Dhaka Art Summit
Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 20.13.31.png


Image: National Assembly of Bangladesh, ©Kashef Chowdhury

Image: National Assembly of Bangladesh, ©Kashef Chowdhury

The Samdani Art Foundation is pleased to announce that the fourth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit will be held from February 2 to 10, 2018, once again at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in collaboration with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh. After welcoming 138,000 local and 800 international visitors over four days in 2016, this free and ticketless non-commercial exhibition and research platform is extending its duration to nine days. A new and unprecedented focus will be on a section of Bengali language programming for the Talks Programme and the Critical Writing Ensemble, which will complement the existing English language structures celebrated in past editions. In this spirit, we are delighted to announce Dr. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak as our first confirmed speaker for the 2018 programme.

Over the last four years, DAS has drawn together art and arts professionals from across South Asia–including Bangladesh (65% of the artists are Bangladeshi), Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, and India–and the wider world to open up new inquiries into Modern and Contemporary art in the region. South Asia’s impact reaches wider than its own geographic territory, and the Dhaka Art Summit challenges the idea that to be international means engaging with Northern and Western geographies; DAS wishes to reimagine the regional as international, looking South and East as well as North and West. This will be the third Summit led by Samdani Art Foundation Artistic Director, Diana Campbell Betancourt, who again serves as the Chief Curator of DAS 2018.

DAS 2018 puts Bangladesh at the centre of it’s own cartography rather than at the periphery of someone else’s 1, providing tools to recalibrate how we think about art in South Asia to include minority positions and conflicted terrains. This will allow visitors to reconsider and to navigate South Asia as a long-standing zone of global contact where new ideas are born. To this end, the Solo Projects section of the Dhaka Art Summit will be replaced with Bearing Points which are large-scale thematic presentations of artists and architects that serve to orient the viewer towards lesser explored transcultural histories of the region. Curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt with a group of invited contributing curators and international institutional co-commissioners, each Bearing Point will have a navigator - a writer/scholar who will explore these points with the curator and create new texts and further open up these channels of thought in the public programme. Further information will be released in May 2017.

Further reorienting DAS 2018, the programme will engage and connect South Asia from and with the East, grounding the Summit historically within the rich and long international exhibiting practices in the region. The Summit will initiate an unprecedented dialog between South and South East Asia from within the subcontinent, and complicate a discourse that has previously been centered on India and Pakistan. The purview of the Summit will also move West by engaging with Iran. Joining Betancourt, the Guest Curators for DAS 2018 are Simon Castets (Director, Swiss Institute, New York), Cosmin Costinas (Director, Para/Site, Hong Kong), Milovan Farronato (Director, Fiorucci Art Trust), Vali Mahlouji (Founder, Archaeology of the Final Decade), Mohammed Muniruzzaman (Director, National Art Gallery, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy), Shabbir Hussain Mustafa (Senior Curator, National Gallery of Singapore), Sharmini Pereira (Founder/Director, Raking Leaves and Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Architecure and Design) and Devika Singh (Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge) assisted by Samdani Art Foundation Assistant Curators Ruxmini Reckvana Choudhury, Nivriti Roddam, and Abhijan Gupta. In the same spirit, DAS 2018 has discontinued medium specific exhibitions, as well as non-commercial gallery presentations in order to put additional focus on interdisciplinary curated exhibitions. 2 In continued collaboration with the Dhaka Art Summit, the Bangladesh National Museum will present a special exhibition and seminar around the pioneering Bangladeshi modern sculptor Novera Ahmed.

Cosmin Costinas’s exhibition considers Bengal’s position at the core of different geographical networks reflecting the circulation of people and ideas in different historical times. Overlapping and sometimes conflicting or barely discernible beneath the strident layers of contemporaneity and the modern waves of destruction, these worlds are still the pillars of a region that is still in a process of replacing its colonial cartographic coordinates. From the early Austronesian world that has woven a maritime universe surpassed in scale only by European colonialism; the great transfer of cultural and religious ideas across what we identify today as South Asia and South East Asia respectively; the 1500s as the first century of globalisation; and the contemporary emergence and dispersal of intellectual and political visions reacting to Western modernity in a macro-region that has Bangladesh at its very centre. The exhibition is structured in several chapters and includes artistic contributions, historical materials, and a special emphasis on textiles, as some of the most legible carriers of cultural transfers throughout eras.

