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Colonial Movements

Ongoing legacies of colonialism establish and maintain conditions of exploitation throughout the global majority world (the world outside of Europe and North America which hosts most of the human population on the planet). Naked capitalism and internationalism, sometimes masked under the guise of religion and development aid, continues to drive networks of power controlling the globe. Revealed through its extractive actions of planting and uprooting indigenous goods and people, colonialism still extends deep into the furthest reaches of the Earth through the seeds of commodities. Artists across generations have made works that reflect how histories of land are intimately entangled/embedded with narratives of hunger, dispossession and ultimately erasure. Colonisation is inscribed in the physical and cultural DNA of the worlds we inhabit, and the artists working across these spheres help us navigate through complex webs of greed and addiction to imagine solidarities for alternative and autonomous futures.

Adebunmi Gbadebo

b. 1992, Livingston; lives and works in Newark

True Blue: Peter, Peter 2 and Phillis, 2019

Human Black Hair, Cotton, Rice Paper,

Denim, Hair Dye, Silk Screen Print

Commissioned for DAS 2020.

Courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery

Adebunmi Gbadebo addresses the concepts of land, memory and erasure in her work. Sheets of paper constructed with beaten cotton linters and human hair collected from black barber shops serve as abstracted documentations of genetic histories, embedded in the strands of hair. The dominant blue dye traces Gbadebo’s maternal family history to three plantations where her ancestors were forced into slavery. Gbadebo’s use of indigo inevitably links her historical inquiry to Bengal, where the plant was grown as a cash crop from around the year of 1777 by the British East India Company. The more recent histories of Bangladesh and the USA (where Gbadebo traces her family’s history) are interlinked through the garment industry. The bold, blue colour produced from the indigo plant can serve as a reminder of the vast amount of denim clothing produced in Bangladesh for international export. The conditions under which the clothing worn by western consumers is produced by Bangladeshi workers, should not be erased from history.

Using black hair, cotton, rice paper, indigo and sometimes silkscreened photo imagery, Gbadebo creates abstract ‘portraits’ of her enslaved ancestors. The DNA of those people still exists in these works of art. She perceives hair as a means to position her people and their histories as central to the narratives in her work.

Annalee Davis

b. 1963, Barbados; lives and works in Barbados

F is for Frances, 2015–16

Coloured pencil on plantation ledger pages

Courtesy of the artist

The last will and testament of Thomas Applewhaite written in August 1816 directed that six years after his death his ‘little favourite Girl Slave named Frances shall be manumitted and set free from all and all manner of Servitude and slavery whatsoever.’ At the time, Applewhaite was the owner of Walkers – the site where the artist Annalee Davis lives, works, and explores. F is for Frances maps Frances’ name in a series of seven drawings on ledger pages. The letters forming her name are comprised of 17th-and 18th-century sherds found in the soil of former sugarcane fields, suggesting fragments of history understood only in part – usually through the words of the white colonial-settler and most often a male voice. With Frances, another voice becomes audible and visible.

Davis has a hybrid practice as a visual artist, cultural instigator, educator, and writer. With the media of printmaking, painting, installation, and video art, she works at the intersection of biography and history, focusing on post-plantation economies through engaging with a particular landscape on Barbados. Davis has been involved in the founding and co-founding of numerous initiatives, including Fresh Milk (f. 2011), an arts platform and micro-residency programme, Caribbean Linked (f. 2012), an annual residency in Aruba, and Tilting Axis (f. 2015) an independent visual arts platform bridging the Caribbean through annual encounters.

Apnavi Makanji

b. 1976, Bombay; lives and works in Geneva

Appropriation Disinformation –

Nature and the Body Politic, 2019

Collage on found paper

Commissioned for DAS 2020

Courtesy of the artist and Tarq

Sourced from the Atlas International Larousse Politique et Economique (1950), the pages making up Apnavi Makanji’s collages are records of the treasures of the globe as represented through the eyes of imperial powers in their quest for progress and the modern condition. In fact, these pages of statistics are effectively lists of extractivism. They remain silent on the violence inflicted on the environment, on modern-day slavery, and on the displacement of indigenous communities. The artist has chosen to look at them instead as tools of capitalism and proof of systematic violence. These collages are not only a representation of what has been forgotten, buried, or annihilated, they also stand in for a subconscious that is mutant and diseased. In its soft sensuality and secretions, the work attempts to trigger a visceral memory of a situated environment that existed before it was reduced to highly mobile commodities. Installed across the gallery as punctuation points between walls, these collages help the viewer navigate a complex history of connectivity across diverse contexts spanning Africa, South, Southeast, and East Asia, South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, as well as North America and Europe.

Makanji works with the media of installation, drawing, and film, producing complex constructs informed by botany, memory, displacement, and environmental urgency. They are interested in exploring the intersection of these concepts within the context of human-engendered climate emergency.

