top of page

Independence Movements

The shared energy fueling movements and building constellations of solidarities across time and diverse geographies defies shallow geopolitical definitions that carve up the world. Artists played a major role in spreading the deep yearning for independence in what is now Bangladesh, as well as elsewhere in the global majority world. Creative individuals with conviction were willing to stake their position and shift the course of history by galvanising people around their work which became the images, words, and songs to rally resistance and transform mere individuals into a collective force to be reckoned with. The artists in this movement chronicle the spirit of resistance and struggle for freedom, shifting from euphoria to disillusionment and back again. Independence is a spirit that needs to be kept alive and moved and nurtured across generations.

Antonio Dias

b. 1944, Campina Grande, Paraíba;

d. 2018, Rio de Janeiro

Trama, 1968/1977

Portfolio with 10 woodcuts on hand-made Nepali paper. Courtesy of Alexandre Roesler

Do It Yourself: Freedom Territory, 1968/2020

adhesive strip and lettering on floor

Courtesy of Collection Daros-Latinamerica and the Estate of Antonio Dias

The Illustration of Art/Tool & Work, 1977

Red clay on hand-made Nepalese paper

Courtesy of Geyze Diniz Collection

Untitled, 1981

Handmade paper, cellulose with clay, iron oxide and soot. Courtesy of Samdani Art Foundation

Demarcando Terretorios, 1982

Iron oxide, graphite, metalic pigments on Nepalese paper

Working in the Furnace, 1986

Mixed media on nepalese paper

The Last Houses of the man, 1987

Iron oxide and metalic pigment on Nepalese paper. Courtesy of Galeria Nara Roesler

Research supported by Instituto InclusArtiz

Antonio Dias’s many transnational experiences coloured his conceptual art practice. Supported by a Brazilian patron, he travelled to Nepal in 1976 ‘to buy paper for an edition.’ He soon discovered that the kind of paper he imagined could not be purchased in a store. Over an intense period of five months in 1976–77, living near the Tibetan border with Nepali artisans, Dias adapted their paper-making process by mixing in plant fibres and materials such as tea, earth, ash and curry. This presentation includes the installation Do it Yourself: Freedom Territory, whose words and motifs appear in Trama – the edition that brought him to Nepal. The Illustration of Art/Tool & Work, also from 1977, marks a shift in his practice. His process became less about the ‘illustration of art’ (a series from 1971–1978) and more about the physicality and the making of art. This work is a rare example where Dias and his Nepali collaborator’s hands both appear in the work, depicted as equals surrounded by the red Nepali clay they coexisted on. Dias returned to these papers to create works for at least a decade, layering further life experience into these remarkable collaborative surfaces that carry traces of experimentation, invention, and reinvention. 

Dias was one of the leading figures of 20th-century Brazilian art, working across various media to question the meaning of art and its systems. He left Brazil in 1966 and arrived in Paris in time to participate in the May 1968 protests. Because of his political involvement he was forced to move again; he settled in Milan, where he became the only Latin American member of the Arte Povera movement, and spent his career working across Brazil, Italy, and Germany. 

Bouchra Khalili

b. 1975, Casablanca; lives and works in Berlin and Oslo

The Constellations, Fig. 2,

Fig. 4, Fig. 6, Fig. 8, 2011

Four individual silkscreen prints

Courtesy of the artist and mor Charpentier.

Presented with support from ifa | Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen

Bouchra Khalili translates the illegal transnational journeys of individuals into utopian midnight-blue maps, where solidarities between people make visible the waiting, setbacks, force, and compromise found in the condition of statelessness. In her words: ‘constellations are by essence reference points located in spaces where landmarks do not exist: the sky and the sea. As maps, they were used for centuries by sailors looking upward to locate themselves below… Constellations are also visual translations of narratives: many of them are based on mythology. Translating these forced illegal journeys into constellations of stars also aims to challenge normative geography in favour of a ‘human geography’” – based on micro-narratives and singular lives. The limits between the sky and the sea blur, eventually suggesting an alternative form of orientation: the landmarks are [no longer] boundaries as established by nation-states, but the path of singular lives, from where the world can be seen. As alternative maps of the world, The Constellations suggests a counter-geography, of singular gestures of resistance against arbitrary boundaries.”

