A SCULPTURAL CONGRESS: PAWEL ALTHAMER AND THE NEIGHBOURS
20 – 28 February 2017 | National Art Gallery, Bangladesh Shilpakala AcademY
Polish artist Paweł Althamer, along with members of his community (neighbours) from Bródno, Poland—Maciej Karbowiak, Brian Halloran, Marcin Althamer, and Michal Parnas—travelled to Bangladesh to engage alternative communities in an eight-day-long creative and collaborative Sculptural Congress workshop as part of the Samdani Art Foundation's continued Seminar programme. Paweł and his neighbours engaged with patients of Protisruti (the Promise) drug rehabilitation centre in Sylhet, creating the communal work of art, Rokeya, with the aim of bridging understanding across social and cultural divides through the power of creativity.
Arriving in Sylhet with only a basic sketch and a rough concept for the final sculpture, Pawel spent the first three days of Sculptural Congress in a series of workshops with patients from Protisruti and local school children. Together, they created elements of a communal sculpture in clay. These elements were then merged into one sculptural form and fired within Rokeya’s internal kiln—a creative fire at the heart of the sculpture’s structural belly—around which the community’s, Paweł’s and his neighbours’ collaborative sculptures were exhibited. To create Rokeya’s main form, a group of patients from Protisruti came to Srihatta to assist Paweł and his neighbours with weaving the bamboo frame, alongside children from local schools. Rokeya’s colourful fabric costume was stitched from local textiles by nearby village women who also helped to drape the fabric.
The title Rokeya was given by the village children after Paweł shared his concept for this communal work of art—its interior space—to become a place for creative activity within the community, which reminded them of Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880 – 1932), a Bengali writer, educator, social activist, and advocate of women's rights who pioneered female education in Bangladesh. The interactive sculpture has already engaged hundreds of local school children and community members and will continue to do so as a collective space for art workshops.
Althamer's Rokeya is the first project completed for the Samdani Art Foundation's new home, Srihatta – Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park, to open in late 2018.
Pawel Althamer is a contemporary Polish sculptor and performance artist working with video, installation and action art. Some of his work is based on live sculptural and performative traditions, which hardly leave any material trace. His primary focus is on art that is communicative, believing that art can impart changes in society.
For 20-years, Pawel has run workshops for the Nowolipie Group—a group of people suffering from multiple sclerosis. Here, he discovered a different kind of academy. Pawel uses his work to activate a broader concept of community in an increasingly isolating world. The “Sculptural Congress” workshops, which he initiated in Sylhet, were heavily informed by his prestigious works, The Neighbours and Draftsmen’s Congress, focusing on the essential role of collaboration and community.
In 2007, Althamer incited a community project involving both his neighbourhood in Brodno and other artists. This resulted in the creation of Brodno Sculpture Park, an ongoing project in which everyone is invited to discuss and share ideas for this public space. Pawel studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He was a co-founder of the Kowalnia ("Smithy") group, a leading collective of young Polish artists in the 1990s. In 2004, Althamer received the prestigious Vincent Van Gogh Biennial Award, founded by the Broere Charitable Foundation of the Netherlands. His most recent solo exhibition was held in New Museum, New York in 2014. He also participated in many international group exhibitions including the 2013 Venice Biennale, 8th Gwangju Biennial (2010), Skulptur Projekte Münster (2007), 4th Berlin Biennial (2006), and the 9th Istanbul Biennial (2005).