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A space for creative change

In focus: Mahbubur Rahman's master touch.  

At the launch of Britto Space in Dhaka, during the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh, held in April this year, young contemporary artist Promotesh Das Pulak told us, “When last year I submitted the same work at the Asian Biennale, it was rejected. It wasn't very welcoming towards the other art practices. This year I applied again and the same work was accepted.”

Bangladeshi art is in the throes of change and artists like Pulak are in the forefront of this transformation. Newer spaces, experimental platforms now dot the artscape of Bangladesh providing a perfect foil to the spirited souls.

New spaces, artists-led initiatives and platforms have come to play an important role in this metamorphosis. The art fraternity views it as something inevitable. “You have to remember that unlike elsewhere, galleries don't represent artists in this country. In fact there aren't very many galleries, which fuels the need for artists-led initiatives,” says artist Begum Tayeba Lipi.

What Tayeba, one of the foremost names in the contemporary art scene in Bangladesh, forgets to add is that the existing galleries continue to remain obsessed with “decorative art”.

So how does somebody like Tayeba, who uses sharp razor blades to make a strong commentary on gender and society, negotiate space not just for herself but other artists, who too are moving in the same direction?

Through Britto Arts Trust. Artist couple Tayeba and Mahbubur Rahman, both products of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, founded this collective in 2002 and entered the Triangle Network. During the first ever Dhaka Art Summit 2012, Britto launched a physical space as well.

Indian connection

The alternative space, in its decade long existence, has hosted residencies, workshops, collaborative projects and performances and is now in talks with artists on the Indian side for an art project at the Indo-Bangladeshi border. “The space is meant for visiting artists, to have residencies, performance art. The shows will be selective and curatorial. Of course, we will charge the exhibiting artists because we also have to run this space but it will be lower say by 30-40 per cent as compared to a normal gallery.”

Another alternative space that has come up recently is Dhaka Art Center (DAC). Like Britto, two-year-old Dhaka Art Centre is also pushing the case for younger artists across the board.

Located centrally in Dhaka, DAC with its painting studio, six galleries for rent, auditorium, library/resource center, Kibria printmaking studio, is turning out to be quite a hub for the creative professional.

“Some of our recent activities have been art camps, an environment awareness campaign — where the artists went and cleaned up an area in Dhanmondi and then also staged a play, workshops such as on rickshaw art,” says artist Kuhu one of the trustees of DAC.

Corporates also have a role here since they provide direct and indirect support to lot of these endeavours. DAC's research centre is being supported by HSBC where its donations are being used to buy new books for it.

And after all it was an industrialist, who conceived and finally executed Dhaka Art Summit 2012, the first ever showcase of Bangladeshi art on such a grand scale. Rajeeb Samdani, Managing Director of Golden Harvest along with his wife Nadia, formed Samdani Art Foundation with a view to giving an impetus to contemporary Bangladeshi art.

“In January 2012, when we came to India to visit the India Art Summit, we were disappointed to notice the absence of Bangladeshi art. As for the artists there, they were represented by foreign galleries and not Bangladeshi galleries. In our country, gallery artist nexus doesn't exist so that's not possible. So we took a step in what we ought to do as collectors and lovers of art. We set out to create a market for Bangladeshi art which has serious potential. Artists like Zainul Abedin and Shahabuddin don't need our push… It's the contemporary art here whose market has to be created,” expresses Rajeeb, who is known to be a huge collector of Tayeba Begum Lipi's work.

SAF took a plunge with supporting the country's debut act with the first ever pavilion in the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2011 and followed it up by sending artists to international platforms such as OPEN 14 in Venice, Italy, last year. Rajeeb and Nadia have now designated a space for sessions on art.

“Since we are collectors we can't operate like a gallery and nor do we intend to. What we plan to do instead is to invite few collectors, buyers, critics and facilitate their meeting and interaction with the artist,” explains Rajeeb, who has already started preparing for the next edition of the Summit.

The emerging new practices and newer platforms to support those are hard to ignore. On his first ever visit to Dhaka during the Dhaka Art Summit, art critic Kishore Singh also noticed “art in Bangladesh getting experimental and artists reaching out”.

Mustafa Zaman, Editor-in-chief of Depart Magazine, an art magazine, substantiates by giving specific examples like that of emerging artist Rafiqul Shuvo. “During the summit, Rafiqul had curated a show titled ‘Only God Can Judge Me' in a godown. He takes on these unusual spaces and has exhibitions there. There are different collectives like Santaran artists group in Chittagong encouraging exchange between different disciplines. I think we are standing at the crossroads and there is going to be a sea change. It's just the beginning.”


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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 2:07:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-space-for-creative-change/article3476611.ece

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