The Dhaka Art Summit, a biennial initiative by Samdani Art Foundation was hosted on the premises of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. The fifth iteration of the event since 2012, showcased artworks from visionary artists around the world and is considered to be the biggest exhibition of South Asian artworks. DAS 2020 was the most ambitious edition of the summit to date, wanted to think new forms of togetherness and write art history from new perspectives through works of over 500 artists spanning diverse disciplines, scholars, curators and thinkers with the likes of Otobong Nkanga, Elizabeth Povinelli Salah Hassan and under the artistic directorship of Diana Campbell Betancourt.
DAS 2020 was built around the theme of ‘Seismic Movements’, and following the curatorial logic suggested by the title, DAS 2020 comprised a series of nine chapters and seven sub-chapters interacting between themselves, and was augmented with two symposiums and a moving-image program, and auxiliary discussions were taking place throughout the summit.
Diana Campbell Betancourt’s Curatorial Notation proposed: “Inspired by the geological reading of the
The nine chapters were organized into different movements: Geological Movements, Colonial Movements, Independence Movements, Social Movements, and Feminist Futures, Collective Movements, Spatial Movements, Moving Image, Modern Movements, along with an Art Award. The exhibition was designed in collaboration with Srijan-Abartan, a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research project; and the diversity of activity was dealt with fuzzy non-boundaries between sections, fueling what might be deemed as purposeful confusion.
DAS 2020 made alliances across Africa, Australia, South, and Southeast Asia, also extending to Europe and the US. The platform featured contributions from 500 artists, scholars, curators and thinkers, with activities ranging from panel discussions, performances and symposia to participation from the ample audience of 300,000 visitors.
Samdani further stated that “today – we feel that the art produced in Bangladesh, and also in South and Southeast Asia, Central and South America, Africa, Oceania, the Arab World (i.e. the global majority world – more people live here than Europe and North America) is incredibly powerful, yet the world lacks enough platforms outside of commercial or soft-power channels to make this work visible to audiences that have so much to learn from it”.
Dhaka Art Summit also celebrated the brilliant art pieces from homegrown artists. Dhali Al Mamun, currently a professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, is widely known for his versatile experimental works. One of his pieces, portraying how colonizers game to this region with the intention of trading spices. The art-piece displayed the sculpture of a throne composed of two different materials symbolizing what was left behind after colonial reign.
An artwork from Shishir Bhattacharjee – well known for his social commitment, sarcasm and wit – was a painting portraying a timeline of obstacles from the Bangladesh Liberation movement. One of the first artists to introduce mosaic murals, Aminul Islam, showcased one artwork which was an example of his legendary geometric work.
A series of films on the Palestinian Liberation struggle, ‘Gaza on My Mind’, directed by Gaza-based practitioners was screened on the third day of the Summit. The films bringing real-life episodes from Gaza to celluloid were curated by the Otolith group. “The videos are a kind of critique of those limits and limitations of documenting social, historical, artistic, and ethical struggles that are ongoing in Palestine,” said Kodwo Eshun. Six films were screened as part of the exhibit. These short-length films are mind-capturing with relevant solitary context to every story. From the first film, ‘Light in Gaza’, to the last, ‘Bath Time’, managed to forge unique identities with their references to the struggles.
THE SPIRIT OF REVOLUTION
“Lighting the Fire of Freedom” was an initiative by Centre for Research and Information (CRI), ICT division in collaboration with BSA and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, paying tribute to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman commemorating hundred years of his birth. The exhibition synchronized with DAS 2020 was curated by Assistant Curator of SAF, Ruxmini Reckvana Q Chowdhury. Through a diverse compilation of archival and contemporary materials that spanned photographs, newspaper excerpts, videos and artworks. The story traced events from the era of British Raj, the East Pakistan regime to the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation.
The spirit of independence was augmented and fueled by the artworks from Bangladeshi masters, from the 1905 Swadesi movement, the 1952 language movement to the independence in 1971. The artists evoking the spirit of revolution Murtaja Baseer, Quamrul Hassan, Rashid Chowdhury and Zainul Abedin were commemorated across DAS 2020, highlighting the role of art in the struggle against oppression.