The Samdani Art Foundation (SAF) is a private arts trust based in Dhaka, Bangladesh founded in 2011 by collector couple Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani to support the work of the country’s contemporary artists and architects. Led by Artistic Director and Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, SAF seeks to expand the audience engaging with contemporary art across Bangladesh and increase international exposure for the country’s artists and architects. Its programmes support Bangladeshi artists and architects in broadening their creative horizons through production grants, residencies, education programs, and exhibitions. To achieve this, SAF collaborates with the Bangladeshi government through official partnerships with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
SAF’s motivations are articulated through a variety of initiatives, the largest being the bi-annual Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), which it founded in 2012 and continues to produce. A non-commercial research and exhibition platform for art and architecture related to South Asia, DAS rejects the traditional biennale format to create a more generative space for art and exchange that re-examines how we think about these art forms in a regional and wider context. In an effort to encourage international arts professionals to travel to Bangladesh for research and to develop exhibitions which include the work of South Asian artists, SAF has supported travel for curators from institutions including Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; to name a few. SAF has recently launched the new DAS Research Fellows programme to formalise this effort and to support and facilitate artistic research in Bangladesh throughout the year. SAF also supports the exhibition of Bangladeshi artists in the cases where institutions have meaningfully engaged with Bangladesh in their research about South Asia. Some specific examples include the 11th Shanghai Biennale curated by Raqs Media Collective, Naeem Mohaiemen: Prisoners of Shothik Itihash curated by Adam Szymczyk at the Kunsthalle Basel in 2014, All the World’s Futures: The 56th Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor in 2015, and Speak Lokal at the Kunsthalle Zürich curated by Daniel Baumann, to name just a few.
The bi-annual Samdani Art Award, organised in partnership with the Delfina Foundation, has created an internationally recognised platform to showcase the work of young Bangladeshi artists to an international audience at the Dhaka Art Summit. Many short-listed artists have later exhibited in international exhibitions and institutions that include the 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016), curated by_Vienna (2016), 11th Shanghai Biennale (2016), 4a Centre for Contemporary Asian Art (2017), and Kunsthalle Zürich (2017).
Ahead of DAS 2018, SAF launched the Samdani Architecture Award, which is open to architecture students in Bangladesh to propose a design for DAS 2018’s Education Pavilion. The first prize winning entry will be constructed to house DAS’s rich educational programming—lectures, events, workshops, and dialogues—currently being developed by an international curriculum committee.
Committed to increasing art-engagement in Bangladesh, SAF runs the annual Samdani Seminars, a free lecture and workshop programme that facilitates engagement between internationally renowned arts professionals and local communities across Bangladesh through participatory artworks, lectures, and workshops. The Seminars complement the syllabi of Bangladesh’s leading educational institutions by covering the mediums and subjects not currently included, accessible to those of all ages, to encourage an inclusive dialogue around art.
SAF’s newest programme, the Samdani Artist-Led Initiatives Forum, recognises the importance of Bangladesh’s independently established and self-funded art initiatives. Supporting these initiatives’ ongoing efforts, the Forum will help each to continue their work locally while building their profile internationally through SAF’s network. The Samdani Art Foundation will also support exhibitions of these artist groups in Dhaka.
SAF’s collection has around 2,000 works of modern and contemporary art currently based at Golpo, the Samdani Family residence in Gulshan, Dhaka that can be visited by appointment. Works from the collection are regularly lent to institutions and festivals around the globe as part of SAF’s commitment to increasing international engagement with Bangladeshi and South Asian artists. A significant selection of works from the collection will be exhibited in the fall of 2018 at the MCA Chicago in a traveling exhibition entitled Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia, curated by Omar Kholeif.
A permanent home for the collection is currently in development: Srihatta – Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park will open its first phase late 2018 and there are plans to open a permanent exhibition space in Dhaka post 2020, both designed by Dhaka-based, Aga Khan award-winning architect Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury. Located in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Srihatta will house the Samdani Art Foundation Collection, accommodate space for up to ten artists in residence, and commission new works by world-class South Asian and international artists. Opening up new possibilities for art and community engagement in rural Bangladesh and raising standards for the public accessibility of institutions in South Asia, the first project realised on this site is Rokeya – an interactive sculpture created in collaboration with the local community by leading Polish artist Paweł Althamer in early 2017.