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Then | Why Not? -Solo Art Projects

Curated by Diana Campbell

Then | Why Not?

The Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation endeavor to transform the city of Dhaka into a hub for South Asian art and its excellence breaking conventional ideas about where the region’s centre lies. It has been important to reject logistical restrictions and reasoning to present this free three day art festival, that spans not only the 120,000 square feet of the Shilpakala Academy, but also the entire city with New Delhi based Raqs Media Collective’s 160 road-sign and billboard project, Meanwhile, Elsewhere. The lexical patterns produced by Raqs’s ticking Bangla clocks registers a “deeply felt, subjective experience of time and duration” that gives people the freedom to escape from what they imagine “real time” to be. One of the clocks strikes at Then | Why Not? It is possible that this exhibition was born at this “time” of openness to possibility. These Solo Projects are fourteen monographic exhibitions by South Asian artists from around the world, without a central unifying theme. One characteristic that all of these projects and artists have in common is that they demand the impossible. This is not in terms of the clichéd slogan for anarchism, but rather in their defiance of constraints that are imposed on creativity, their fearless approach to expressing themselves in the context of South Asia, and their daring acceptance of an unprecedented challenge of being part of a South Asia dedicated event within South Asia, in the midst of its current political realities. It is important to note that the artistic infrastructure that is widely established in the West is not available in this part of the world, and the Pioneer Panel on the 8th of February will delve into the current realities for contemporary art making in the region. There is no representation concept in Bangladesh, where galleries can support artists to develop their careers and help artists realise their ambitious ideas. Bangladesh is a developing country, and most artists cannot afford to have studios in which to work. One cannot just take an artwork and ship it to Bangladesh for an exhibition. The import tax on art is prohibitively high, and the expertise to handle this art does not exist; we have had to train and develop this skill-set locally. The simplest materials such as helium, wall washers, and acrylic sheets cannot be sourced domestically. The situation is slightly better in India and Pakistan, however the movement of people and goods between these countries and Bangladesh, is extremely restricted, especially during the political events that plagued the country in 2012 and 2013 at a time when this exhibition was being organised. Given the circumstances, logic (and border politics) would suggest that this type of South Asia focused exhibition could not happen. We cannot paint on or drill into the walls of this government building, so even the walls you see here were specifically constructed for this exhibition.0 The artists and organisers demanded the impossible, and this is what we now present to you. We all stepped up to take on the difficulties and the demands that were needed to put together what you see - yet fortuitous connections were forged across cultures and the projects evolved in ways that the artists might not have originally expected. There has been a steep learning curve for all involved, but sparks of creativity flew when the artists and production team found innovative solutions to present their works in this new context, embracing the local, even in terms of the Bangla language. The mediums represented in these projects show the wide breadth of practices existing in the region, and performance, sculpture, painting, drawing, video, photography are all represented here. The work that the artists and I chose to exhibit all have subtle but direct connections to the context of Bangladesh, and it is our honour and pleasure to share them with local and international artists during the Dhaka Art Summit. This is just the start of a much longer journey, and several artists are among us now who are embarking on their research for the next Dhaka Art Summit in 2016.

--Diana Campbell Betancourt, Dhaka, 2014

Asim Waqif

(b. 1978)

Control, 2014.

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Asim Waqif has been interested in different forms of protest in his work, and he challenges the public to question the often-ridiculous rules imposed by societies and governments. For Waqif, how it is, is not how it has to be, and he is constantly challenging the ideas of the impossible, merging high-tech systems with the genius found in low-tech vernacular solutions. Waqif pushes the boundaries between humor and artistic practice with a uniquely critical edge and aims to bring art to the public in the widest sense of the word.

Hyderabad-born Waqif has exhibited extensively internationally, including a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo and at Mumbai’s Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in their project space, and will be a part of the 5th Marrakech Biennale. He has been receiving international acclaim for his work that pushes materials past the surface potential they are thought to possess. Bamboo becomes a channel for sound, left-over exhibition materials en masse become material for an entirely new exhibition, decaying dog carcasses become muses, and crumpled water bottles and LED lights floated in water to become beacons for environmental awareness. These examples are but a few of the artist’s fascinating choice and manipulation of materials that many people would simply overlook. Waqif is not interested in creating works that are technologically superior and immune to nature. His poetic work often documents the ways in which weather and time affect his work and almost collaborate with his sculptural structures. “Decay and destruction have an important role to play in adapting to the dynamism of society” shares Waqif.

Like his talent for finding potential in everyday materials, Waqif also finds humor in the serious. In his 2012 public intervention in New Delhi entitled Lavaris Vastu, Waqif subtly transformed a common police announcement (which droned fear of “the other” into public spaces) into a jest-filled instructional audio piece that prompted the public with alternative ways to deal with unattended objects and unknown people, using a voice that sounded exactly like one in the police announcement. This intervention cleverly encouraged healthy curiosity in “the other” rather than the usual paranoid suspicion, and the work suggested that the Lavaris Vastu, or unidentified object, had the potential to be a treasure to be discovered and cherished. Waqif collected objects and baggage from the community, and created a pile of them that evoked curiosity and welcomed the public to engage with the objects and even take them home if they wished. In this, and many of his works, the artist rebels against the thought of the commercial value of experience of art eclipsing experimentation.

