Art Britto Arts Trust is negotiating space for newer ideas and concepts in Bangladesh, writes SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

The first floor of a commercial complex located on a heavily congested Green Road in Dhaka is an unlikely address for an art hub but conventions are best avoided in this realm of the world. Such spaces do mirror a few that exist in India and when Begum Tayeba Lipi, co-founder and one of the trustees of Britto Arts Trust tells us that it is part of the worldwide Triangle Network, we can join the dots.

Britto Arts Trust was founded in 2002 but entered the Triangle network at the behest of KHOJ's Pooja Sood. Britto had everything which is required to be part of such a link. With a few like-minded artists in its fold itching to push the frontiers, it had already made a dent in the scene by then. Committed to ideation, Britto shuttled between residencies, workshops, collaborative projects and performances.

Now even as it hosts ‘SPACE', an inaugural exhibition of Britto Space, Tayeba, Mahbubur Rahman, Founder-Trustee of Britto, (inaugurated during the first ever Dhaka Art Summit 2012) and other members are already on to their upcoming project that will take place at the Indo-Bangladesh Border. “It's kind of tentative but it will be nice if it happens. We have applied for funds and we have even visited the site which in this case is the no-man's land between the two countries,” says Tayeba, a product of Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka.

“We intend to construct artist studios there, who will live there and interact with the local communities of the place. You don't need a visa to go there and these are the issues like boundaries, nations, we seek to address through this project,” adds Tayeba, seated against the backdrop of her work “Bizarre and the Beautiful II” at Britto Space.

New phase

The new phase in Bangladeshi art is dotted with several artists urging to express themselves using newer means. Mahbubur, one of the bright stars on the horizon claims this space fulfils that role to the hilt. “It has been created to meet the needs of the local artists who have not had such spaces to exhibit experimental art like videos, animations, installations etc. To exhibit such work, you need a specific set–up and in a country in which this kind of art is only starting out, things become easy if artists come together. So Britto fits in perfectly,” he says.

But easier said than done, Britto has gone through its share of struggle especially how they raised funds to keep floating and finally buy their own space.

“When we started out we didn't have any money so we survived by selling our work. Mahbubur had collectors in the UK and India. Anupam and Lekha Poddar bought a lot of his work which really helped us during that time. After we got some funds and loans, we decided not to spend a single penny out of it and instead invested it. We finally bought the space in 2011 from that amount and the interest earned on it. Instead of taking anything from there we, in fact, pumped in some loans. Our lifestyle is very basic. Even now we don't have anything in the house,” reveals Tayeba.

The first ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 was the turning point in the journey of Britto. It had initiated the effort and presented works like Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty's ‘Quandary', ‘ Bizarre and the Beautiful', etc. Several other innovative projects like Raku Workshops, 1 mile square Dhaka, documentaries steeped in societal concerns also cemented its position in the contemporary art scene of Bangladesh.

The lone performance piece showcased at the Dhaka Art Summit 2012 was performed by Mahbubur Rahman. Planned about a year ago, it was to be performed in an aquarium. And perform Mahbubur did but in a broken one with water spilling out on everywhere. The aquarium, in which Mahbubur was to sit and do the act, broke just a few hours ago not leaving the artist and the organisers with any options. The performance happened, a bit tweaked but not short on emotions. At the end of it, the overwhelmed artist, left the hall weeping escorted by two people. “The exhaustion, the sadness over the breakage of aquarium was so overwhelming. I had planned so much in advance. I had been growing hair for this for long.”

The artist says the piece was multi-layered borrowing from personal memories and experiences.

“At times, it referred to an experience with my mother, at times it was about my father. Especially the part when I cut my hair,” explains Mahbubur, who has also had a solo with Devi Art Foundation in Delhi in 2009. In ‘Space', Mahbubur is exhibiting video projections called simply ‘Video Projections'.