Born from a close reading of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s seminal 1927 publication, A History of Indian and Indonesian Art, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa will embark on a yet to be titled durational act meditating upon the phrase ‘Southeast Asia’ through its material and cerebral contours as a differentiated site for working through the after-life of regions and region-making. Taking its title from the Nehru Memorial Lecture in New Delhi delivered by visionary Buckminster Fuller in 1969, the exhibition Planetary Planning curated by Art Historian Devika Singh will explore notions of world making that have been articulated across South Asia. Also inspired by movements in the late 1960s, A Utopian Stage curated by Vali Mahlouji articulates the radical “Third World-ism” at play at the Festival of Art, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-77). This was in line with the Non-Aligned movement and facilitated a uniquely transformative crucible of artistic exchange and experience across the North-South and Cold War divides. It aimed to oxygenate local traditions through stimulating exposure and confrontation, especially by situating Iran in relation to Asia. (After Iranian performers, artists from South and South East Asia came second in the sheer number of performances.)  The festival juxtaposed Asian and African artists with Western avant-gardists, underscoring the reverse transmission of knowledge from the so-called periphery to the centre and in order to highlight the depth and continuity of Asian philosophical influence on European and American modernist movements. In a similar vein and within the frame of the Fiorucci Art Trust, curator Milovan Farronato will bring the 8th edition of Volcano Extravaganza to Dhaka. Rather than engaging with the epic nature of Stromboli’s landscape - and without the talisman of its active volcano - Farronato’s contribution for DAS 2018 will seek to recreate the essence of the annual festival in a new location; invoking themes of isolation and distance; memory and mysticism; cosmic energy and the violence of nature; improvisation and theatre; and exploring the possibilities of reclaiming the setting within a shifted context. Since its inception, the Volcano Extravaganza has enabled new commissions with artists, and fittingly the first Volcano Extravaganza debuted with Bangladesh born Runa Islam, who also exhibited at DAS 2014. Sharmini Pereira’s One hundred thousand small tales of resistance considers the various artistic outputs made in response to the war years in Sri Lanka. The title of the show borrows from a poem written in 2003 by the leading Tamil poet and playwright Cheran, in which the poet describes how a ‘bridge, strengthened by its burden of a hundred thousand tales, collapses within a single tear.” The exhibition is imagined as an inventory of materials that bring about the bridge’s collapse. In so doing, it imagines how the burden of countless tales might be archived into an exhibition, before a single tear, of a page, renders them forgotten.

Above: Runa Islam, This Much Is Uncertain, production still, 2009. Courtesy Fiorucci Art Trust

Above: Runa Islam, This Much Is Uncertain, production still, 2009. Courtesy Fiorucci Art Trust