Following the rabble-rousing spirit of his previous works, Waqif decided to make his message fly in his new commission for the Dhaka Art Summit, Control, 2014. This work is inspired by the intense protests that have been happening all over the world for the last few years, and specifically those in Dhaka, which Waqif has been following closely, seeing them as almost a continuous series. Last year, there were limited protests in New Delhi (where Waqif lives), but the police and security apparatus managed to suppress them through strong-arm tactics like water-cannons and tear gas. Large parts of New Delhi were shut down and people were not allowed to go near the India Gate, and nine metro stations were temporarily shut down. This made the artist think about police tactics in crowd control, and their manipulation of infrastructure and public space.

Control is a continuation of Waqif’s humorous finesse in questioning “systems.” Using cane, rope, and thousands of helium-filled balloons, Waqif creates a levitating sculpture that upon closer view, reads “No Fly Zone.” Waqif’s choice of material, one of the most basic elements of furniture in South Asia (cane) and one of the most basic2adornments to a child’s birthday party (helium filled balloons), is interesting when juxtaposed with the charged phrase of “No Fly Zone,” a phrase that carries serious mortal weight during displays of political might. Waqif reflects “It is indeed ironic that the public cannot do much in a public space except leisure. In fact the really iconic public spaces are the most controlled. But what about the sky, does it belong to the public or the police-state? There are already a lot of controls on private aerial vehicles in most cities in the world, but there seems to be ambiguity about flying balloons in the sky and this is what I am trying to exploit. The text itself is ironic, like pasting a ‘Stick no Bills’ sign on a wall.”

Waqif will set this work loose to fly across Dhaka on the first day of the Dhaka Art Summit (February 7th), subverting the control that the sculpture, and political forces, attempt to assert over the public. Adding more irony to the work, the artist and public will cease to have full “control” over the work once it is let loose in the sky. Volunteers and visitors who arrive to the venue on motor bikes will be instructed to draw attention to the floating installation by blowing their horns in unison, pointing toward the sky, an asking passer-bys to see what is in the sky. “It’s a bird…it’s a plane…no, it’s an artwork!”Viewers will be requested to take photos and videos and to upload them online, extending the life of the work past the Shilpakala Academy and into the city of Dhaka and the global world of the Internet.

Jitish Kallat

Event Horizon, 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Samdani Art Foundation and the Dhaka Art Summit.  

Jitish Kallat is one of the most exciting and dynamic Indian artists to have received international recognition in recent years. Kallat’s works have often been described as distilled, poetic investigations of the cycle of life, interlacing several autobiographical, art-historical, political and celestial references. His work has been exhibited widely at museums and institutions including National Gallery of Modern Art (Mumbai), Tate Modern and Tate Britain (London), Martin Gropius Bau (Berlin), Serpentine Gallery (London), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the Art Institute of Chicago.

While most widely known for his paintings, Kallat’s work extends far beyond this medium, and in recent years, he has been celebrated for the scale of his sculpture, installation and new media projects both in terms of their size, but also in terms of their research. Kallat hit a seminal point in his career with a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was here that he created the monumental installation Public Notice 3, a text-based work illuminated in the bright colors of US Homeland Security threat alert system, recalling Vivekanada’s speech delivered on September 11th 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago building. Text has a long history in Kallat’s works, from the painted titles on his early paintings to his more recent installations that often use text as form. At the first Kiev Biennale in 2012, Kallat created another critically acclaimed work entitled Covering Letter, a freestanding fog screen projection that revisits a 1939 letter from Gandhi to Hitler, allowing viewers to physically traverse a piece of correspondence from one of the world’s greatest advocates of peace, who addresses Hitler as a “friend” under the ideology of universal friendship.

Several of Kallat’s recent works take on a more personal mode of address, and call upon viewers to find themselves in the work. In a haunting untitled work in Sculpture at Pilane, Sweden from 2010, Kallat created a 100 foot long sculpture of cast resin fossils that spell the phrase “When Will You Be Happy” in a historical burial ground in Sweden, putting desires that are often driven by consumerism into the important context of our human mortality.

Jitish Kallat’s recent work has focused on the idea of time and life-cycles and at the Dhaka Art Summit, Kallat invites viewers to find themselves within the work, placing the viewer between night and day, and between immediate and eternal. His internationally acclaimed 2011 work Epilogue explores the 753 moon cycles that Kallat’s father experienced in his lifetime using 22,500 photographs of moons that were made of roti (the most basic form of Indian bread) in various states of being eaten. Moon cycles are endless, and in the seven channel animated video Breath, presented here, the viewer can think of themselves within the infinite cycles that comprise the universe through the waxing and waning roti “moons.” Breath contextualises viewers within the universe and compels them think about time, life, death, and the relationships forged during one’s lifespan.

Turning the corner from Breath, the viewer is returned to the immediate demands of daily life routines in the seven-panel rainbow-hued lenticular photograph Event Horizon (The Hour of the Day of the Month of the Season) that was commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation for this exhibition. Kallat began using this medium around 2006 in a multi-part text based installation titled ‘Death of Distance’ and photo-pieces such as ‘Cenotaph (A Deed of Transfer). Lenticular prints are a succession of images within a single frame, and a change of the viewing angle creates the illusion of three- dimensionality with a heightened sense of animation. The timeless dilemma of the collective versus the individual manifests itself in Kallat’s work, and leaves viewers with a sense of responsibility to instigate positive change before history repeats itself. In this work, several of the figures appear in multiple panels of the panorama (such as the nuns and the group of young men), invoking notions of recurrence and recursion, an experience that is often part of Kallat’s oeuvre. We do not experience the universe alone. In this mysterious cycle of life, you never know who you may meet in the hour of the day of the month of the season from the moments just gone past. The past awaits our arrival in the future.

Mahbubur Rahman

(b. 1969)

A Space For Rainbow, 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation.

The Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahman has been instrumental in the development of contemporary art in Bangladesh both through his personal experimental practice, his activism, and also his work developing the Britto Arts Trust, which he co-founded with his wife Tayeba Begum Lipi in 2002. Rahman’s paintings and performances have been widely exhibited in solo and group shows in Bangladesh and internationally in several renowned institutions including the Bangladesh Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale and the 14th Asian Art Biennale.

In many of his performance works, the body plays a key role in the artist’s journey for knowledge. In his powerful and ongoing performance Transformation, Rahman wears a faceless hood with attached buffalo horns, and walks around the streets of Dhaka. The performance refers to local lore of the farmer Nuruldunner Sarajiban, whose resistance to British colonial forces ruined him and resulted in having to pull his own plough in the place of buffalo, crippling him to a point where he is left powerless and braying like a cow. The Triangle Arts Trust has remarked, “Rahman's perfor- mance plays with a sense of impotence, contrasting the symbolic value of the horns with his blind and helpless wanderings.” Rahman is interested in how norms in society are created, and what forces cause certain acts to be forbidden. Rahman opines, “The norms in the diverse culture of societies are usually created according to the local atmosphere, weather and time. Many illogical norms coexist bringing about conflict and compelling us to decide how we ought to act. The larger part of the community chooses the social norms.”Gender norms are something that have interested Rahman from a young age. The artist is one of 8 siblings, and the first male born after his 5 elder sisters. He was always curious why he was the one that was always doted upon even though he wasn’t the youngest child. He grew up in old Dhaka, and in the early stages of his career, his early interest in gender politics extended to the lives of sex workers and cross-gendered people he encountered around the neighbourhood. The tragic rapes during the war in 1971 also keep popping to the forefront of his mind, and looking at how gender norms can lead to violence.

Rahman has recently become extremely interested in the treatment of the minority LGBT communities both at home, and abroad. The repeal of Section 377 in India in December 2013 repealed a 2009 ruling that decriminalized same-sex marriage in the country. This highly publicized ruling provided yet another example of the barriers to gay marriage and gender equality that are rampant in South Asia, and the rest of the world. In Bangladesh, LGBT people face extreme discrimination and verbal and physical abuse, and same-sex intimate relationships are illegal. People who support the change of these restrictive rules are battling a powerful system, and Rahman sees these peace lovers as a kind of warrior. In his solo project, A Space for Rainbow, the artist provides a space for warriors to become lovers, and to think about a covenant of peace and happiness, reflecting on the multiple meanings of the symbol of the rainbow from Christianity to gender equality. Rahman designed a common washroom on the third floor for warriors in which he projects videos depicting scenes of masculinity on urinals made of surgical scissors, a medium which has threatening undertones to virility. Washrooms are places where people are their most vulnerable, and by looking at this shared vulnerability, perhaps prejudices could be diminished.

Sounds of singing bowls and bells create a sense of calm and safety in this charged space. The artist shares that the “intention of this rainbow room is for the public to disconnect from their regular destructive life and rather give them a breathing space to convene and think about peace and happiness.”The artist believes that people lose identity in a washroom because it is a space where one tries to become comfortable and cleanse them self. Common warriors can join forces here with peace lovers to fight for equality. The artist has also curated an exhibition around the same theme at Britto Arts Trust.

Mithu Sen

(b. 1971)

Batil Kobitaboli (Poems Declined), 2014. 

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artists, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation.

In addition to being internationally acclaimed as one of India’s best visual artists, and winning the country’s inaugural Skoda Prize in 2010, Mithu Sen) is also recognized among connoisseurs as one of the finest Bengali Poets. Sen’s visual art practice stems from a strong drawing background that has extended into video, sculpture, installations, and sound works that further draw the viewer into her psyche. Sen has been invited for numerous international residencies and exhibitions, and as the artist travels, she attempts to draw in new publics to her work that often reflects how these new locations have affected her psyche.Sen has been returning to poetry in her recent work. In 2013 she realized a project entitled I am a Poet at the Tate Modern project space and at Khoj, where she invited viewers “to embrace ‘nonsense’ as resistance and comb out utterances from [their] subconscious; thereby, giving voice to all those moments that exist but are not realised or lived.” Many of Sen’s works aim to give glimpses at secret psychological moments, and to debunk ideas about hierarchies that exist in the creative world. In one such project, Free Mithu (2007 onwards), the artist offered free artworks to anyone who would write her a personal letter, making direct connection with the public without an intermediary such as a private dealer or an art gallery and using her artwork as an emotional response to correspondence from strangers. In another work, she took up a very prominent wall and filled it with the text that read “Artist – Unknown, Medium – Life,” celebrating works of unsung creative individuals whose names might have never made it into the consciousness of the art world. This desire to give importance to marginalized people, emotions, and ideas is a common thread in her work.Rather than celebrate her success or importance as a South Asian artist, Mithu Sen created a project that celebrates the work and efforts of poets whose work was not previously given prominence or attention, to those whose work was actually declined or rejected. In her experience in Dhaka, Sen realized that poetry was not limited to poets, the Bangla language itself was poetry, and poetry itself is a language in Bangladesh, sharing that “In Bangladesh, the language is not Bengali but Poetry.”

In the process of creating the multi-media installation Batil-Kobitaboli (Poems Declined), Mithu Sen traveled to Dhaka to impulsively meet, collect, read, and study unpublished/rejected works by aspiring Bangladeshi poets, trying to recover the marginalized emotions of poets whose words could not cross institutional barriers. The artist personally met about 30-40 poets, but corresponded with over 100 poets who gave her more than 1,000 poems. Sharing rejection requires relinquishing one’s ego, and through her research and communication and artistic prowess, Sen has smashed traditional psychological and systematic barriers to these poets’ works and is presenting them in a prominent space in Dhaka in the Shilpakala Academy, and binding them in a nearly two foot thick book elevated on a golden pedestal.