Candice Lin

b. 1979, Concord; lives and works in Los Angeles

The Tea Table, 2016

Etching on Japanese Kozo paper

The Roots of Industry, 2016

Etching on Japanese Kozo paper

Courtesy of the artist, François Ghebaly,and Gasworks

Candice Lin’s works establish a network of connections between historical and contemporary Asian and African diasporas in the Americas, as well as their generational traumas. In The Roots of Industry, Lin reinterprets an engraving of Bolivian silver mines by Theodor de Bry. The Andean potato was cultivated to feed indigenous miners mining silver and mercury in South America. This silver and the excess potatoes travelled across the sea and fuelled the Industrial Revolution, changing the course of world history. In The Tea Table, Lin appropriates an engraving by John Bowles (circa 1710) which was a satire on affluent fashionable ladies and featured a devil lurking under the table as Envy drives Justice and Truth out of a door. In this rendition, Lin draws connections between tea, opium, and sugar by replacing the symbolic figures with images of tea production and opium abuse.

Lin works predominantly with sculpture and video, addressing notions of cultural, gendered, and racial difference, rampant sexualities, and deviant behaviour. Interested in the fluid boundaries between the self and the other, she examines how Western ideologies of the self-influence the politics of power within notions of individualism, selfhood, freedom, and difference.

Dhali Al Mamoon

b. 1958, Chandpur; lives and works in Chittagong

শতাব্দীর উপাখ্যান (The story of the Century), 2019

Spices, tea, and indigo on paper and canvas

Commissioned for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist

The history of colonialism is objectively the history of despair. Dhali Al Mamoon’s ongoing work searches for the self through the narrative of historically contextualised images, with a nod to the existentialism found in the analysis of every work of art. Our appearance, sartorial/material representation, and constructed sense of self carry the legacies of colonisation; history, memory, and flashes of coincidence prime our perception of the world. In free-play kinetic works on paper and canvas, the artist draws in commodities that changed the course of South Asian history under the control of the British East India Company: tea and indigo and spices. Tea and indigo, in both solid and liquid form, correspond to the colours of amber and blue used extensively in the artist’s palette, evoking a sense of melancholy associated with the history of how these materials were misused to exploit people and lands.

Al Mamoon works with drawings, paintings, kinetic sculptures and installations, addressing issues of knowledge, history and identity. Constructing complex experiences, he is interested in deconstructing the collective memory of his homeland of Bangladesh. He focuses on the ways in which colonialism de-humanised, exploited and dislocated people from their own land, culture and tradition, separating them from traditional systems of knowledge.

Elia Nurvista

b. 1983, Yogyakarta; lives and works in Yogyakarta

Sugar Zucker, 2016–2020

Crystallised sugar, mural

Courtesy of the artist. Realised with additional support from the Indonesian Embassy of Bangladesh

Beyond their sparkling surfaces, sugar and jewels are linked by stories of violent exploitation of labour and the environment. From Africa and the Caribbean to Asia, from Europe to the Pacific, the history of sugar is tied to the mass movement of people around the world as part of exploitative plantation economies that fuelled a global demand for its sweet taste. This model of commodity production continues today; the amount of money that producers of commodities make is far removed from the taxes that foreign governments levy on them and from the profits that traders and corporations enjoy as a result of addictive cycles of consumption. Elia Nurvista’s gemstone-shaped candy sculptures remind of an underlying bitterness behind the sweet ‘taste’ that we have grown accustomed to.

Nurvista presents her social research through mixed-media installations, food workshops, and group discussions. Her predominant focus is on the production and distribution of food, and its broader social and historical implications. Nurvista’s works explore the intersection between food and commodities, and their relationship to colonialism, economic and political power, and status.

Faiham Ebna Sharif

b. 1985, Dhaka, lives and works in Dhaka and Uppsala

Cha Chakra: Tea Tales of Bangladesh, 2015–ongoing

Photographs, archival material

Commissioned for DAS 2020

Courtesy of the artist

The Baganiya communities of Bangladesh are made up of tea workers who originate from at least ninety different ethnic groups from across South Asia formerly known as British India. While their ethnic and linguistic origins differ, their histories are intertwined as they were forcefully moved as indentured servants to the tea gardens of Sylhet and Chittagong, where they remain to this day. After the partition of British India in 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, these people became citizens of Bangladesh and lost touch with their ancestral homelands. Cha Chakra is Faiham Ebna Sharif’s research-based work that uses old printed materials, advertisements, and historical documents show the ongoing story of inequity and exploitation behind the second most consumed drink (after water). His research extends into the resistance of the community as it strives to hold onto its traditions in this newly commissioned presentation.