Between now and the opening of DAS 2018, there will be at least nine large-scale recurring international exhibitions in South Asia. 3 While there appears to be a new wave of energy in this genre, South Asia has a rich history, particularly in the 1980s, of these kinds of exhibitions, and many are unaware that the oldest surviving biennial in Asia is in Bangladesh, namely the Asian Art Biennale founded in 1981, which is entering its 17th edition. DAS 2018 will feature an exhibition about the history of the Asian Art Biennale drawing from the collection of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and the archive of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, dwelling on Dhaka as a longstanding place of innovation within the arts. DAS was not born from a vacuum, and to honor its status as a research platform, rather than a biennale, DAS will formally launch inquiries into the historical moments from which it was born and which continue to inspire. To this end, SAF is launching a DAS research fellows programme, assisting leading professionals with an interest in South Asia to open new points of inquiry by inviting them to travel to and conduct research in Bangladesh prior to DAS, looking into other exhibition histories such as those of the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival and the Asian Art Biennale, among others. DAS 2018 research fellows include Sean Anderson (Associate Curator, Architecture & Design, MoMA), Doryun Chong (Chief Curator, M+), Rattanamol Singh Johal (C-MAP Fellow for Asia, MoMA), Clara Kim (Senior Curator of International Art, Tate Modern), Tarun Nagesh (Associate Curator, QAGOMA) and Kathryn Weir (Director of Cultural Development, Centre Pompidou), and Shanay Jhaveri (Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Furthering the relationship between the Dhaka Art Summit and the Museum of Modern Art’s international research program C-MAP, Fellows will be invited to propose contributions to post (post.at.moma.org), MoMA’s online resource devoted to the histories of modernism and contemporary art in a global context. The first research fellows arrive in February 2017 for the Chobi Mela, and further fellows will be announced in May 2017.

While DAS 2018 will spend considerable energy looking back into exhibition history in South Asia, it is primarily a forward-looking initiative that generates possibilities for artists living and working in Bangladesh today. Continuing its collaboration with the Delfina Foundation, the 2018 Samdani Art Award will deepen its support of emerging Bangladesh based artists under the curatorial direction of Simon Castets (Director, Swiss Institute, New York), who will also conduct research for 89plus. For the first time, the award show will produce new work by a short-list of ten artists selected by Castets. Aaron Cezar (Director, Delfina Foundation) will again chair the jury. In association with Liverpool Biennial, each of the ten short listed artists will receive curatorial mentoring as an extension of Liverpool Biennial’s Associate Artists Programme and the New North New South Network which is a collaboration between biennials in South Asia and institutions in Northern England.

The Dhaka Art Summit is committed to nurturing the next generation of artists, and to this regard, DAS 2018 will feature an Education Pavilion at the centre of the exhibition, highlighting the Academy component of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Inspired by the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore and the history of transient pedagogy in the region, as well as the ideas of Critical Writing Ensemble 2016 participant Chus Martinez, this free and alternative art school will be led by a curriculum committee comprised of visual artists Nabil Ahmed (Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University London), Anoka Faruqee (Director of graduate studies in painting/printmaking at Yale School of Art), Naeem Mohaiemen (Ph.D. candidate, Columbia University), Iftikhar Dadi (Associate Professor, Cornell University), Anshuman Dasgupta (Faculty, Art History department in Kalabhavan, Santiniketan), and Bishwajit Goswami (Faculty, Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University) collaborating with leading Bangladeshi and international faculty with a bilingual collaborative reach and opening up a timely and productive discussion about art education in South Asia ahead of the 2019 centenary of the Bauhaus. A Bangladeshi student of architecture (or group of architecture students) will be commissioned to build the pavilion, proposing ecologically sustainable architectural models using local materials and technology, imagine new potential for learning in abandoned urban spaces across Bangladesh. While the pavilion will be built inside the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the design will be born from a site-specific proposal that informs the concept of the structure. The winning proposal will be selected by Aurelien Lemonier (Centre Pompidou), Jeannette Plaut (Constructo) and Shamshul Wares (Department of Architecture, State University of Bangladesh). The winner will be awarded the inaugural Samdani Architecture Award at the Dhaka Art Summit with funds towards further studies. Further details will be released in May 2017.

The Education Pavilion at DAS 2018 follows the informal education program Samdani Seminars launched by Diana Campbell Betancourt in 2015, which brought together international visiting faculty to complement the existing education infrastructure in Dhaka through free workshops, lectures, and master classes. The 2015 curriculum focused on expanded performance, and the 2017 Samdani Seminars will focus on sound and listening as tools for art-making in a world where the visual is increasingly controlled. Launching in January 2017 with Lawrence Abu Hamdan, further sessions will be led by Haroon Mirza, Asim Waqif, Pawel Althamer, Susan Philipsz, Tarek Atoui, Sebastian Cichocki, Nick Aikens, Council, and Open School East and some of the ideas and movements introduced in these sessions will feed into the Education Pavilion in 2018.

