptual projections. The interdisciplinary and intermedial program is led by historian Dr Munis D. Faruqui (Associate Professor, Sarah Kailath Chair of Indian Studies, and Director of the Institute for South Asia Studies), art historians Dr Atreyee Gupta (Assistant Professor of Global Modern Art, South and Southeast Asian Art) and Dr Sugata Ray (Associate Professor, South and Southeast Asian Art), artist Asma Kazmi (Assistant Professor, Department of Art Practice), and political scientist Dr Sanchita Saxena (Director, Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies). The program will unfold in close collaboration with artists, activists, and art and architecture historians in Bangladesh.
Bishwajit Goswami, a visual artist and educator in the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, will curate an intergenerational exhibition speaking to transfers of knowledge across students and teachers in Bangladesh, including pioneering artist educators such as Rashid Choudhury and Zainul Abedin. Collaborating with the Goethe Institut Bangladesh, the 5th edition of the Samdani Art Award will be curated by Philippe Pirotte (Rector, Art History and Culture Education Department, Stäedelschule) and will be the first opportunity that many early-career Bangladeshi artists will have to work with a curator. The 12 shortlisted artists are Ariful Kabir, Ashfika Rahman, Faiham Ebna Sharif, Habiba Nowrose, Najmun Nahar Keya, Palash Bhattacharjee, Promiti Hossain, Soma Surovi Jannat, Sounak Das, Sumana Akter, Tahia Farhin Haque, and Zihan Karim. Each will be commissioned to make new work for the exhibition in close dialogue with Pirotte. Each will be commissioned to make new work for the exhibition in close dialogue with Pirotte. The winner of the exhibition will receive a funded residency at the Delfina Foundation in London, and will be selected by an international jury chaired by Aaron Cezar (Director, Delfina Foundation) with Adrián Villar Rojas (artist), Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (Director, Castello di Rivoli), Julie Mehretu (artist), and Sunjung Kim (President, Gwangju Bienniale Foundation).
Curating in a World of Climate Change – Sristi Binash: Workshop for Exhibition Making and Unmaking
Sristi Binash (Bangla for “create and destroy”) is an international, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research project aimed at developing new tools and methodologies for creating culturally rooted, ecologically sustainable, and socially responsible exhibition displays. The project is funded by Pro-Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, and led by the Swiss design research practice common-interest in collaboration with DAS. Its core team is comprised of Shawon Akand (freelance artist and researcher, Bangladesh), Huraera Jabeen (architect, PhD, Brac University), Prem Krishnamurthy (exhibition maker, Wkshps), Khan Md. Mobinul (engineer, Dhaka Art Summit), Nina Paim (design researcher, common-interest), Ashfika Rahman (freelance artist, Bangladesh), Asifur Rahman (architect, Dhaka Art Summit), Dries Rodet (architect, Truwant+Rodet) and Inteza Shariar (freelance architect, Bangladesh).
Further programme details and a full list of participating artists will be released in September 2019.