Faiham Ebna Sharif is an artist and researcher interested in long-term explorations of subjects such as tea plantations, the film industry of Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugee crisis, HIV patients, climate change, and migration from the micro-scale of the local bus to the meta-scale of humanity. Although Sharif studied international relations, he chose photography as his medium of expression. Sharif collects manuscripts, published primary sources (such as newspapers and other local media), as well as visual records (painting, photography and video) and oral histories parallel to and contributing to his artistic practice.

Gisela McDaniel

b. 1995, Bellevue; lives and works in Detroit

I am M(in)e, 2019–2020

Oil and assemblage on canvas with sound

Commissioned for DAS 2020.

Courtesy of the artist

Many people are unaware that the United States still holds five inhabited territories from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean that fall under the definition of a colony. The power and interests of the US military are given as reasons to deny the people of these colonies the same rights of self-governance that America fought for in the War of Independence in 1776. Gisela McDaniel is a mixed-race Chamorro artist whose DNA carries the complex history of colonisation on the American territory of Guam. Her paintings subvert traditional power relations by allowing the subject to talk back to the viewer through overlaid audio interviews. As evidenced in the works of artists like Paul Gauguin, power dynamics can be extremely problematic between native women and the men colonising their lands, and McDaniel’s work pushes back against a primitivist gaze. This haunting new series of portraits provide a portal into the struggle of mixed-race people to find a sense of belonging and to pick a side in conflicted cultural and political battles for autonomy.

McDaniel’s work is based on a process of healing from her own sexual trauma while engaging with other female survivors through the practice of portraiture. Interweaving assemblages of audio, oil painting, and motion-sensored technology, she creates pieces that ‘come to life’ and literally ‘talk back’ to the viewer, giving agency to the subjects of her paintings.

Hira Nabi

b. 1987, Lahore; lives and works in Lahore

Good Seeds | Bad Seeds, 2019–2020

Relief prints in vitrine

Commissioned for DAS 2020.

Courtesy of the artist

Any attempt to map a history of plant species reveals that it is as migrant and varied, if not more than the human species. Can territorialization be temporal as well as geographical? Good Seeds | Bad Seeds is a series thinking through botanical imaginaries and their influence upon identity making. Building upon a collection of archival Pakistani postage stamps as a site of initial inquiries into marking terrain, cultivating and farming it, extracting from it, hydrating and dehydrating, and designing it in specific ways – Hira Nabi proposes an allowing for a set of future possibilities as a way to expand an inclusive, regional identity of cross-pollination and care. The work explores the arrival and transfer of seeds via colonialism, failed botanical migrations, and economies of land usage.

Nabi is a filmmaker and multimedia artist. Her practice moves across research and visual production interrogating the relationship between memory, history and place. She is currently working on researching cinema houses in urban Pakistan, and on identity-making and cultural production in Lahore through a study of its gardens and botanical influences.

Hlubaishu Chowdhuri

b. 1992, Khagrachhari, Bangladesh; Lives and works in Chattagram

Shape of Map 1, 2017

Acrylic on canvas

Courtesy of the artist and Samdani Art Foundation

Shape of Map 2, 2017

Acrylic on canvas

Courtesy of the artist

Shape of Map 3, 2019

Acrylic on canvas. Commissioned for the DAS 2020.

Courtesy of the artist

The Chittagong Hill Tracts in Southeast Bangladesh are comprised of three districts (Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban) hosting eleven different ethnic communities with over a thousand years of diverse cultural, linguistic, and ethnic histories that differ from those of the majority Bengali population of Bangladesh. Chowdhuri’s paintings depict the map of Chattagram (previously Chittagong) division, and forms of figures and objects emerge in the voids of intertwined lines that seem to pulse like veins. In her map series, the artist paints internally conflicted lands. She explores the paradox of forced migration of indigenous people in the face of their non-severable spiritual connections to their lands, stressing the importance of overcoming conflict derived from cultural and ethnic differences in order to find new ways to peacefully coexist.

Chowdhuri works predominantly with painting. As a member of the Marma indigenous community of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, her art is greatly influenced by the region’s socio-political instability and cultural history. Chowdhuri’s paintings reflect the existential crises of indigenous people over time through motifs drawn from indigenous knitting and craft techniques.

Kamruzzaman Shadhin

b. 1974, Thakurgaon; lives and works in Dhaka and Thakurgaon

The Fibrous Souls, 2018–2020

Jute, Cotton Thread, Brass, Clay

Realised in collaboration with Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts. Commissioned and Produced by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Samdani Art Foundation

Kamruzzaman Shadhin’s collaborative work interweaves strands of history that seem innocently distinct from but are in fact connected to present-day peasant conditions in South Asia. The artist invited ecological migrants residing in his village who moved from the ‘jute tracks’ of Southern Bangladesh to create a memorial reminding us of how the desire and pursuit of a commodity economy continues to transform the land that we stand on. Seventy giant shikas hang in a formation based upon the Assam Bengal Railway that operated under British India from 1892–1942. Railways were a form of connectivity that displaced people and their ways of life; their construction transformed Bengal’s lands from growing food to producing globally desired commodities (jute, indigo, opium).