Rather than keeping the marked up manuscripts tucked away in a drawer or closet, Sen treasured these self-edits and suggestions of inadequacy and struggles to find one’s voice (which were given to her by the poets, even from their personal diaries), and elevated these corrective markings and psychological symbols of the creative process (doodles, etc.) into the realm of drawing. Placing a spotlight on these annotations, Sen projects their shadow into the space. Behind every successful project is another that failed, and we grow from these failures. These moments of feeling inadequate or grappling to find oneself fuel our growth, and at times, they may be something to celebrate. These self-corrections can also show a sense of self-reliance as they were corrected by the author, rather than by an institutional hierarchy. The sound element of this project is a poetic expression of Sen’s, which invites anyone to stand on a dedicated pedestal and read their poetry aloud. Through this gesture, Sen is attempting to transform her project into a space where creative people are encouraged to think past fears of rejection.

Naeem Mohaiemen

Shokol Choritro Kalponik, 2014. 

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, theDhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Since 2006, the London born, New York and Dhaka based Bangladeshi artist and writer Naaem Mohaiemen has worked on a series called The Young Man Was, a long-form project in multiple chapters that traces the history of the “ultra left,” and its complicated legacy of disappointment and failure in Bangladesh. Using a mixture of whimsy and actual events, he has also linked these histories to that of the radical left in other countries, especially Germany and Japan. Each chapter has been in a different medium, and published in heterogeneous platforms. Some of the chapters are Guerillas in the Mist [Maoist underground in Dhaka], Sartre comes to Stammheim [Andreas Baader meets Jean Paul Sartre], Live True Life or Die Trying [dueling leftist-Islamism rallies], and War of 666 against six million [kidnapping of Hanns Martinn Schleyer]. The two latest chapters are the films United Red Army (The Young Man Was, Part 1) [hijack of Japan Airlines], which was recently acquired by the Tate Modern, and Afsan’s Long Day (The Young Man Was Part 2), which is scheduled to premiere in MoMA’s New Directors New Films series in the Spring of 2014.

The language of these projects are somewhere between research, whimsy, and humour. Because of the ironic tone, the projects have sometimes been read in Bangladesh as “overly critical” of the left, including people Mohaiemen considers allies in the search for left alternatives. In discussions about the projects, Mohaiemen has stressed that he makes work as a believer in left futures, but with the understanding that tracing where things went wrong in the part of the process of building such futures. As he writes in the text for Live True Life or Die Trying: “A lover tries again, flower in hand.” Yet he also acknowledges that irony and distance are complicated devices to use in the context of Bangla- desh, where history is never past and things continue to matter. The pressure for creating what Naaem has elsewhere called “shothik itihash (correct history)” is immense, and he considers the visual arts a space where ambiguous, open- ended conversations have more space.

Parallel to his interest in conducting research, Naaem has been investigating a minimal aesthetic that often veers towards the non-image. Thus United Red Army is a film where a majority of the story takes place in darkness, forcing the audience to replace the expected image with their own imaginary about what may be there. Sinking Polaroids into resin until they explode from heat, running VHS tapes through a VCR until on-screen snow appears, enlarging flip phone photos until the grain is the whole image (a project done before the advent of smart phone cameras)– all these techniques have produced works where the image refuses to give visual pleasure to the audience.

Since (or even before) the time of Duchamp's intervention, the idea of the "everyday” inside the gallery has blended with other ideas of arte útil. Many decades later, so much sediment has gathered over the original provocation, that bringing an everyday object into a gallery or a museum would have no transformative valence. The commoditization of this gesture can be seen in recent museum projects where the "R. Mutt" signature was attached to an actual museum urinal (instead of bringing it into the white box. Mohaiemen writes that “at a time when art education, international interest, and media linkages, are commodifying, commercializing, and flattening art practices in Bangla- desh, there is a useful space for the idea that "everyone is an artist," most importantly the audience in their reading (or rejection) of the object on the floor, wall, or atrium.”

The artist continues, stating, “The ultimate everyday object is the daily vernacular newspaper (not the English edition, within which my own writing has been trapped for many years), distributed, sold, shared, pasted, and finally recycled.” At the Dhaka Art Summit, Mohaeimen has married his writing and recent minimalist artistic leanings into a single- issue newspaper with the full title of  "Shokol Choritro Kalponik,”– "Jodi shone polao khai, tobe ghee diyei khabi" (If I eat pulau in my dreams, I may as well eat it with ghee). This 8-page issue includes imagery reminiscent of the style of newsprint in the 1970s.

The newspaper presents fictional news items, along the lines of news that many people would wish to see: the news that would have been the everyday if the ultra left had come to power in the 1970s and built a different utopia. These stories are so far outside the realm of the possible that they fall into the category of "I wish, but I know this is not possible in this world." A Sample Headline includes: Indians Protest Smuggling of Cows from Bangladesh.

Rana Begum

No. 473, 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit,  the Samdani Art Foundation and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai. 

Belonging to the second generation of artists who turned Minimalism into something completely theirs, Rana Begum claims Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, sacred geometry in Sufism, and Islamic art and architecture as her influences. To this, she adds cues gathered from built and urban environments – from noticing patterns of colour, line and form as they collide in a city. A relatively new influence to her work was visiting the Cathedral-Mosque in Cordoba, Spain in 2008/2009. The spiritual experience from the repetition of arches and domes has been an inspiration for her recent work.

