Featuring 90 works by 13 artists associated with bangladesh, burma, india, pakistan and sri lanka
February 5-8, 2016 | curated by amara antilla, beth citron, diana campbell betancourt and sabih ahmed | Dhaka Art Summit
Rewind was built on the Dhaka Art Summit’s mandate as a research platform by assembling works from public and private collections in Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and the United States that chart the diverse manifestations of abstraction in pre-1980s South Asia. Rewind featured more than 90 works by 13 artists associated with Bangladesh (Safiuddin Ahmed, Rashid Choudhury, S.M. Sultan), Burma (Germaine Krull, Bagyi Aung Soe), India (Monika Correa, Nalini Malani, Akbar Padamsee, Krishna Reddy, Arpita Singh), Pakistan (Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Anwar Jalal Shemza), and Sri Lanka (Lionel Wendt). The exhibition explored how three generations of artists have responded to shifting cultural, political, and social contexts with experiments in abstraction, or the relationship between representation and abstraction—even when some of their primary practices are or were firmly rooted in figuration.
The majority of the works on view were produced between the late 1940s and the late 1970s, a period that witnessed the Independence of India and Pakistan from Britain and the devastating Partition of the subcontinent, followed by several major conflicts including the 1971 Liberation of Bangladesh. Transnational modernism provided fertile ground for many artists in the face of unstable borders. From the pared-down calligraphic scrawls of Aung Soe, Shemza, and Singh, and the distillations of natural and human form undertaken by Reddy, Ahmed, Sultan, and Krull to the experiments with light, pattern, and flatness of Choudhury, Malani, Padamsee, the works in Rewind embody some of the ways in which modernism has played out within and beyond the region.
For some of these artists, abstraction signified participation in an increasingly international, even global, modernism that developed in the wake of World War II. Gestural abstraction, most often related to expressionist movements, enabled artists to adapt or even discard figural iconography. Others turned to folk motifs linked with traditional practices and materials to explore how modernism and national independence might coexist. Yet others, inspired by achievements such as Le Corbusier’s design for the city of Chandigarh, turned to geometry and the visual logic of industrialisation or, in defiance of a universal rhetoric of progress and modernisation, revived elements of the pre-modern.
Acknowledging the focusing of, art and ideas on cosmopolitan sites in South Asia; the growth of exchange between Europe, Latin America, and the United States; and the concomitant rise of cultural and political isolationism, Rewind seeks to create new affinities between artists and artworks that transcend temporal and national affiliation, while dislodging the West as the central point of reference. The Bangladesh, Burma, East and West Bengal, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, and East Pakistan, where these works were made have solidified into new geopolitical formations with some of the tightest and longest borders in the world today. These realities have prevented many of the works shown from travelling freely; in many cases, they are being shown publicly here for the first time. The exhibition offered conceptual and formal perspectives that challenged the way we define South Asian abstraction and the larger history of mid-century modernism.