Shadhin’s participatory practice incorporates sculpture, painting, installation, performance, video, and public art interventions. His work maintains a satirical edge, dealing directly with the politics of environmental degradation and destruction and its effects on communities across Bangladesh. Migration, social justice, and local history are recurring themes in his works. He is the founder of the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts (founded 2001) and a founding member of Chhobir Haat (founded 2005).

Liu Chuang

b. 1978, Hubei; lives and works in Shanghai

Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings

of Ethnic Minorities, 2018

Three-channel video, 4K,

5.1 surround sound, 40 min

Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space.Commissioned for Cosmopolis #1.5: Enlarged Intelligence with the support of the Mao Jihong Arts Foundation

Liu Chuang observes the displacement of indigenous peoples and cultures left in the wake of harvesting massive amounts of energy from hydroelectric dams, connecting historical narratives and stories of material and immaterial profit and loss across Asia via the mountainous region known as Zomia – which extends into the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The work links political power, the extraction of minerals and energy from deep within the earth, and new currencies seeking to evade centralised national control, moving from the fifth century BCE to present-day China through a mixture of shot and found footage, the narration of fact and fiction, and sound.

Chuang works with found materials, such as window grilles and pulp-fiction books, in addition to video, installation, architecture, and performance. He critically reflects upon life in contemporary China, focusing on its culture of intensive industry and globalisation. The artist is interested in attending to larger socio-political phenomena that often go unnoticed in day-to-day existence.

Madiha Sikander

b. 1987, Hyderabad; lives and works between Karachi and Vancouver

Majmua, 2017–18

Cloves, monofilament, glass, metal beads

Courtesy of the artist

The artist would like to acknowledge the labour of the students who wove with her: Habiba Saleheen, Mohammad Omer,Yumna Ahmed, Sana Zahid, Azher Khan, Aiman Rauf, Humaira Salaams, Danyal Begg, Hussain Sanjwani, Bakhtawar Majeed, Mansoor Elahi, Salman Siddiqui, Mohammad Abbas, Attika Shahab, Shanzay Ikhlaq, Zulfiqar Ali, Vimal Khatri, Mehwish John, Ayesha Sabih, Nimra Shoaib, Aniqa Sohail, Shayan Nasir, Fiza Batool, Shahrukh Shafique, Sidra Sohail, Sobia Sohail and Maisam Hussain

Madiha Sikander’s Majuma (‘assemblage’ in Urdu) is an installation inspired by the similarities in the practices of miniature painting and Canadian First Nations weaving in terms of their relationship with labour and materiality. Cloves, beads, and microfilaments are woven together to create a transparent and powerfully scented curtain that invites us to consider how the world we experience today was designed by labour and trade routes drawn up by imperial powers. ‘Each lozenge refigures how the lines of the Silk Road and the routes of the Spice Trade map the Indian subcontinent, trade routes tracing to the Neolithic and extending to Southern Europe… Africa… and Asia. Each bead recalls the European expropriation of indigenous lands in the Americas and of human beings in the African continent – the ‘slave trade beads’ Europeans used in their dealings with indigenous American groups.’ (da Silva, 2018)

Sikander works with found objects, such as books, newspaper images, and family photographs, as well as items from flea markets. Her work addresses historical erasure and memory, notably in relation to labour, space, and material. Through repurposing and layering familiar materials, Sikander collapses the different tenses of time and space.

Mahbubur Rahman

b. 1969, Dhaka; lives and works in Dhaka

Transformation, 2018–2019

Two-Channel HD Video, 14:35 min

Courtesy of the artist.

This work will be activated by

a performance on 7 February 3.30pm

Unlike individuals, ideas have the potential to become immortal. Since 2004, Mahbubur Rahman’s performance, sculpture, and video work has been embodying the popular folk story of the hero Nurul Din from the Rangpur Peasant Rebellion of 1783, specifically drawing references from the late Bangladeshi writer Syed Shamsul Haq’s 1982 play Nuruldiner Sara Jibon (Nuraldin: A Life). Just as Haq revived Nurul Din (Nurul Uddin) as an allegory to fight back against the military rule of the 1980s, Rahman evokes this figure to encourage standing up against the injustices of today. Rahman’s fascination with this story begins in a scene when Nurul Din was a child accompanying his emaciated father to the paddy fields to help plough the field. Everything had been taken away from his family, including their bull, as a consequence of their unpaid tax bills to the British Raj who controlled the land and demanded it grow indigo rather than food. Straining under the hot sun, Nurul Din’s father tried to tow the land without a bull, and he collapsed and died under the weight of the plough, groaning like a bull in the process.