Working with film, video, installation, photography, and prints, Khalili’s practice articulates language, subjectivity, orality, and geographical explorations. With her work, Khalili investigates strategies and discourses of resistance as elaborated, developed, and narrated by individuals – often members of political minorities.

Kapwani Kiwanga

b. 1978, Hamilton, Canada; lives and works in Paris

The Secretary’s Suite, 2016

Mixed Media Installation, UN Photo Courtesy Teddy Chen

Courtesy of the artist and Tanja Wagner. Presented with support from the Canada Council for the Arts

The Secretary’s Suite is an installation that investigates the complexities of gift economies. Presented within a viewing environment inspired by the 1961 office of the United Nations Secretary-General, Kapwani Kiwanga’s single-channel video examines the history and tradition of gifted items within the United Nations’ art collection. Countries that are members of the UN, including Bangladesh, often donate works of art and objects of cultural value which go on display in public spaces, the Secretary General’s office, or are stored away from private view. This work raises questions about how gifts can impact power dynamics in relationships and with differing cultural significance across the course of history.

Kiwanga’s work traces the pervasive impact of power asymmetries by placing historical narratives in dialogue with contemporary realities, the archive, and tomorrow’s possibilities. Her work is research-driven, instigated by marginalised or forgotten histories, and articulated across a range of materials and media including sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance.

Maryam Jafri

b. 1972, Karachi; lives and works in Copenhagen and New York

Independence Day 1934–1975, 2009–ongoing

Sixty+ black and white archival inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artist

Maryam Jafri’s Independence Day 1934–1975 features over 60 archival photos culled from more than 30 archives of the first Independence Day ceremonies of various Asian, Middle Eastern, and African nations. The swearing-in of a new leadership, the signing of relevant documents, the VIP parade, the stadium salute, the first address to the new nation – all are supervised and orchestrated by the departing colonial power. The photographic material is strikingly similar despite disparate geographical and temporal origins, revealing a political model exported from Europe and in the process of being cloned throughout the world. Although a great deal of research has been done on both the colonial and the postcolonial eras, this project aims to introduce a third, surprisingly neglected element into the debate – that 24-hour twilight period in between, when a territory transforms into a nation-state.

Jafri works with video, sculpture, photography, and performance, which act as a support for her research-based, conceptual practice. Her works address and question the cultural and visual representations of history, politics, and economics, such as the politics of food production and consumption, the highly coded performance rituals of nascent nation-states, and cultural memory and copyright law.

Murtaja Baseer

b. 1932, Dacca; Lives and works in Dhaka

Untitled (Dinosaur Drawings), 1971/2020

Archival Newspapers and Mural by young artists

Courtesy of the artist

How does a living artist share his historically important work with his people when the person keeping it for decades is not willing to sharea it publicly in exhibitions or publications? Murtaja Baseer created a powerful series of drawings between 1971 and 1972 in Dhaka and in Paris, depicting the Pakistani military as prehistoric figures towering with physical might over Bengali people. The work violently alludes to the wartime atrocities of famine and rape as well as the colonial efforts to subjugate the Bengali language. The magazine ‘The Express’ where the particular work was edited by Zahir Raihan. Zahir Raihan was a writer, novelist and filmmaker, most notable for his documentary ‘Genocide’ on the killing of citizens by the Pakistani Army on 14 December 1971. Baseer first began these dinosaur drawings for mass dissemination in East Pakistani newspapers. Now 88 years old, the artist is working with archival material and a younger generation of artists to reimagine this series of work as a mural for all to see at the entrance of DAS, emblazoning it in public memory.

Murtaja Baseer is known for his ‘abstract-realist’ paintings reflecting his daily experience of Bengal. In 1967, he started ‘Wall’ series, his first step towards abstraction, which depicted the entropy and layers of textures and colours on the walls of old Dhaka, a reflection on the society under the dictatorship of Ayub Khan (1958–1969). He actively participated in the Language Movement of 1952 and pre-liberation war demonstrations. He was sent to jail throughout the East Pakistani period for his leftist political views and later left for Paris. He demonstrated his solidarity with the Liberation Movement through his work by changing the spelling of his name from Murtaza Bashir to Murtaja Baseer, adjusting the letters to suit the Bengali language. Baseer is also a writer, poet, numismatist, and acted as an academic at the University of Chittagong until 1998. 

