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Bearing Point 2 - Dozakh-I-Puri N'imat (An Inferno Bearing Gifts)

Curated by Diana Campbell

Bearing Point 2 - Dozakh-I-Puri N'imat (An Inferno Bearing Gifts)

The 14th century Moroccan scholar Ibn Batuta’s description of Bengal reads as Dozakh-i-puri n'imat– an inferno bearing gifts. This Bearing Point descended into this inferno, considering the interwoven histories of Bengal to face the coming storms of ecological catastrophe and rising ethno-nationalism.

Muzharul Islam once said that “independence brings in the greatest opportunity for a nation to express its thoughts, talent, and energy.” Islam designed the campus of Chittagong University, which was the birthplace of the 13-panel mural, Abahoman Bangla Bangali (The Flows of Bengal and the Bengali), painted in 1972 by members of Chittagong-based collective Oti Shamprotik Amra. These panels narrated a history of Bengal up until the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and were part of the Bangladesh India Friendship Fest, the first exhibition of Bangladeshi art abroad in 1972 in Calcutta, which included artists, musicians and performers. The first panel is titled Ruposhi Bangla (Beautiful Bengal) after the seminal collection of poems by Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), which served as a major point of inspiration for the nationalists of the Language Movement from 1952. Music and oral performance were key in the Bangladeshi Liberation War when radio stations deemed illegal by the Pakistani government disseminated nationalist Bengali songs and troupes of performers travelled to far ends of the country to produce citizenship through music. The Bengali musicians’ collective Mohiner Ghoraguli also draws its name from a Das’s poem. Zihan Karim takes one of their songs as a point of departure to reimagine the metaphor of the body as the architecture for the soul. His 3D video installation examines what is lost when people try to erase difficult pasts, using a lens of social critique offered by the song to engage with centuries of history.

Music also played a significant role in the emergence of Bangladesh into international consciousness through the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh organised by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. The early leaders of Bangladesh were cognizant of the impoverished image of their country in the world’s eyes. Muzharul Islam once remarked: “In the 2,000 years of our history, we have been poor for only 250 years and that too, because of colonisation. If we do suffer from poverty, we suffer only from one kind of poverty– economic.”

Student movements have paved the way for revolutions across history, including in Bangladesh, speaking to the role of education as a form of de-colonial practice and a vehicle for changing the course of history. One of the most radical institutions for education was Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan, where the poet and his contemporaries created an institution that focused on community-based aesthetically-oriented learning. The Otolith Group revisits Tagore’s pedagogical and aesthetic philosophy in their lecture performance which opens DAS’s talks and education programmes. Speaking to the centrality of the spoken word in the production of the law, Zuleikha Chaudhuri’s Rehearsing the Witness revisited a legal case where the identity of the presumed dead Kumar of Bhawal was disputed for over 16 years in the courts of Dhaka, Calcutta, and London. These works activated archives and oral histories, to create contexts that investigate the production of identity as a performed practice.


Oti Samprotik Amra  

(1968-mid 1970s) 

Sabih-ul-Alam, Tajul Islam, Syed Enayet Hossain, Safiqul Islam, Abul Monsur, Chandra Shekhar Dey, Mohammad Shawkat Haider

Eternal Bangla Bangali, 1972

Locally produced paint on board


1. Beautiful Bengal

2. Strayed worshipper

3. Wisdom’s flare in hand

4. Dark Skies

5. Home searching traveler

6. Sovereign power, sovereign wrath

7. Death’s index

8. Ravenous Strike

9. Voice of resistance

10. Spectrum of life

11. Horrors of 71

12. Victory

all courtesy of the Chittagong University Museum Collection

Oti Samprotik Amra (We, the Contemporary) was a progressive cultural group founded by the students of the Chittagong University in 1968. Their activity included organizing  theatrical shows and various cultural programmes within the university. They were responsible for the first international exhibition of Bangladeshi art (after the liberation war in 1971), held in Kolkata in 1972, which celebrated the triumph of Bengali culture. The group invited seven artists, mostly students of Chittagongian origin (Sabih-ul-Alam, Tajul Islam, Syed Enayet Hossain, Safiqul Islam, Abul Monsur, Chandra Shekhar Dey and Mohammad Shawkat Haider) to create a mural 104 ft long for the Bangladesh-India Friendship Fair which was held in Gorer Math (now known as Maidan or Brigade Parade Ground) in March 1972. This recently re-discovered 13-panel mural (of which we are only able to display 12, due to deteriorated condition of the final work) that chronicles different chapters of the country’s history was collected by the Chittagong University Museum in 1976 when the group slowly ceased to exist. These panels were reunited and reexhibited at Chittagong University Museum in 2017 as part of Dhaka Art Summit’s research initiatives, and we are honoured to exhibit this important historical marker of Bangladeshi independence and artist-led initiatives at DAS 2018. 