Rahman created this two-channel video from a performance he realised with Bangladeshi indigo farmers of today, Bihari migrant rickshaw pullers in Kolkata (likened to human horses), and horse riders on the bank of the Padma river in Bangladesh (the same source of water as Kolkata’s Ganga river) surrounding the Farakka Barrage that has divided these once continuously flowing waters between India and Bangladesh since 1975. These locations and stories link East and West Bengal via their shared British colonial history; times have changed, but the stories of oppression of the working class persist. Rahman’s Transformation is a call to rise up, remembering brave figures whose ghosts (that live on through stories) can’t rest until justice is served.

Rahman works across painting, video, installation, and performance and is one of the most internationally recognised Bangladeshi artists of his generation. He pushes the experience of art beyond visual pleasure, addressing wider social responsibilities in reference to his personal experience of anguish and anxiety in the context of contemporary Bangladesh. He is a co-founder of Britto (f. 2002), a non-profit space that initiated a successful alternate art scene that breaks from and challenges the persisting colonial barriers found within academic art institutions that discourage cultural reform.

Munem Wasif

b. 1983, Dhaka; lives and works in Dhaka

Spring Song, 2017–2019

Series of 27 Archival pigment prints

Sutra, 2019

Silkscreen and Pigment print on archival paper

Kala Pani, 2019

Series of 14 Archival pigment prints and ambush text prints on archival paper

Documents, 2017–2019

Photographs, text, found footage, archival material, variable sizes

Realised with partial support of Samdani Art Foundation and NTU CCA Singapore. Courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai

Munem Wasif’s work has long been exploring the concept of a border, re-examining the questions around its formation. How are borders constructed? Who constructs them? How are they broken and re-formed?

Wasif began visiting Rohingya refugee camps on the Myanmar/Bangladesh border in 2009. The size of the camps has grown exponentially since the violent incidents beginning in 2017 that have caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee into Bangladesh. The artist is unable to type the word ‘Rohingya’ correctly because his computer lacks Burmese language programming; in Myanmar the word ‘Rohingya’ is expunged from official discourse in favour of the term ‘Bengali.’ Silkscreened onto a British colonial map, the distorted typography of the word ‘Rohingya’ hints at Myanmar’s denial of the existence of this ethnic group which has been living within its borders for generations.

Kala Pani – which translates to Dark Water – is a new series of black and white photographs which seems innocuous at first. The presence of dark, featureless masses of water, an empty ocean in its most ordinary form, stands as a stark reminder of what Rohingyas have gone through to escape mass extermination. Recalling harrowing details that were told to him by survivors, Wasif created texts which he paired with images to reveal the refugees’ escape at sea. The works reflect the constant flow of migration in the Bay of Bengal across many centuries, where border lines are lost in the shade of night.

What can you hold onto when running away to save your life? How can you be, belong, or settle when nobody accepts you as a citizen? How do you legally prove your very existence after decades of systemic violence? Spring Song (2017–2019) is a work in progress that revolves around objects found in Rohingya camps. Placed against vivid monochromatic backgrounds, these precarious assemblages, decaying documents, and faded photographs convey fragmented memories and feelings of displacement. These objects are a testament of determination; a will to eat, to play or to simply reminisce about one's past –in other words, to have the freedom to feel human.

Nabil Rahman

The Taste of Tea, 2019

Collage of images, texts, objects, artworks collected from tea garden

Commissioned for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Realised with additional support from Kabi Dilwar Foundation

Born into Tea: Conversation and Songs with artists who currently live in Bangladeshi tea estates. Sunday 9, 5pm First Floor

Nabil Rahman was born in and currently lives in the tea-district of Northeast Bangladesh, Sylhet; he was raised in New York and has experienced how value and values (mis)translate across these vastly different yet connected contexts. The least expensive cup of tea at Starbucks costs around $1.75 in the United States, while the daily wage of a tea picker can be less than the equivalent of $1.25 per day of work. Women sometimes collect more than 23kg of tea in one day, and tea is the second most consumed drink after water. The artist plays the role of facilitator when sharing his privilege with creative individuals working in neighbouring tea gardens, allowing their creativity to bloom in ways not tied to capitalist production, searching for new shared tools of expression. On Sunday 9 February at 5pm, artists who live in Bangladesh’s tea estates will perform songs and engage with visitors of DAS in the South Plaza, facilitated through the work of Rahman.

Rahman’s practice archives the industrial present using found objects, mark-making and the written word. Creating ironic references to the histories and languages of abstraction, he investigates its politics by weaving traces of the global flows of material into his work, destabilising the supposed aim of abstraction in search of a ‘pure form.’

