Art

Following Seismic Movements at the Dhaka Art Summit

Pakistani-American artist Huma Bhabha’s Cowboys and Angels

Pakistani-American artist Huma Bhabha’s Cowboys and Angels  

The fifth edition of the biennial exhibition kicks off with performance art, interactive installations and exhibits that explore our times of division, protest and liberation

It is the weekend in Dhaka and the traffic is bumper to bumper. It helps, however, that many are going in my direction: to the Shilpakala Academy in the city’s University belt, where the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) has just opened. It is the fifth edition of what has become one of the main cultural highlights of the local calendar. But it is also a first of sorts — the first time the nine-day exhibition has been curated with an overarching theme.

“Each edition has been different, responding to the time and place we are in. The first [in 2012] focussed on Bangladesh; the second on Bangladesh via South Asia; the third looked at international artists transformed by South Asia [like Linda Benglis, who has a studio in Ahmedabad]; the fourth, around the time of the Rohingya crisis, looked at the cross-sections between South Asia and South East Asia,” explains Diana Campbell Betancourt, DAS’ chief curator.

However, it soon struck the 35-year-old that “the word South Asia is a hangover of British colonial era, and South East Asia of cold war politics”. So, why not define things with another term that is not nationalistic? “This is also a time of intense protests, so Seismic Movements seemed apt [for 2020],” she adds.

Haroon Mirza’s Lectures in Theology, a sound and light installation, takes inspiration from architect Muzharul Islam’s blueprints

Haroon Mirza’s Lectures in Theology, a sound and light installation, takes inspiration from architect Muzharul Islam’s blueprints  

Storeys and stories

Two art works at the summit crystallise these ideas. The first is Seismography of Struggles, a video and sound installation depicting montages of non-European journals produced in the wake of the revolutionary movements of the late 18th century, and leading up to 1989, when the world was dominated by two blocs. “I first saw this work [a multilingual research exercise conducted at France’s National Institute of Art History] in Senegal and I was blown away. You could see how the struggles of a slave in Haiti could be similar to that of a peasant farmer in Bengal,” says Betancourt, as I catch her in the middle of ensuring that the audio-visual system was glitch-free and the lighting of the art works was “just right”.

The second work is Adrián Villar Rojas’ immersive floor-based installation, Raw Mutants, a marble floor encrusted with 400 million-year-old fossils. It is also the first piece visitors see — or walk over — as they enter the venue. “These extinct species are from before the Pangea shift, when the world was one super ocean. So, somehow, when these two came together, the rest of the show came into place.”

Dhaka-based artist Kamruzzaman Shadhin’s The Fibrous Souls

Dhaka-based artist Kamruzzaman Shadhin’s The Fibrous Souls  

Spanning four floors of Shilpakala, the summit brings together artists and collectives from around the world, grouping their works under distinct labels: Geological Movements, Colonial Movements, Feminist Futures and the like. But there is a conscious effort to not dwell on origin, to intentionally keep national identity secondary. “I have no idea how many countries or artists there are,” laughs Betancourt. “I’ve also stripped the countries from the catalogues because… why box them in? We have artists who were born in British India, educated in East Pakistan, had their first child in Bangladesh, and all without ever moving out of their house! This country has changed names many times in someone’s lifetime and it could change again. So, it is more about where you are from as a locality.”

Héctor Zamora’s Existence Emitting Movements

Héctor Zamora’s Existence Emitting Movements  

Fire, water and a tea party

Each day is peppered with performances, workshops, discussions and, of course, interactive installations. On the opening day, artist Héctor Zamora’s Existence Emitting Movements had everyone captivated. We had all noticed raw clay vessels grouped around a large pillar on the first floor as we made our way through the many exhibits, but its meaning had escaped us, until several young women began to wend their way through them, smashing the urns under their feet. It was a show of rebellion, a disruption of the order of things. In India, Bangladesh and the artist’s native Mexico, a woman carrying a jug on her head denotes the “domestic labour women are weighed down with”. By inverting the equation and placing the jugs under women’s feet, the atrium became a shared space of liberation for us all.

Zurich-based artist Raphael Hefti’s Quick Fix Remix

Zurich-based artist Raphael Hefti’s Quick Fix Remix  

Later that day, another powerful installation played with fire. Literally. At 5 pm, under a cloudy sky, ominous metal cauldrons spewed lava-like liquid that moved slowly down incisions carved into a hillock of dirt. Zurich-based artist Raphael Hefti then wielded water to cool the glowing hot metal down, creating free-form sculptures — his way of exploring ‘artistic alchemy’ to study the industrial practices that form our machine-made landscapes.

In the days to come, check out Montage, my beautiful tool, a selection of films by Lebanese filmmaker Rania Stephan, a printmaking workshop by collectives Grafis Huru Hara, Indonesia, and Pangrok Sulap, Malaysia, and a panel on Combatting Islamophobia and Stereotypes through Art. When you have the time, stop by Yasmin Jahan Nupur’s Let me get you a nice cup of tea, a performative piece that explores human relationships, where visitors can sit down for tea with the Dhaka-based artist (all day, till February 12). And don’t miss the talks, where artists and curators discuss everything from ‘Collective Practice and Economy’ (at the Collectives Hub) to ‘Film Societies: Sites for Seeing’ (February 12, 6-8 pm).

The Dhaka Art Summit, produced by the Samdani Art Foundation, is on till February 15. Details: dhakaartsummit.org

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 11:00:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/following-seismic-movements-at-the-dhaka-art-summit/article30791234.ece

Next Story