Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 44 | November 7, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  Food for Thought
  One Off
  Photo Feature
  Straight Talk
  A Roman Column
  Sci Tech
  Star Diary
  Book Review

   SWM Home


Asian Art Biennale '08
Much Ado about Nothing

Ershad Kamol

This year's biennale may have only a handful of Asian countries, it has certainly taken on a global look. Artists from other continents such as Africa, Europe, Latin American and Oceania are participating at the biennale for over a decade. Not only Bangladeshi artists and art lovers, but many foreign artists are curious about the Asian Art Biennale that Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA) has been organising since 1981. Hosted by a developing country perhaps this is the only international biennale that is being regularly for about three decades.

But the 13th session of the Asian Art Biennale did begin with some uncertainty. It was suppose to take place last year with organisers being unsure about getting the permission to use Osmani Memorial Hall as a venue for a month, even a week before the event. However, putting an end to all doubts Asian Art Biennale '08 was inaugurated by the Chief Adviser on October 21 at the Osmani Memorial Hall. The present Asian Art Biennale '08 is going on simultaneously at three venues -- National Art Gallery, National Museum and Osmani Memorial Hall.

Hazem El Mestikawy, Egypt, Pattern, Card Board and Paper.

A five-member selection committee comprising of artists Samarjeet Roy Chowdhury, Abul Barq Alvi, Hamiduzzaman Khan, Sagar Shah and Nazli Laila Mansur selected 234 art works of 194 Bangladeshi artists for display and compete at the biennale. Moreover, art works of 16 renowned artists were selected only for the display.

If numbers are what impress think on this bit of information: 242 art works by 111 foreign artists from Asian, African, Europe, Oceania and Latin American countries participated at the competition. Unfortunately a few of these art works arrived Dhaka after the winners had been announced so they could not participate at the competition.

Evaluating the art works, a five-member jury announced three grand prizes and eight Honourable Mention Awards. The grand prize winners of the 13th Asian Art Biennale '08 are Anisuzzaman from Bangladesh for his woodcut print work "Complexity 59", Budoor Al Riami from Oman for her video art titled "The Peak of Burning" and Mazem Al Miestikawy from Egypt for his cardboard and paper work titled "Pattern".

Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Kazi Salahuddin Ahmed and Reza Asad Al Huda from Bangladesh, Mohammad Ali Atiq from Qatar, Jamil Baloch from Pakistan, Park Tae Hong from Korea, Thisath Thorandeina from Sri Lanka and Ankur Khare from India won honourable mention awards at the event.

Milenko Pvaski of Singapore was the Chairman of five-member jury committee. Adel Elsiwi of Egypt, Luo Jiang of China, Monirul Islam and Syed Manzurul Islam of Bangladesh were the other members of the jury.

Anisuzzaman, Bangladesh, Complexity 59, Woodcut print

The 13th Asian Art Biennale, however, has failed to attract many visitors. there seems to be plenty of criticism going around regarding the substandard arrangements of the event. This includes faulty judgement, over participation from the hosting nation, lack of required technical support, space constraints and incompetent leadership.

Internationally acclaimed artist Monirul Islam, one of the jury members at the biennale pointed a few flaws. "The organisers can't provide the required technical support to the artists. Osmani is not an ideal venue for an international standard biennale. Because of space constraint the way installations are presented at the biennale is weird. Sometimes the black curtains used to cover the installations look like tents of the magicians at circus", comments Monirul Islam. He also admits that not many standard of art works participated at the biennale.

Most of the art works participated at the exhibition are paintings, sculptures and installations. Bangladeshi artists' works are more experimental and innovative than the other participating foreign artists. Of the total 26 installations only three are from abroad. Innovation and quality seem to be missing this time around.

"I've not found many quality and innovative works at the biennale. Most of the art works are monotonous" observes renowned artist Dhali Al Mamoon, who is also a professor of Department of Fine Arts at Chittagong University.

K.M.A. Quayyum, Bangladesh, Red, Yellow, Blue-2, Acrylic.

"In span of time Asian Art Biennale is losing its popularity at home and abroad because of the involvement of incompetent people. At present the biennale is under the grip of a syndicate of a few artists and art critics who don't have much idea on the standard of international biennales", complains artist Nisar Hossain, who is also a professor of Painting and Drawing of Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University.

Criticising the selection and judgment of the biennale renowned artist Dhali Al Mamoon says, "The judges are not capable of evaluating the new art forms by the younger artists. If the jury members don't have proper knowledge on contemporary global art, they can't evaluate artists of these days."

Admitting flaws of judgment artist Monirul Islam says, "We did not get much time to judge about 500 art works in a short time since most of the foreign art works came Dhaka only two days before making judgement."