Begum’s work becomes something new with every shift of light. Reflecting on the work, the artist shares that “My hope is that the work can almost be viewed as a lesson in seeing, because upon leaving the work, perhaps the viewer starts to see these moments around them, and notices anew the odd and often uncharacteristic glimpses of beauty that living in a city can provide.” The bright colour palette that is characteristic of Begum’s work reflects the rich visual culture of South Asia, and these colours blend into one another in unique ways through the folds and shadows that the artist creates with her sculptures. While many female artists in the region are known for their use of organic materials and feminine craft, Begum masters the “masculine art” of working with metal, defying the norms that her conservative Islamic background imparted on her. However, the geometric lines and repletion used in traditional Islamic arts have influenced the precision and purity of Begum’s practice.

Folds and bending are important facets of Begum’s works. She folds paper and even thin aluminium sheets into forms that are reminiscent of kites, with a sense of lightness that gives the feeling that a gust of wind could blow the sculptures away. Her recent body of work blends into the wall with the new use of white as a base, with glowing colours in the background that seem to radiate in the space between the sculpture and the wall. The illusion that light can create is something Begum has mastered over the years with increasing sophistication. Elaborating on her current work, Begum shares that it “is mainly fabricated from powder-coated and painted metal extruded sections. The language these materials use is at first inspection one of mass production. But then as the complexity of pattern that flows across these linear hard-edged forms is made visible, something far subtler is revealed.”

In her first major exhibition in Dhaka, Begum moves away from surface ideas of mass-production and brings focus to the handmade. Begum revisits her childhood fascination with basket weaving, an activity she enjoyed when growing up in Bangladesh, and which also uses a similar process of bending and folding that she is known for. For Begum, the idea of architecture evokes memories of reading the Koran in Bangladesh and watching simple streams of light seeping in through the windows of the mosque. Using these vivid childhood memories as inspiration, Begum transforms the Shilpakala Academy with over a thousand locally woven baskets, which she weaves together to create a monumental sculptural dome that references light in the Koran. The work immerses the viewer in an innovative play between light and shadow. The complex intricate pattern creates a weightless and contemplative space through repetition.

Begum was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh in 1977 and moved to England in 1985. The artist studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London where she currently lives and works. She has exhibited extensively internationally including exhibitions in the UK, the USA, Mumbai, Beirut, and Dubai, and she was the recipient of the 2012 Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts and nominated for the Jameel Prize at the V&A in 2010. She has created numerous public art interventions all over the globe, transforming cityscapes with her unique use of colour and light. She was also a past Delfina Foundation resident artist.

Rashid Rana

A Room From Tate Modern, 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Rashid Rana is one of the most important Pakistani artists of his generation. Rana’s work deals with everyday images drawn from pop culture, art history and urban surroundings, as well as more abstract themes of faith and religion. He is known for his style of constructing large images out of “pixels” of other smaller images. In addition to his own work as a visual artist, he is the head of Fine Art Department and one of the founding faculty members of the School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD) at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. His work is in the permanent collections of the Asia Society, Devi Art Foundation, the Queensland Art Museum, the Fukuoka Museum of Asian Art, and many other distinguished public and private collections around the world. He recently completed a mid-career retrospective at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, a ground-breaking exhibition in the history of contemporary art in Pakistan.

The artist contextualises his interest in Western art history by negotiating it with his time and location. Fellow artist and critic Quddus Mirza wrote, “Rana’s work deals with globalisation, reflects on its impact, as well as serves as a critique of it. His use of digital media signifies the altered fabric of our societies, which function on the pattern and necessity of transnational operations. Here a work is conceived in Lahore, produced in Düsseldorf, displayed in Cairo and is collected in Chicago; spreading across four corners of the world.”1 One of Rana’s most talked about recent works that speaks to the global nature of his practice is A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore (2010-2011), a photo sculpture that he exhibited at his first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery in London in 2011.

The artist took photographs of a pedestal at a gallery in Lahore and transformed this documentation into an impactful sculpture. “I wanted to extend the historical journey of this object as a work of mine,” reflects Rana, “historically a plinth has been used as an object to place figurative sculptures, until it became so close to becoming an art object itself as part of the minimalist movement of the 1960s and white cube gallery aesthetics. These aesthetics and their manifestations have travelled to other parts of the world…I wanted to photographically document a plinth from a gallery in Lahore and produce it as a three-dimensional object (print on aluminium) and take it back to the white cube gallery place to symbolise my own journey as an artist.” A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore can also be read as the rendering of a Western idea of an exhibition model placed in the context of South Asia, where it has not been fully downloaded and remains pixelated.

Another work which speaks to the artist’s mental space, that is found between the hallowed halls of international museums and the local buzz of the rapidly developing city of Lahore, is the 2010-2011 photo sculpture The Step. The geometric arrangement of a group of bricks outside of a small village grocery shop (selling only five to six essential items) reminded the artist of Carl Andre’s work, inspiring him to record and dislocate this experience in his work using the same photo sculpture technique as A Plinth from a Gallery in Lahore.

Rashid Rana’s solo project A Room from TATE Modern (2013-2014) extends Rana’s practice from three-dimensional photo sculptures into the scale of architecture, something that Rana had wanted to do for many years, and that he mentioned in an interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Resulting from a discussion with curator Diana Campbell Betancourt over a long distance call from rural Sweden to Lahore, the artist decided to realise this longstanding dream for his solo project at the Dhaka Art Summit. The work is based on photo documentation of a room at Tate Modern, made to look empty with the works of art eliminated, but with spotlight effects and remnants of labels and wall-texts of works that make the viewer imagine what could have previously hung there. Rana elaborates that, “essentially, the work is a portrait (always an illusion) of a place which itself is used for the exhibition of art.”

