Samdani Art Foundation
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The Samdani Art Foundation (SAF) is pleased to announce the Foundation’s forthcoming permanent art space in Bangladesh: Srihatta—Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park. Located approximately 250km from the capital of Dhaka in the rural tea district of Sylhet, Srihatta sprawls across over 100 acres of landscape with views of India’s Assam Hills in the distance. The park’s expansive grounds will be devoted to the exhibition of sculpture, and punctuated by a phased rollout of multiple exhibition pavilions and a residency complex. The inaugural phase—set for late 2018—will include several commissions for the 100-acre sculpture park, 10,000 square feet of artist residency spaces, 10,000 square feet of plazas, and a 5,000-square-foot gallery designed by Dhaka-based Bangladeshi architect and 2016 Aga Khan Award winner Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury, URBANA.

The interwoven Animist, Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi mystic, and Islamic histories that inform Sylhet’s plurality and distinct language remain powerfully visible in Bengali folk culture. Srihatta’s name is an homage to the multiple layers of history that have shaped this rich landscape; it is the ancient Indo-Aryan term for Sylhet. Envisioned as a dynamic art centre, Srihatta embraces inclusivity with a welcoming design, an accessible public programme, and outdoor public works. More than just a private art museum, Srihatta aspires to cultivate a new community of art lovers in Bangladesh and the surrounding region. As with all Samdani Art Foundation activities, entry to Srihatta will be free, in an attempt to make art widely accessible to diverse audiences.

“Like the Dhaka Art Summit, Srihatta was born from a long-time dream to innovate a new destination for South Asia in Bangladesh, one that revolves around art. Rajeeb and I are now realising our dream-- in the district where our families come from--to build a permanent home for the Samdani Art Foundation’s activities and a dynamic art centre international in approach. We hope that with this unique endeavor, the people of South Asia as well as international visitors will find a haven amongst the remarkable works of art and profound landscape,”

- Nadia Samdani, Co-Founder, Samdani Art Foundation

Led by Samdani Art Foundation Artistic Director Diana Campbell Betancourt, Srihatta encourages engagement with Bangladesh’s rural context. The organization will invest its roots locally—and broaden them internationally—by inviting artists, curators, and writers from around the world to participate in its exhibitions, residencies, interventions in the landscape, and to engage in creative workshops with the local community. Srihatta expands on the Samdani Art Foundation’s mission to advance the conversation around Bangladeshi and South Asian art by presenting a programme that is truly international in scope, bringing the highest quality of art and exhibitions from around the world to the people of Bangladesh.

Its programming complements—but remains autonomous from—the internationally acclaimed South Asia-focused Dhaka Art Summit.  Srihatta is inspired by the ethos of Rabindranath Tagore, who created Shantiniketan in a village in West Bengal in 1901—where the whole world could meet in a single nest. The initiative will create a new centre for artistic education within Bengal, connecting the rural and the urban, and the local and the international in unprecedented ways

“We hope that Srihatta will become a place where interdisciplinary creative initiatives and humanism can thrive on local, national, regional, and international planes. Bangladesh was born from a strong desire to speak its mother language, and through Srihatta, we aim to build a place where art can be a common language between the local village community and our international visitors. Simultaneously, we seek to give shape and voice to what a meaningful and inclusive art institution in 21st century South Asia can be. This is the Foundation’s first truly international endeavor, tying together the Samdani collection, the educational aspects of the Samdani Seminars and Curatorial Research Fellowships, and the production and commissioning activities of the Foundation to create a dynamic and independent complex for art.” 

—Diana Campbell Betancourt, Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation

Srihatta will be the first permanent dedicated space for the Foundation’s programming and exhibition activities, featuring an ongoing schedule of exhibitions curated by Betancourt from its renowned collection of over 2,000 works of South Asian-focused modern and contemporary art. Srihatta will also present international works of art acquired by the Foundation specifically for Srihatta. The first completed gallery space—designed by Kashef Mahboob Chouwdhury—will present new media works from the Samdani Art Foundation collection, with a special emphasis on sound.