Pratchaya Phinthong

b. 1974, Ubon Ratchathani; lives and works in Bangkok

Waiting for Hilsa, 2019

Photographs, Book, Election Ink, Gill Net

Commissioned and Produced by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Samdani Art Foundation, BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY, and gb agency. Produced with additional support from BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY

Installation activated by a discussion at 2pm on 8 February

Stories of the Hilsa fish and its migration across salty and sweet waters have been inscribed in South Asian culture for centuries as they historically swam from the Bay of Bengal up the Padma river and into the Ganges. In 1975 the Farakka Barrage (dam) was completed on the Indian side of the Bangladesh–India border, disrupting this migration. Pratchaya Phinthong draws a mental map of this cross-border conflictual reality, combining photos taken at the Farakka Barrage, reconstructed images, books, and objects – taking into consideration geopolitics, science, spirituality, and human relationships. Using Bangladesh’s ‘national fish,’ the artist metaphorically examines nation-state powers, but also presents to us an example of water as a source of life and the ability of sensations such as taste to transcend ideas relating to national identity.

Phinthong creates situations without predetermined forms that rely on an element of viewer participation with the aim of creating a shared experience. He addresses financial fluctuations, media alarmism, and the global labour market, commonly employing them as metaphors for human behaviour. Interested in creating dialogue, he often juxtaposes different social, economic, or geographical systems.

Rashid Talukder

b. 1939, Pargana; d. 2011, Dhaka.

Arms drill by women members of the Chatro Union (students union), 1st March, 1971, 1971/2020

Photograph, Inkjet Print

Outraged artists hold placards bearing the Bangla letters Sha Dhi Na Ta (independence) protesting the postponement of the opening of the National Assembly by President Yahya Khan, Dhaka, 1st March, 1971, 1971/2020, 

Photograph, Inkjet Print

A sea of people move towards Ramna Racecourse, now Suhrawardy Udyan, to attend the historic speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Dhaka, 7th March, 1971, 1971/2020

Photograph, Inkjet Print.

Courtesy of Drik Picture Gallery

Fed up with being oppressed linguistically, economically, and culturally under the rule of West Pakistan (1947–1971), masses of people in what is now Bangladesh rallied in support of an independent sovereign country. People coming from all walks of life engaged in protests finally leading to the liberation war. This bloody war was catalysed when West Pakistan refused to hand over power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971, despite his having received the majority of the democratic votes in the general election of Pakistan. Rashid Talukder dedicated himself to capturing the mass revolution of the East Pakistani people and their fight to maintain freedom as a newly independent nation. His images of empowered female activists, artists (including Murtaja Baseer whose drawings of resistance and independence are installed near this work) and students who participated in the making of Bangladesh greet visitors at the entrance of DAS, grounding us in the history of public assembly in Bangladesh that makes the Summit possible.

Rashid Talukder was a photojournalist whose images represent a significant contribution to the collective memory of Bangladesh. Among many other defining events in the history of the nation, he documented the struggles of East Pakistan in the 1960s that led to the liberation war and the formation of Bangladesh. His photographs immortalise mass uprisings, resistance movements, and the participants, of whom many were killed by the Pakistani army. Talukder also photographed artists, highlighting their role in the liberation. As a photojournalist, he worked at the Daily Sangbad and The Daily Ittefaq successively, reaching wide audiences. Dedicated to expanding the field of photojournalism in Bangladesh, he founded the Bangladesh Photo Journalists’ Association in 1972.

S. M. Sultan

b. 1923, Narail; d. 1994, Jessore

First Plantation sketch, c. 1976

Ink on brown paper

Courtesy of the collection of Farooq Sobhan

While South Asian art history describes him as a landscape painter, S.M. Sultan is remembered in Bangladesh for his energetic paintings of strong farmers made after 1975. These are primarily large-scale paintings made with natural pigments on unprimed jute canvases, celebrating the strength of Bengali peasants, both male and female, in their struggle against colonial and ecological disasters. Famine had been plaguing the country across generations from the era of the British Raj until just the year before Sultan first painted these icons of physical might. In this context, his depiction of the weak and downtrodden as invincible forces can be seen as subversive. In this sketch for the First Plantation, Sultan created a mythical environment where a larger-than-life figure demonstrates power, yet maintains a humble and protective gesture cherishing a single seed, a metaphor for all of humanity. The nude angels in the background speak to the plurality and liberalism found within the Bangladeshi art community who recognizes this work as one of the country’s most iconic contributions to Bangladeshi art history.