Neha Choksi

b. 1973, Belleville; lives and works in Los Angeles and Mumbai

The American President Travels (East), 2002 (remade 2019)

Installation with wood, bamboo, paint, printed fabric. Commissioned and Produced by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Project88

As a study of the possible ecologies of powerful males, this installation visually configures a scratchy and deteriorated archive of the 20th-century travels of nine U.S. Presidents to over two dozen eastern nations, both revealing the paper diplomacy conducted through American newspapers and revelling in the comedy of each President filling his predecessor’s shoes for the public’s family album. A sheen of romantic getaway as well as ‘I-scratch-you-if-you-scratch-me’ is lent to the many recorded moments through the use of sheer silky fabric, backscratchers, and the form of a massage table.

Working across performance, video, installation, sculpture, and other formats, Choksi disrupts logic by setting up poetic and absurd interventions in the lives of everything – from stone to plant, animal to self, friends to institutions. Embracing a confluence of disciplines, she allows in strands of her intellectual, cultural and social contexts to revisit the entanglements of time, consciousness, and socialisation.

Rossella Biscotti

b. 1978, Molfetta; lives and works in Brussels and Rotterdam

Clara, 2019

VOC document transferred on wall (cargo list ship Knappenhof, departed from Bengal on 30–11–1740 arrived in Delft/Rotterdam on 20–07–1741 passing through Cape)

Realised with additional support from the Italian Embassy of Bangladesh and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bangladesh

Rossella Biscotti is interested in the power of storytelling and how this can open up a deeper exploration of untraced by history that reveals changing value systems. One of the stories that fascinates her is the story of Clara, a female rhinoceros who was brought to the Netherlands from Bengal in 1741 by a captain of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) along with a large shipment of textiles. While the detailed listings of textiles was declared and can be deduced from the reproduction of the ship’s original manifest document reproduced on the wall, Clara was not, suggesting that the captain was trying to profit off her exoticness as a separate source of income from his official VOC duties. Clara toured around Europe for seventeen years. While she is not visible in this official document, collective memory keeps stories (like Clara’s) alive.

Biscotti describes the constitution of sentient beings as they are, instead of how they may be perceived, using sculpture, images and other materials. Her work explores forgotten or untraced events and the changing value systems they reveal. She explores the individual narratives of those affected by mining, exploitation and confinement, drawing from oral, technical, archival, and field research.

Rossella Biscotti

b. 1978, Molfetta; lives and works in Brussels and Rotterdam

Surati and Princess of Kasiruta, 2019

Material line natural rubber, food colouring

Courtesy of the artist and Mor-Charpentier. Realised with additional support from the Italian Embassy of Bangladesh and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bangladesh

Made from cast natural rubber embellished with food-colouring and batik-inspired patterns, this installation carries Biscotti’s interpretations of the powerful female characters in the Buru Quartet (1980–88), a series of novels by the late Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer while he was in prison. On a material level, the first rubber seeds were brought to Indonesia from the Belgian Congo, and batik techniques were exported to Africa via Europe as African Wax Cloth, speaking to the global scale of colonialism. Pramodeya’s novels tell the story of nationhood narrated on the bodies of women, whose only inheritable possessions were batik fabric and jewellery. Among the characters is a woman called Surati who deliberately infects herself with smallpox to avoid colonial subjugation as a concubine on a sugar plantation, and Annalies Mellema, who is shipped to Holland as property. Biscotti was inspired by the journeys and survival strategies employed by these women to resist the patriarchal colonial regimes they were born into, and imagines their characters in design motifs cast into these seductive floor-based forms.

Biscotti describes the constitution of sentient beings as they are, instead of how they may be perceived, using sculpture, images and other materials. Her work explores forgotten or untraced events and the changing value systems they reveal. She explores the individual narratives of those affected by mining, exploitation and confinement, drawing from oral, technical, archival, and field research.

Samsul Alam Helal

b. 1985, Dhaka; lives and works in Dhaka

Disappearing Roots, 2019

Photography, pigment prints, video with sound, 2:20 min

Courtesy of the artist

Samsul Alam Helal’s series Disappearing Roots considers the displacement of indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The Kaptai Dam was built in 1962 as a hydropower source, and it produces about 5% of the total electricity consumed by Bangladesh. However, its creation displaced over 100,000 people (70% Chakma) and also submerged many homes, including the palace of the Chakma king which remains buried deep underneath a lake that is currently frequented by tourists. Globally over 10 million people per year are displaced by World Bank development projects (dams and infrastructure projects), according to an article on the adjacent video by Liu Chuang published in ArtReview. Using video and photography created through the artist’s long-term engagement with the Hill Tract communities, Helal’s work captures the remaining traces of ancient ways of life, highlighting the violence of gentrification and the trauma found in submerged symbols of cultural autonomy. ‘If even a royal palace can drown, what hope is there for ordinary people?’ asks the artist.