“My work is often a three-way negotiation between myself, my immediate physical surroundings and what I receive – whether through the internet, books, history, or collective knowledge,” Rashid Rana recently shared in an interview with Art Review. The artist exists in a current reality of being an artist from Pakistan, but integrated into the Western exhibition model of the white cube. As a teacher and as an artist, Rana is one of the pioneers in building artistic infrastructure in Pakistan. The fact that he is injecting a Western exhibition model into the central atrium of the government property of the National Academy of Fine Arts of Bangladesh, while appropriating the model into his own work, speaks to the larger needs and potential for the region. The work also opens up interesting questions about experiencing art virtually.

In this project, viewers will be looking at a three-dimensional photograph of a room at Tate Modern. While looking straight at the blank wall (which contains an image of a wall), viewers won’t necessarily question it as an illusion. When looking at the other walls, however, the view of doors that open into adjacent gallery spaces will create an illusion that the walls extend into new dimensions. At its formal core, this work is about the conflict between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. To enhance this “dimensional conflict” and heighten the sense of a space in between truth and fiction, the photos on the wall and ceiling (pasted onto the walls and ceiling) are pixelated; something that we normally associate with two-dimensionality.

The exterior of this work is a temporary structure that reveals the methods of the project’s construction: MDF joined with a wooden-frame to form a grid-like structure that references the work of Sol Lewitt. The grid has played an important part in Rana’s larger body of work, which evolved from grid paintings to painting pixel and matrix-based digital prints. Reflecting on his earlier works, Rana shared with Obrist, “It’s ironic though, that my fascination with formal concerns to do with two dimensionality are manifesting in three-dimensional works.” The artist collaborated with Dhaka architects to create a photo sculpture of a room at Tate nearly to-scale. The artist dislocated his project from the grid of the South Plaza’s geometric layout, tilting it in a manner that the audience must walk around the structure, to discover a hidden door at the back of the outer MDF structure. Rana draws viewers into his work, forcing them to look past the surface, and rewarding them if they take the time to fully take in and understand the rich illusions and allusions in his work.

Rathin Barman 


Landscape From Memory (Situation 1), 2014. 

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Indian artist Rathin Barman was born in 1981 surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides. Tripura, India’s third smallest state, shares close historical ties with Bangladesh. These close ties cause strife between the regions, and trade was recently suspended due to protests against tariff hikes. Barman’s parents, as well as many other people he grew up around, are originally from Bangladesh and fled the country post the riots of the 1950s and 1960s. When thinking about the relationship between India and Bangladesh, the artist reflects that “people in my village can speak several Bangladeshi languages. Apart from political issues things are almost same. So, I assume, it’s the same land which is just politically divided.”

Tripura is geographically cut off from the rest of India, and due to the economic disadvantages of its isolation, many youth people from Tripura such as Barman have to migrate to cities like Kolkata to make their way in the world. The artist has experienced first hand the transforming effects of globalisation, and looks at it with a close lens in his work, which while seemingly contradictory is both site-specific and universal. Despite his young age, Barman likes to look deep into present realities, shifting his gaze to the foundations for the issues we experience today.

Rathin Barman had initially been trained to become mechanical engineer, but soon with the help of his brother, abandoned his courses to join the University’s Fine Arts department. Barman has used his engineering knowledge how to create ambitious structures that break moulds and force the audience to look at the world in new ways. He creates new structures, but ones that are primarily based on structures that had been put together in different ways by someone else. His practice has focused on this fascination with old buildings, and their fate after their redevelopment,in rapidly changing urban spaces in the subcontinent and other parts of the developing world. Similar to building new structures, Barman explores building a new mold out of a material that once had a different use, such as his corrugated paper works employing removal boxes, now re-assigned to creating entire living rooms to illustrate the ideas of quick and mobile living which forgets roots. This lifestyle often comes at the expense of historical buildings and Barman tasks himself with documenting the old buildings of Kolkata, imagining what will become of them after their scheduled demolition.

One body of work which has earned Barman international acclaim is his series of sculptures transforming iron reinforcement bars and found rubble into structures which comment on the constant pressure for urban development - rural areas are transforming into urban centres, much like his own. Barman made his international debut at the Frieze New York Sculpture Park in 2012, curated by Tom Eccles, with Untitled, currently on view at the DeCordova Sculpture Park, Massachussets, USA, making Barman the first sculptor of Asian origin to exhibit at the park. DeCordova describes Barman’s work as both universal and site specific. While the iron reinforcement bar structures travelled from India, the rubble that fills the sculpture must be collected from the local area where the work is being exhibited. When the work was shown at Frieze New York, the rubble came from New York City, when the work was shown again at DeCordova, the rubble was collected from Lincoln, MA. Urbanisation is a universal and increasingly homogeneous issue, but the crumbled residue beneath new developments shows the breadth of history that developers are paving over.

While previous works highlighted the distinctions between different urban centres through the physicality of the wreckage filling his structures, for his commission for the Dhaka Art Summit, Barman expects the rubble he finds in Dhaka to be strikingly similar to that which he finds around his studio in Kolkata, pointing to shared history between the two Bengals and paving over the differences in between, which become fewer and fewer through globalisation’s effects on both urban India and Bangladesh.