Sound is a medium that can move across borders and generations and utilizes uncontested common space, air. To this end, the first hang Srihatta- Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park in Sylhet (a collection-driven, distinct initiative from the Dhaka Art Summit, which will continue in Dhaka independently from the Art Centre) will focus on sound with an aim of reverberating new possibilities for institutional development within and beyond South Asia. This Sylhet initiative, which will become the nucleus of the Samdani Art Foundation activities with an outdoor sculpture park, is inspired by the radical thinking of Rabindranath Tagore and Shantiniketan which created a new centre for artistic education within Bengal connecting the rural and the urban, and the local and the international in unprecedented ways driven by the curiosity of autodidacts.

Left: Orghast (Parts I and II), play written by Ted Hughes in collaboration with Mahin Tajadod, directed by Peter Brook, Arby Ovanessian, Geoffrey Reeves, Andrei Serban, created by International Centre for Theatre Research, Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, 1971 (commissioned by Festival of Arts and French Ministry of Culture with the participation of the Ford and Gulbenkian Foundations and UNESCO) Courtesy of Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Right: Solo Projects, Sandeep Mukherjee, The Sky Remains, 2015-2016. Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Dhaka Art Summit, Samdani Art Foundation and Project 88, Mumbai.  Photo credit: Sandeep Mukherjee

Left: Orghast (Parts I and II), play written by Ted Hughes in collaboration with Mahin Tajadod, directed by Peter Brook, Arby Ovanessian, Geoffrey Reeves, Andrei Serban, created by International Centre for Theatre Research, Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, 1971 (commissioned by Festival of Arts and French Ministry of Culture with the participation of the Ford and Gulbenkian Foundations and UNESCO) Courtesy of Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis
Right: Solo Projects, Sandeep Mukherjee, The Sky Remains, 2015-2016. Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Dhaka Art Summit, Samdani Art Foundation and Project 88, Mumbai. 
Photo credit: Sandeep Mukherjee

DAS 2016 continues to echo around the world as curated exhibitions and works realised for DAS 2016 have subsequently travelled on to multiple institutions and biennales. The Missing One, curated by Nada Raza, is currently on view in a reconfigured version exhibited and produced by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), and artworks exhibited at DAS 2016 were recently exhibited in the Shanghai Biennale, Singapore Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Yinchuan Biennale, Colombo Art Biennale,  Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) convening at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and the Kunsthalle Zurich.

On December 10, 2016 Diana Campbell Betancourt and Mami Kataoka spoke at the 2016 Artspace Sydney Finissage Key Note Lecture moderated by Aaron Seeto. This was the first public talk about DAS 2018 and also launched The Dhaka Art Summit 2016 and Critical Writing Ensembles reader which were recently co-published by Mousse Publishing, Milan, Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo, Pro Helvetia- Swiss Arts Council, New Delhi and the Samdani Art Foundation, Dhaka. Copies of the book can be ordered from here . DAS is pleased to be collaborating with Artspace, Sydney and Alexie Glass-Kantor on the upcoming edition of the Summit, as well as the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA in Brisbane, deepening the exchange between Bangladesh and Australia launched at DAS 2016.

1 Pereira, Sharmini. “Art Initiatives off the Centre.” Talks Programme. Dhaka Art Summit 2016. Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka. 5th February 2016 Inspired by Sharmini Pereira’s presentation about Art Initiatives off the Centre at DAS 2016. This statement is not to say that Bangladesh is “the centre” of South and South East Asia, but rather taking the local as the departure to consider the regional and the international.

3 The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Pune Biennale, Karachi Biennale, Lahore Biennale, Chobi Mela International Photography Festival, Asian Art Biennale, Kathmandu Triennale, Colombo Art Biennale, and Srinagar Biennale, to name a few, which will be valuable research opportunities for the DAS team and its research fellows and will likely feed into the exhibitions and public programmes of the 2018 Summit.