But, the Director of Department of Fine Arts of BSA Mizanur Rahman does not agree and claims that an organising committee headed by the Secretary of Ministry of Cultural Affairs including renowned artists and art critics appoint the committee members. "I believe the selectors and juries were competent", he says. He also claims the biennale a success.

"Artists like Dhali Al Mamoon, Nisar Hossain, Shishir Bhattacharya do not show any interest to be members of the selection committee and jury. Even the renowned artist don't show any interest to be jury members", complains co-ordinator of Asian Art Biennale artist Mahmudul Haque, who is also a professor of the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Budoor Al-Riyami, Oman, The Peak of Burning, Video Art

Artists and art critics have also raised eyebrows on the number of so many Bangladeshi participants at the biennale. Many artists who have experience of international biennales observed that the participation of so many artists from the host country decreases the standard of any biennale.

Artist Nisar Hossain says, "We don't see even 30 regular artists in Bangladesh, but, 194 Bangladeshi artists participated at the international biennale. The organisers don't have any idea between the standard of a national biennale and an international biennale. For an international biennale only the high quality artists should be included. The number of participants is not important but the quality of works is more important."

"Inclusion of average artists in the international biennale is damaging its image. Nowadays, quality foreign artists don't participate at the biennale. Basically the average artists who don't have any platform participate at the exhibition", Nisar adds. Co-ordinator of the biennale also admits that number of the Bangladeshi participants should not be more than 50.

Khandakar Nasir Ahammed
Composition-2, Wood.
Narul Amin, Bangladesh,
Abolished of Culture,
Md. Abdur Rahim,
Bangladesh, Get from
Nature-1, Bronze.

A professor of Department of Fine Arts, Chittagong University, artist Mansurul Karim suggests, "Selected Bangladeshi artists from the national biennale should be invited for the Asian Art Biennale. In that case the invited artists will get at least a year to prove their skill. Subsequently the standard will improve."

Nisar Hossain

Admitting the limitation co-ordinator of Asian Art Biennale artist Mahmudul Haque blames the leadership crisis of BSA. He says that skilled people concerned with a ecialised sector like art is required as the leader for arranging an international standard biennale. "The current director who is a civil bureaucrat has no idea of arranging such event."

"In fact, a permanent cell should monitor throughout the year under the leadership of a trained curator for better arrangement of the biennale. But in that case the budget has to be enhanced which is a very complicated problem in the sense that the government is not interested in paying more than 50 lakh taka for such arrangements", says Mahmudul Haque. Haque demands for a change in the arrangement procedure. "We don't get many quality artists since foreign artists are invited through government channels" he says. "Usually the government agencies don't send the best artists of their respective countries at the biennale in Dhaka. My observations says that many average foreign artists are participating at the biennale while the quality of Bangladeshi artists have improved a lot."

Mahmudul Haque

"Instead of inviting the foreign artists through government channels a curator should be appointed to contact the foreign artist. We should inform the foreign government agencies our requirements. Otherwise quality will not improve", he adds.

Usually the international biennales have their websites, which attracts the artists all over the world to participate. Even in the era of globalisation the organisers have not yet developed its own official website, accused the artists. The participants are also not satisfied with the quality of the catalogue. Grand Prizewinner Bangladeshi artist Anisuzzaman says, "The image of my works is not published in the catalogue. And none of the art works in the catalogue portray the original colour of the art works."

Dali Al Mamoon

Even the the two-day seminar titled "Experiments in New Media in Recent Years" was a total disappointment. It could neither satisfy artists nor the organisers. Former bureaucrat and art lover Hayat Safi presented the keynote paper at the seminar. Based on his paper delegates mainly from the South Asian countries took part in the discussions.

"The title of the seminar was really interesting, but the discussions and presentations were boring. The keynote paper basically focuses on installation as a new medium, though many artists in Bangladesh have been doing installations for a decade", commented Honourable Mention Award Winner Bangladeshi artist Yasmin Jahan Nupur.

Golam Faruque Bebul, Bangladesh, Remembrance-1, Oil.

"It can't be expected that one person will read a paper and everybody will listen to it for a longer period time. In fact, audio visual presentation makes the seminars interesting and easily understandable for the delegates", observed one of the foreign delegates who participated at the seminar.

"I went there for a while but, it was such a boring seminar that I left the place", says renowned artist Murtaja Baseer.

Like many artists Monirul Islam suggests changing the name of the biennale since countries out of Asia are participating at the Exhibition. "This could be Dhaka Art Biennale", he suggests.

In fact, a holistic approach is needed for the better arrangement of the Asian Art Biennale, which has the potential to increase the image of the country abroad. In this connection, the government should be more co-operative and give more support by providing the required infrastructural and financial facilities. Above all everything, the incomplete National Art Gallery should be completed immediately, which even the Chief Adviser promised at his inaugural speech of the biennale.


.Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008