Samdani Art Foundation announces Seismic Movements: Dhaka Art Summit 2020, the fifth edition of the bi-annual research and exhibition platform focused on art and architecture connected to South Asia, to be held from 7 - 15 February 2020 in the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
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 the geological reading of the word summit as the top of a mountain, the fifth DAS looks at movements generated from energy released from pressure– geologically, socially, 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 grows. More than just an exhibition, DAS is a platform to catalyse a rich context for research and artistic production in the future through empowering artists and the public through the interaction between 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 and elaborating on this, artist Shuddhabatra Sengupta of Raqs Media Collective speaks to how the word planet alludes 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, accounting for the world from the immediate and near to the unfathomably far, destabilising the human by shifting the time scales. Both of these thinkers have significantly contributed to past editions of DAS, and planetary thinking has also been addressed in other forms through exhibitions curated by Nada Raza and Dr. Devika Singh.
Samdani Art Foundation Artistic Director, Diana Campbell Betancourt returns as the Chief Curator of DAS 2020, thinking collectively with a growing community of leading curators, artists, and thinkers.
“Inspired by the gift of a giraffe from Kenya given by the king of Bengal to the emperor of China in 1414, I wanted to look at the relationships Bengal had with the rest of the world that pre-date western colonial contact, and to use DAS as a platform where former colonial subjects can come together without a western intermediary to imagine new futures together 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, patrons and the general public 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 of 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 and 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 large-scale immersive exhibition of thematic presentations from artists and architects curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt. Inspired by similar themes in their own work, the Otolith Group will curate a film programme inspired by solidarity movements across the global south.
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 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. Working collaboratively with Kathryn Weir (Head of Cultural Development, Centre Pompidou and Artistic Director, Cosmopolis), RAW Material Company (Dakar), Gudskul (Jakarta), a public learning space established by ruangrupa, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara (Jakarta) last year, and Para Site (Hong Kong), the Samdani Art Foundation will expand this platform at DAS, bringing together over thirty collectives from Bangladesh and the global south. 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 and collectively. 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 through his own buildings and 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 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.
Dhaka Art Summit as a Student Movement
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 and 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 with the best “weapon” at their disposal (time) -- students. In addition to DAS’s critically acclaimed local school program and arts mediation program 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 western 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, 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 Programme, 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.
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Bishwajit Goswami, a teacher 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. 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 working with a curator. The XX short listed artists 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 – Imagining New Possibilities for Contextually Rooted Exhibition Design
Working with Prem Krishnamurthy (XXX, Common Interest), and a Bangladeshi team (INSERT NAMES) – an exhibition design think tank is being developed by DAS to try to move away from Western white cube aesthetics and to also make more ecologically sustainable choices in the very design of the exhibition itself. This program is being funded and co- developed with ProHelvetia, Swiss Arts Council.
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Further programme details and a full list of participating artists will be released in September 2019.
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