Zihan Karim 

(b. 1984 in Chittagong, lives and works in Chittagong

Various Ways of Departure, 2017-2018

4 channel video with sound

courtesy of the artist

Music and oral performance were key in the Bangladeshi Liberation War when radio stations deemed illegal by the Pakistani government disseminated nationalist Bengali songs and troupes of performers traveled to far ends of the country to produce citizenship through music. Soon after Bangladeshi independence the Bengali musicians’ collective, which some call India’s rock music collective, Mohiner Ghoraguli (founded in 1975), continued in this tradition and created music deeply connected to the student movements of the 1970s-80s. Inspired by the Mohiner Ghoraguli song Saattala Bari (Seven Storied House), Chittagong based artist Zihan Karim reimagines the metaphor of the body as the architecture for the soul – an idea present across Bengali, Baul, and Sufi traditions. Karim’s resulting video installation Various Ways of Departure (2017-2018) uses this spiritual framework, viewed through lens of social critique offered by the song, to survey two historically significant seven-storied buildings in Chittagong – the Adalat Bhaban (the Courthouse) and the P.K Sen Bhaban– both of which were under threat of demolition. Karim engages with centuries of history through a poetic lens, examining what is lost when people try to erase difficult pasts, using techniques of 3D imaging to show the many layers that build up the composite image we see now.

Zuliekha Chaudhuri 

(b. 1973 in Mumbai, lives and works in New Delhi)

with Anita Rahaman Ghazi, Jyotirmoy Barua, Aneek R. Haque, Shahidul Alam, Dr Nandini Chatterjee, Rahaab Allana, Ahona Palchoudhuri, Samina Luthfa, Oroon Das and Arup Rahee

Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case (2016-2018)

Live performance, archival photographs

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation 

Additional support from the Alkzazi Foundation of Photography and Brown University 

Courtesy of the artist and the Alkazi Foundation of Photography, New Delhi

Photographs courtesy : The Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi

Both theatre and citizenship are performed practices; one’s performance as a citizen is either applauded or fails to live up-to expectations. To live with these conditions is to always be on trial and to know that in the eyes of the examining authority one is always an imposter unless proved otherwise. Zuleikha Chaudhuri’s Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case, revisits the historical court case around the Bhawal zamindari estate in Dhaka which ran between 1930-1946. She has staged previous iterations of the work at the Mumbai Art Room, as a “‘rehearsal as exhibition' ', and at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, focusing on the production of a portrait by an actor. The performance at DAS at 10am on February 3rd in the auditorium takes the form of a trial using some of the original evidence from the case. This project pulls together strands of thought from the previous iterations when moving to the “scene of the crime” in Dhaka, drawing a relationship between re-enactment and retrial; the complex tension between forensic evidence, the act of speculation/imagination and truth finding and truth making. 

The  Bhawal Court Case takes as its point of departure a trial which revolved around the identity of a sanyasi (or Hindu religious ascetic) claiming to be the second Kumar of Bhawal (the heir of one of the last large zamindari estates in Dhaka), who was presumed dead a decade earlier. The claim was contested by the British Court of Wards and by the widow of Ramendra Narayan Roy (the second Kumar of Bhawal) Bibhabati Devi. 

Over the course of sixteen years, the physical attributes, birthmarks, portraits and testimony were collated as forensic evidence to establish the claimant/sanyasi’s identity as being the Kumar. Hundreds of witnesses, including doctors, photographers, artists, prostitutes, peasants, revenue collectors, tenants, holy men, magistrates, handwriting experts, relatives and passers-­‐by were deposed. The case went from the District Court in Dhaka to the High Court of Calcutta to the Privy Council in London, finally ending in 1946 with a victory for the plaintiff, who died a few days after the verdict.  

Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case uses this trial about a possible impostor to re-examine the enormous archive that the case produced, through performance as a means to reconsider notions of evidence, the archive and identity. Both the domains of the law and theatre/acting frame larger questions that pertain to the production of truth and reality, assumptions of stable, consistent and believable identities and the construction  of  a credible  narrative. It examines how identity is written into history and emerges in the domain of the law, often in opposition to the actual complexity of lived-experiences and relationships. The manner in which the State, here the British Court of Wards, one of the parties in the Bhawal case, considers identity is a central question, explored through the testimony of expert witnesses on the body as evidence (and as the site where identity is played out), in comparison to where the individual locates it. 


Judge: Anita Rahaman Ghazi

Lawyer: Jyotirmoy Barua

Lawyer: Aneek R. Haque 

Expert Witness 1: Shahidul Alam (Artist and Writer) as J. L. Winterton (Artist and Photographer. Plaintiff's Witness No.778) 

Expert Witness 2: Dr Nandini Chatterjee, (Senior Lecturer in history, University of Exeter, UK.) as J.H. Lindsay (Retired ICS, Secretary of the School of Oriental Studies in London, and former Collector of Dacca. Defendant’s witness, taken on commission) 

Expert Witness 3: Rahaab Allana (Curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi) as Percy Brown (Artist, Secretary and Curator of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta. Defendant’s witness No.8) 

Expert Witness 4:  Ahona Palchoudhuri (Department of Anthropology, Brown University) as Bawa Dharam Das (Defendant’s witness No 327).

Expert Witness 5: Samina Luthfa (Sociologist and actor) as Bibhabati Debi (Defendant No. 1. Widow of the second Kumar of Bhawal)

Expert Witness 6: Oroon Das (Actor) and Arup Rahee (Performer, activist, and writer with The Centre for Bangladesh Studies) as Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy (Plaintiff) the second of the three Kumars, married to Bibhabati Debi.

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