Sylhet, an important city in Northeast Bangladesh on the banks of the Surma River, is approximately 250km from the capital of Dhaka (or a short 45-minute flight away). Srihatta is a 10km drive from Sylhet international airport, which has direct flights from London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Dhaka.


THE Residency


Chowdhury’s open plan design for the Residency complex references the vernacular brick architecture of Bangladesh. The design also looks to the modernist legacy left by visionary architects such as Muzharul Islam and Louis Kahn, who built some of their best work in Bangladesh, including the Dhaka University Library (1953-1954) and Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban (Parliament House, 1961-1982).


In addition to residencies with local and international artists, Srihatta will also host future writing and curatorial residencies as part of a wider initiative of training a new generation of arts professionals in Bangladesh. The Residency program will be organized by SAF, with additional collaborations with international foundations and cultural councils. The residency will be a separate entity from the Samdani’s collecting activities.


The 10,000-square-foot residency space will house eleven brick-dyed, cast-concrete apartments, with windows facing Srihatta’s landscape. Created as a meditative space to inspire creativity and mesmerize the senses, these apartments will have 11-foot ceilings—each with a different species of local scented tree to grow inside.

The apartments, dining, recreation, and reading spaces are visually linked by an additional 10,000 square feet of plazas and walkways made of local green-tinged grey Kota stone. Blending the residency space with the surrounding landscape and sculpture park, the complex will exhibit works from the Foundation’s collection on a rotating basis.


Exhibition Space


Chowdhury has also designed the first of several future gallery spaces for exhibitions of works from the Samdani Art Foundation’s collection. An undulating brick façade welcomes visitors into a 5,000 square-foot gallery with 14-foot ceilings anchored by an immersive installation of video, sound, and new media works by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Anthony McCall, Lucy Raven, Shahzia Sikander, Ceal Floyer, and Cardiff and Miller—with further acquisitions to be announced in mid-2018.


In the same gallery, a temporary exhibition chronicling the last decade of new media and performance art in Bangladesh will feature the work of artists from the Samdani Art Foundation’s collection, including Zihan Karim, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty, Rafiqul Shuvo, Munem Wasif, Shumon Ahmed, Ayesha Sultana, Naeem Mohaiemen, and Yasmin Jahan Nupur.


This inaugural exhibition will serve as an inspirational introduction to the multifaceted identity of contemporary art: miniature painting transforms into whirling video (Shahzia Sikander), cinema can become sculpture (Anthony McCall, Lucy Raven), sound can sculpt space (Ceal Floyer, Cardiff and Miller), and a performance can maintain a flickering, haunting physical presence beyond the bounds of time (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster).


Several of these works have outstanding international exhibition histories, such as inclusion in the 54th Venice Biennale, 1st Yinchuan Biennale, 11th Gwangju Biennale, 11th Shanghai Biennale, the 5th Singapore Biennale, the Kunsthalle Basel, the Singapore Art Museum, the 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, and 4A Centre for Contemporary Art. Further details about this show will be released in mid-2018. 

Future galleries will be built to allow for rotating temporary exhibitions produced by the Samdani Art Foundation.


Sculpture Park

The first phase of architectural elements of Srihatta will take up only a half-acre of the 100-acre property, with the majority of the grounds comprising a vast sculpture park. URBANA’s plan for the landscape design will embrace the natural phenomena that surround the site: winding rivers, a swamp forest, golden hills made of sand, and flaming natural-gas-fields with views of India’s Assam Hills and Sylhet’s tea gardens in the distance. Site-sensitive commissions by artists from Bangladesh and around the world will further transform the landscape. 

The Foundation welcomes artists to develop long-term projects for the site, asking that each engage with the site and surrounding community. The site will have a mix of permanent works, temporary works, and works on long-term loan, in an attempt to make Srihatta a living, evolving entity that changes regularly and welcomes repeat visits. All of the works in the sculpture park will be produced in Bangladesh, as part of the Foundation’s desire to engage the local community with craftsmanship and production, fostering collaboration as a tool for greater understanding. 