After travelling extensively as a celebrated artist both internationally and within South Asia, Sultan retreated from urban life, moving to his home village of Narail, where he founded the Shishu Shwarga art school. His devotion to rural art education has had a lasting legacy, inspiring many initiatives to promote personal growth outside of urban centres through art. Sultan’s activities highlight the importance of rural culture in the collective identity of Bangladesh.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen

b. 1976, Sai Gon; lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Solidarities Between the Reincarnated, 2019

Digital pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper and graphite on paper, two-channel video

Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery

Solidarities Between the Reincarnated interrogates the place of the archive document in a personal re-appropriation of history at the crossroads between echoes that persist amidst institutional amnesia and gaps in transmission within collective memory. At its core, this project considers the movement of people through (post-)colonial violence and the obscuring of its legacy in the context of France’s use of colonial troops in global and colonial conflicts and of communities born from it. Tuan Andrew Nguyen offers imagination and creation as ways in which to connect the gaps and fulfil a desire for connection through imagined lines of solidarity whose absence in the historical canon are brought to clash against expanded possibilities for the means by which we can remember.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s practice explores strategies of political resistance enacted through counter-memory and post-memory. Extracting and re-working narratives via history and supernaturalisms is an essential part of Nguyen’s video works and sculptures where fact and fiction are both held accountable. He initiated The Propeller Group (f. 2006), a platform for collectivity that situates themselves between an art collective and an advertising company.

Dr. Zahia Rahmani

b. 1962, Les Attouchs; lives and works in Paris and Heilles

Seismography of Struggles – Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals, 2017

Video and sound installation, 59 min

Courtesy of INHA, Paris

Seismography of Struggle is an inventory of non-European critical and cultural journals, including those from the African, Indian, Caribbean, Asian, and South American diaspora, produced in the wake of the revolutionary movements of the end of the 18th century up to the watershed year of 1989. The sound and visual work included here reflects populations who have experienced colonialism, practices of slavery, Apartheid, and genocide.

The struggle against slavery is at the root of many critical and cultural journals. Colonialism impacted the social and cultural cohesion of a number of communities and was also fought against in both writing and gesture by constantly renewing the modalities of political action.

The oldest material evidence of this eminently modern exercise is L’Abeille Haytienne, a critical journal that was founded on the island of Haiti in 1817. The journal expresses the constant desire for emancipation. Christopher Columbus landed in Haiti in December 1492 and named it Hispaniola. The island later became a French territory and was renamed Dominica and, over time, more than 400,000 slaves live there and were subjected to France’s ferocious rule. C.L.R. James noted that, in 1789, this territory alone accounted for more than two-thirds of French foreign trade. In 1804, the revolt of subjugated populations gave rise to the birth of a small independent state of Haiti. Even though this cause was won, the struggles continued.

For over two centuries, print media has been a space that has accommodated varied experiences. Born out of a sense of urgency in response to colonialism, journals have aligned with a critical, political, aesthetic, poetic, and literary ambitions and helped sustain graphical and scriptural creativity. They have appeared with regularity in the struggles that women and men have waged for their emancipation. Consisting of formal singularities and political objectives that support human communities and their aspirations, the journal, this fragile object, often pulled together difficult material that was motivated by noble causes and the determination of committed authors. The journal reveals a rare aesthetic power. In this all-digital era, we must re-establish and qualify its formal, aesthetic, and political function on a global scale. 

Zahia Rahmani is one of France’s leading art historians and writers of fiction, memoirs, and cultural criticism. Rahmani curated Made in Algeria, genealogy of a territory (2016), dedicated to the role of cartography in the colonial expansion. Rahmani founded the Global Art Prospective (f. 2015), a collective of young researchers and actors within the art scene who are specialists in non-European territorial and cultural spaces.

bottom of page