The form of this work draws the viewer into the sad reality of many cities in urban South Asia. The desire to expand and grow overrides the need for adequate urban planning and building codes; entire cities are being built in ways that defy any idea of a sustainable urban landscape. Recent disasters, such as the highly publicised Rana Plaza incident, as well as other incidents with less media attention in Mumbai, Kolkata and elsewhere, speak of the high human cost of industrialisation gone wrong. Methods and planning behind many new buildings in the region are questionable and Barman’s work uses the language of development and the debris of its past, to raise these questions.

In Landscape From Memory (Situation 1), the mammoth iron and rubble structure stands as a monument that bears the memories of several tragedies that are marked by architectural evidence of poor urban planning and civil negligence. It is a tragically ordinary urban visual of failed dreams of transforming space. While the way in which this work pierces space and calls to mind Chris Burden’s Beam Drop, Landscape from Memory (Situation 1) critiques the liberties that builders subject the public to, rather than celebrating freedom from the modern urban grid. Many developers in South Asia want the look of the grid without properly planning for it, and this is where many of the region’s problems arise. Like the work of Lida Abdul, Barman’s work provides hope that we can rebuild from the crumbling ruins around us, and heal and progress without repeating history’s tragic mistakes.

Shahzia Sikander 

Parallax, 2013

Courtesy of the artist, Sharjah Art Foundation

The Dhaka Art Summit is pleased to exhibit Shahzia Sikander’s incredible three channel high-definition animation Parallax (2013), which will be the first work of Sikander’s exhibited in Bangladesh. This work was commissioned for the Sharjah Biennale, and as Sharjah’s labor force is comprised of a significant population of Bangladeshis, a large portion of the audience in Dhaka will have a connection to Sharjah through the migration patterns of their relatives. Focusing on Sharjah’s unique location at the Strait of Hormuz, and the area’s historical power tensions Parallax is inspired by the idea of conflict and control. Visual vocabulary is culled from drawings and paintings to construct the animation, giving the motifs and symbols a shifting identity as they come together to cultivate new associations within the digital space. The soundtrack was composed by Sikander’s frequent collaborator, Du Yun. Exhibiting this work in Dhaka is made possible in part by the Sharjah Art Foundation.

Shilpa Gupta

(b. 1976)

Untitled, 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Shilpa Gupta is a Bombay based artist who uses facets of everyday life to create artworks that ask questions about methods of control and the ideas behind boundaries and borders that shape our perception of world order. While these works are deeply rooted in the Indian context where the artist lives and works, they grapple with universal issues such as freedom and security, and Gupta’s work is enjoyed and exhibited all over the world, in important exhibitions such as the New Museum Triennial, Yokohama Triennale, Lyon Biennale, Sharjah Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Shanghai Biennale, and Sydney Biennale. Her works are also part of prestigious institutional collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, and the Devi Art Foundation in Delhi.

Soap, microphones, sign hoardings, books – these are some of the familiar materials that the artist uses to engage audiences with wider and deeper issues. The artist studied sculpture and worked part time in graphic design and she has a remarkable ability to transform mundane imagery into something profound. In her 2009 work Threat, Gupta created a sculpture with 4,500 bars of soap, engraved with the word ‘Threat.’The audience is invited to take a bar of soap away and use it if they wish, washing away any trace of any imagined threat by the end of the exhibition. Fear is a tool often used to manipulate groups of people in power struggles, and Gupta’s works, often harnessing participation and interactivity, shake up our ideas about why we are asked to act the way we do.

Those in authority are able to control the media and what information gets disseminated to the public. What if the microphones that pundits speak into were able to speak truth and drone out lies? Gupta created a body of work of ‘singing microphones,’ which use Gupta’s voice to amplify issues that are often silenced. In 5 Singing Microphones from 2009, Gupta attempts to count the countless number of individuals who disappeared during times of political unrest such as Partition, creating a sense of urgency to remember those who transformed from people into mere numbers. In the same year, she also created a series of works using chalkboards, conventional tools to teach children about counting, and these chalkboards show the sign of countless markings, complete with accumulated chalk dust from writing and erasing, demonstrating the Sisyphean task of trying to count the people that governments want you to forget about. The phrase “Will we ever be able to mark enough?” leaves lingering questions in the minds of her audience. Stimulating memories, on both an individual and a collective basis, is an important part of Gupta’s practice.

In her 2008-2009 work 100 Hand Drawn Maps of India, Gupta asked a different person each day to draw a map of their country, and none of the drawings matched. Gupta’s works shed light on the problem of imposing borders on groups of people whose history on the land is much older than that of new nation-states. In her 2011-2012 work 1:14.9 which is part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum collection in New York, Gupta wound the idea of the 1188.5 meter long fence between India and Pakistan by manipulating thread into an elegant ball at a 14.9 to 1 ratio, nimbly caging this 1947 imposed border which symbol of violence and religious prejudice.

Interested in the formation of territories under the project of nationhood, the artist traveled to chhitmahal, Indo-Bangladeshi enclaves with a combined estimated population of 51,000 people who are technically foreigners in another country. In other words, there are landlocked islands of India within Bangladesh, and Bangladesh within India. In her poignant floor-based sculpture, Gupta describes the situation poignantly with the use of a mark on carved stone.

Depending on which side of this marking you may now be, you may or may not have an identity card, you may or may not need to take a fake name to enroll into a school, you may or may not be able to deliver your child with the real father’s name in the neighborhood hospital, you may or may not still be able to have electricity this evening even though the cable passes through your house, irrespective of the fact that your family may have lived here before countries were formed one night. 