While Srihatta officially opens at the end of 2018, the first work for the Park, Rokeya, was completed in February 2017 after two years of development—setting precedence for local collaboration. As part of the annual Samdani Seminars programme, Polish artist Paweł Althamer—along with members of his community (neighbours) from Bródno, Poland—engaged patients of Protisruti (the Promise) drug rehabilitation centre in Sylhet and the local community in an eight-day-long creative and collaborative Sculptural Congress workshop. This first project at Srihatta was realized in partnership with Bródno Sculpture Park, which Pawel Althamer inaugurated in 2009 with the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Bridging understanding across social and cultural divides, they created the communal work of art, Rokeya, which the village children named after the nineteenth century pioneer of female education in Bangladesh, Begum Rokeya. The resulting sculpture is a reclining woman constructed of locally woven palm fronds over a bamboo frame. She wears a colourful fabric costume stitched from local textiles by nearby village women, who also helped to drape the fabric. Rokeya also contains a kiln inside, for village children to use in ceramic workshops.

Srihatta will continue its initial collaboration with Bródno Sculpture Park into 2017, inviting Polish artist Monika Sosnowska to realize a monumental concrete river that will serve as a walking path through the landscape. Here tributaries will meander through and disappear into unexpected places, allowing for contemplation of one’s surroundings. The piece ties back to the natural terrain of Bangladesh, which has over 700 rivers (and is officially the country with the most rivers within its borders). 

Indian artist Asim Waqif has begun the initial planting of bamboo saplings for what will become a monumental living sculpture titled Bamsera Bamsi (meaning Bamboo flute in Bangla). The sculpture is envisioned as a living bamboo forest, consisting of several bamboo species researched and planted as part of a long-term collaboration with the Bangladesh Forest Research Institute, Chittagong. As it grows, Waqif will sculpt the forest into a sculptural wind instrument reminiscent of a flute, which will emit sound when the wind blows through it. Bamsera Bamsi will take nearly two years before it will be audible, and five years to be fully mature. The initial size of the work is 140 x 100 ft. and will expand as the project develops. 

Emerging Nepali artist Subas Tamang, the descendent of a family of indigenous stone carvers, will expand upon his series I Want to Die in My Own House. Tamang will create monumental slate roofs inspired by a fading form of vernacular South Asian architecture, not seen in Sylhet, that was once prevalent across South Asia.  These roofs will then be intricately carved with the images of Tamang’s migrant worker parents who build homes for others without owning their own. This piece seeks to articulate the dreams of many such villagers:  to own their own homes and to live life on their own terms.  

In collaboration with the children from Srihatta’s nearest local village, the renowned French architect Yona Friedman will realize an aerial drawing inspired by the mythology of Ancient Bengal, to be shaped from local stones sourced in Sylhet. This drawing will be visible both from the hilltop site of the Artist Residency space, but also from planes and helicopters flying over Sylhet. 

Additional artists with commissions to be completed by Srihatta’s late 2018 opening include Rana Begum, Raqs Media Collective, Mithu Sen, Ayesha Sultana, and Rupam Roy. Further artists and details will be released in mid-2018. 


About the Architect

Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury

Kashef Mehboob Chowdhury graduated in architecture from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in 1995. After working with architect Uttam Kumar Saha, Chowdhury established the practice URBANA as a partnership in 1995, and from 2004, continued as the Principal of the firm. Chowdhury has been a visiting faculty member at the North South University and BRAC University, both in Bangladesh, and has been a juror of final year critiques for universities in Dhaka. Chowdhury was twice a finalist in the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016 for the Friendship Centre. He was the first Bangladeshi architect to feature in the central curated exhibition in the Venice Biennale during the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, Reporting from the Front. He won first prize in the 2016 International Baku Architectural Ward and was a finalist for the 2016 BSI Architectural Award in Switzerland. In 2012, Chowdhury was awarded Architectural Review’s AR+D Emerging Architecture Award.

Kashef Chowdhury has a studio-based practice, creating work that finds its root in history, with strong emphasis on climate, materials and context—both natural and human. Projects in the studio are given extended time for research so as to realise a level of innovation and original expression. Works range from the conversion of ships and low-cost raised settlements in “chars” to training centres, mosques, art galleries, museums, residences and multi-family housing to corporate headquarters.