Helal works with photography, sound, 3D models, and video to document the experiences of communities that are often part of the working class or a minority. His work explores the identities, dreams, and longings of their individual members. Helal prefers to explore these in a studio set-up, blurring boundaries between documentary photography and fiction.

Sawangwongse Yawnghwe

b. 1971, Shan State; lives and works in Chiang Mai and Zuphen

The Opium Parallax II, 2019

Acrylic on silk and canvas

Commissioned for DAS 2020 with in-kind support from the Rijksakademie and Jim Thompson Art Centre. Courtesy of the artist. Realised with additional support from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bangladesh

In Sawangwongse Yawnghwe’s painterly practice, historical and political analyses of Shan State (Burma) are intertwined with personal and familial histories. This work contextualises the Shan State heroin-opium complex within opium’s long and invisible history of impacting the drawing of borders across vast geographies. Opium traverses not only national borders, but blurs the line between the legal and the illegal. ‘Because relationships are informal and regulated in irregular and informal patterns and because the balance of power and coalitions among the powers-that-be are unstable and shifting… no single economic-commercial actor can dominate the field… Entrepreneurial groups… operate with only one goal in mind… making and maximising profit. It is a world where the colour of flags or ideology is not as important as the colour of wealth.’ (Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, The Political Economy of the Opium Trade: Implications for Shan State, 2003)

Yawnghwe works with painting and installation, addressing often fictional archives as a critique of Myanmar’s ethnocentric nationalism. Growing up in the context of the country’s patterns of military repression and domination, his work intertwines his personal experience with politics. Yawnghwe’s family history of political engagement represents a point of crossing of the two.

Shiraz Bayjoo

b. 1979, Port Louis; lives and works in London and the Indian Ocean region

Pran Kouraz, 2019

Mixed fabrics, dye-sublimation ink on canvas, super 16mm HD video, 14:48 min

Commissioned by INIVA and Art Night London. Courtesy of the artist and Ed Cross Fine Art

Shiraz Bayjoo’s immersive environment Pran Kouraz (meaning ‘take courage’ in Mauritian Creole) is inspired by his own history in Mauritius, once known as the Maroon Republic, a place created through the will and imagination to escape and overcome slavery and colonial subjugation. The story of the escaped slave becomes a wider metaphor about creating a new world on the back of migration and displacement where hybridity becomes a tool for freedom, survival, and self-transformation in the wake of trauma. Bayjoo worked with a group of eight-year-old migrant students in the UK, asking them to explore their rights as young people and to consider their own stories of courage and overcoming. The children critique the experiences of transmigratory groups today from their experiences of isolation, loss, and displacement stemming from patriarchal colonial legacies, power structures, and relationships that continue to endure and dominate. The resulting conversation, presented in the form of a film, creates a visual metaphor for the multiplicity of pressures facing humanity today.

Bayjoo works with painting, photography, video, installation, and artefacts stored in public and personal archives. His work addresses ideas of nationhood and the exploration of identity tied to the history and legacy of European colonialism. Drawing from a past of complex relationships of migration and trade, he traces the meaning of postcolonial collective identity.

Somnath Hore

b. 1921, Chittagong; d. 2006, Santiniketan

Wound series, 1979

Two Pulp Prints

Courtesy of Samdani Art Foundation

‘The Famine of 1943, the communal riots of 1946, the devastations of war, all the wounds and wounded I have seen, are engraved on my consciousness…Wounds is what I saw everywhere around me. A scarred tree, a road gouged by a truck tyre, a man knifed for no visible or rational reason… The object was eliminated; only wounds remained,’ reflected Somnath Hore, an artist celebrated in Indian art history who was born in what is now Bangladesh. He transformed hand-made paper into scarred, blistered, pierced, and wounded surfaces reminiscent of human skin in the aftermath of trauma in the highly experimental Wounds Series from the 1970s. This body of work speaks not only to the violent regional history that the artist lived through in the build-up and aftermath of the 1947 partition of British India and Bangladesh’s subsequent war for independence in 1971, but also to the social scars of division found across our shared human history.

Hore worked to document and reinscribe the suffering working class into public memory, testifying to his important role as an artist-witness in a time of historical crisis. His works were published in various revolutionary publications, notably those of the Communist party. Hore invented and developed various printmaking techniques in addition to working in painting and sculpture. Later on in his career, Hore worked as an educator at multiple arts institutions, such as the Indian College of Art and Draftsmanship (Kolkata), Delhi College of Art, MS University (Baroda) and Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati.