The people in these enclaves believe that they are there because their communities were part of valued kingdoms, making them special and unique from their neighbors who have access to national public services that are granted from having an identity card. People who live in the chhitmahal do not have identity cards, so in order to give birth to a child in a hospital, or to enroll their children in school, they have to use the identity of someone with an identity card as the father, so there are several children with false identities. One of the works in this solo project obscures the names of a mythical classroom, showing how a name in these regions may likely not be just what it seems. Most of the people in the chhitmahal have been living there for centuries, and can easily ask their close neighbors with identity cards to lend false names as “relatives.” Gupta presents a work reflecting on the longstanding relationship between these “illegal” people and their ancestral land, showing images of feet firmly planted on the ground that they “belonged to” for centuries. Border markers can be anywhere, even floating in water as Gupta shares with us with her photographs. A painted photograph poignantly renders the situation that being born into an enclave makes a night and day difference: electrical lines may run through the enclave, but only certified areas on either side of the chit will have light when they turn on the switch.

Tsherin Sherpa 

The Fifty-Four Views of Wisdom and Compassion (Untitled I), 2014

Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Samdani Art Foundation. 

Historically, Tibetan art only existed in a religious context. Lha dri ba in Tibetan means to draw a deity, and it is the only expression available to describe “art,” as art was often used for meditation or paying tribute. Nepalese Painter Tsherin Sherpa extends this expression into a global contemporary art context, and created three new paintings that explore the relationship between Tibetan tradition and identity in the 21st century for the Dhaka Art Summit. The artist is based between Oakland and Kathmandu, and he created these works in his studio in Nepal. His work has been exhibited extensively internationally, including the landmark exhibition at the Rubin Museum in New York, “Tradition Transformed - Tibetan Artist’s Respond.”

Born in Kathmandu to a Tibetan Buddhist family in 1968, Sherpa apprenticed with his father Master Urgen Dorje Sherpa in the thangka painting tradition. Sherpa’s practice has preserved the meticulous detail of the canonical thangka but his figures are distilled from the structured, underlying grid systems and symbols that bring the traditional deity’s form to life. In recent years his emphasis has shifted from traditional subjects to more contemporary concerns, including imagining what traditional Tibetan spirits would now look like if they too had left Tibet and journeyed with him to California (where he now lives). By exporting his figures out of their context Sherpa explains, “[t]hrough centuries of reproduction, the essences of many of these spiritual tools have been lost. Bits and pieces have been chopped away or forgotten to be included due to the patronage of a tourist class that doesn’t know the ritual usage of the painting. By consciously deconstructing and abstracting the deity, I’m interested to see what parts of its essence will be revealed and reinvigorated through the process of exploring meaning, form, and identity.”

Bangladesh shares a deep connection with the history of Sherpa’s Tibetan Buddhist faith. The founder of the Kadampa school of Buddhism, Atisha (980-1054 CE) was born in East Bengal (in an area that is now in Bangladesh). Like the Buddha, Atisha is believed to have been born into a royal family and grew to espouse the ways of the cloth than that of the sword. Celebrated for the brilliance of his teachings and his unparalleled abilities in debate, Atisha was soon appointed abbot of Nalanda Monastery, the greatest of all Buddhist monasteries in India. So great was his reach that he was invited to teach in Tibet. There he composed the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, a text that distilled all of the Buddha’s eighty four thousand teachings of Dharma into a clear simple guide for practice. Atisha stayed in Tibet for 17 years in total, and his teachings were passed down to subsequent generations, including to the great Je Tsongkhapa, whose Atisha inspired lam-rim texts remain the cornerstone of Tibetan Buddhist teachings to this day.

 Atisha’s teachings reached Sherpa’s grandparents in Tibet, which were subsequently taught to Sherpa in Nepal, and now travel back to Bangladesh through Sherpa’s technically fascinating and richly colored multi-paneled paintings. Atisa’s legacy has been the driving force behind the three works presented here. As Sherpa points out, “as a person viewing him from a historical vantage point today, we glimpse at different perspectives of him depending on our cultural boundaries. Through globalization, these different boundaries come up next to each other physically and virtually to expose a form that is greater than its individual parts. Through time, countries are always reestablishing new geographic borders which in turn assist cultures to re-invent itself. By seeing the links and gaps between these forms, I hope one can contemplate the whole.”

The Fifty-four Views of Wisdom and Compassion (Untitled I) consists of separate pieces (20 x 20 inches each on canvas) that compose the whole. The central deity, Chakrasamvara, exists in fragments throughout the work. These pieces are depicted from different vantage points; some show portions from a zoomed-in perspective while others are from an eagle-eye view. Charkrasamvara, translated in the West as “Highest Bliss,” is one of the principles of istha-devatā, or meditational deities of the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Typically depicted with a blue-coloured body, four faces, and twelve arms, the deity is represented embracing his consort Vajravarahi in the yab-yum position. Their divine embrace serves as a metaphor for the union of great bliss and emptiness, perceived as one and the same essence.

 The other two works on paper are a continuation of Sherpa’s Protector series. As thangkas are either destroyed, lost, or moved away from their natural environment of monasteries and private altars, they begin to take on a new context. As a whole, this series explores how these abstractions of deities will function and be perceived by a new set of viewers in secular space. In the previous series, the individual deity recedes into an elegant swirling form. The familiar structure of a grid system is no longer used to stabilize and support it. At the same moment that the traditional is becoming ungrounded, something new is arising. This is the first time that Sherpa works with multiple intermingling deities, and he wanted to explore how “the energy changes from a single form to that of a space consisting of multiplicity and repetition.”

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