Thao Nguyen Phan

b. 1987, Ho Chi Minh City; lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Mute Grain, 2019

Three-channel video, colour, sound, 15:45 min

Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation for SB14. Courtesy of the artist

Mute Grain (2019) examines the little-discussed 1945 famine in French Indochina during the Japanese occupation (1940–5), in which over two million people died of starvation, partly due to Japanese demands to grow jute over rice to support their war economy. This three-channel film poetically weaves together oral histories, folk tales, and lyrical chronicles to tell a story that history left behind in Vietnam, creating narratives that sit at the border of fantasy and reality. Beyond her research in Vietnam, Thao Nguyen Phan also consulted Bengali literature in creating the work, notably Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Anandamath (1882), set in the Bengal famine of 1770. Her film revolves around a young woman named Tám, who becomes a hungry ghost unable to move to the next life, and Ba, who anxiously searches for his sister. Ba (‘March’) and Tám (‘August’) represent the poorest months of the lunar calendar, when farmers once borrowed money and worked side jobs to sustain themselves.

Phan works with painting, video, installation, and what she calls ‘theatrical fields,’ such as performance gesture and moving images. Utilising literature, philosophy, and open poetic spaces conducive to reflection, she highlights unconventional issues arising from history and tradition. This allows her to challenge received ideas and social conventions. In 2012, Phan co-founded the collective Art Labor, whose work can be experienced in the South Plaza exhibition The Collective Body.

Yasmin Jahan Nupur

b. 1979, Chittagong; lives and works in Dhaka

Let Me Get You a Nice Cup of Tea, 2019–20

Antique furniture, antique tea set, embroidered textiles, tea, performance

Commissioned for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Exhibit320, with support from the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem

Performance is live from 7 to 12 February,

10am–1pm and 4–5:30pm

Tea has impacted cultures and changed the course of world history by bringing people together and tearing them apart: from the Opium Wars and the American Revolution to the mass movement of workers as part of plantation economics; from the fostering of friendships to marriage proposals through the ritual of tea ceremonies. Yasmin Jahan Nupur has arranged a tea party through a performative process. She has harvested the tea at home and, through the act of sharing, brings participants together to think more closely about the origins of this everyday commodity.

Nupur works with sketches, installations, and performances. Her work explores human relationships from various perspectives, reflecting her belief in democratic rights regardless of social position. She explores social discrepancies such as those of women and migrants in South Asia, hoping to support increased understanding between peoples of different backgrounds.

Zainul Abedin

b. 1914, Kishoreganj; d. 1976, Dhaka

A suite of Untitled works from the Famine Sketches series, 1943

Ink on paper

Courtesy of Rokeya Quader

Untitled from Monpura’ 70, 1970

Ink on paper

Courtesy of Anwar Hossain Manju

Zainul Abedin is considered by many to be the founding father of modern art in Bangladesh. In response to the Great Famine of Bengal (1943) under the British rule of India, he made hundreds of sketches depicting starving victims, serving as a form of visual testimony. His sketches spoke to the atrocities experienced by victims under what was a man-made famine and fuelled the public’s will for independence. Throughout his artistic career, Abedin remained true to the representation of the struggles of those most vulnerable in society, notably the rural peasantry. He was actively involved in the Language Movement of 1952 and the Liberation War in 1971. Having witnessed the Bhola Cyclone devastation, he expressed solidarity through his scroll painting Monpura ’70, drawing parallels between the struggle of the victims of the cyclone and that of the people of Bangladesh. Abedin travelled extensively, depicting those suffering under oppression, often returning to his Famine sketches such as in his series on the people of Palestine.

In addition to being one of the most important artists of his generation, Abedin was also an academic and bureaucrat who helped establish the first art college in Dhaka in 1947, after the partition of British India. He was given the title Shilpacharya (‘great teacher of arts’) for his contribution towards art education in Bangladesh. Abedin also established the Folk Art Museum and a folk village in Sonargaon in 1975.

Zhou Tao

b. 1976, Changsha; lives and works in Guangzhou

Winter North Summer South (2, 3, 5, 17), 2019

Inkjet prints on paper

Courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space. This project extends from a film produced with support from Samdani Art Foundation and Kadist and commissioned by Council

Zhou Tao spent nearly two years in an eco-industrial park at the foot of the Kunlun Mountains creating these images that swiftly alternate between natural landscapes of sandstorms, dust clouds, and the changing seasons, and realistic portraits of humans and other species fighting for survival in a state of exception. Human agency is not only manifested in transforming the external world but can also be exercised by preserving an internal, poetic space. Co-commissioned by Times Museum and Council and supported by Samdani Art Foundation and Kadist, his latest work, North of the Mountain, was shot with an 8K-resolution camera that is able to capture shades of brightness and darkness beyond the capacity of the human eye. It is the artist’s radical attempt to ecologise the body of the filmmaker as well as filmmaking technologies in a place that is largely shut off from the gaze of the world outside.

Zhou Tao predominantly works with video, producing plotless events in a documentary language with a core focus on the sense and sensation of time. His works connect disparate milieus, often on the threshold between the natural and the artificial as a metaphor for the spatial multiplicity of modernism, incomprehensible to the human mind.