It is mid-April and Dhaka beckons the Bangla Nobo Borsho [New Year]. While the flaming red Krishnachura and regal purple Jarul trees painted the roadside in warm colours, art lovers of the city painted the longest alpona (a 350,000 square feet motif, representing the folk culture of Bangladesh) in the world on both sides of the Manik Mia Avenue.
One couple was going the extra mile. The young Samdanis, Rajeeb and Nadia, were busy overseeing the preparations for the Dhaka Art Summit opening, designed to showcase contemporary Bangladeshi art to the world. Well-known critics, historians, curators and painters from art capitals were flying in to participate in this much-anticipated event.
The Samdanis are no strangers to the global art scene. Accomplished collectors in their own right, their collection boasts rare works ranging from Bangladeshi masters Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan to emerging talents. Their “international” collection includes works by Rembrandt, Matisse, Picasso, Salvador Dali to Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor. A few of Rabindranath Tagore's unique artworks have also added a sense of prestige to their collection.
“Our collection also includes artworks of Indian progressive artists like S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Akbar Padamsee, Ravinder Reddy and others,” said Nadia.
The Summit was a result of collaboration between the Samdani Art Foundation (SAF), Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA) and Bangladesh National Museum (BNM), and sponsored by City Bank and American Express.
The Dhaka Art Summit, launched on April 12, showcased 249 pieces of artwork by prominent and promising artists of Bangladesh. “The final selection of works was made from a pool of 900 painters and featured mediums such as oil, acrylic, watercolour, prints (etching, acquaint, lino, litho, serigraph etc), installation, video art, videography, photography and sculpture,” said Rajeeb Samdani, founder-trustee of the Dhaka-based Samdani Art Foundation.
The displays were arranged on multiple locations to increase access to the art enthusiasts. The central exhibit at the National Art Gallery, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy spanned across three floors. The Bangladeshi Master Artists Exhibition, showcasing 71 artworks by 27 renowned artists -- including Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, Patua Quamrul Hasan and S.M. Sultan -- was held at the National Museum. Additionally, 19 exhibitions at several private galleries -- including Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts and Dhaka Art Centre -- also featured prominent works.
“The summit aims to be an eye opener and also a platform for interaction among art reviewers, artists, critics and thinkers,” said Nadia Samdani, trustee and CEO of Samdani Art Foundation.
“The art scene in the East is heating up, and we want to create an opportunity to promote Bangladeshi art locally and internationally through this summit,” added Rajeeb.
Six seminars were hosted as part of the summit to highlight the emergence of South Asian art and the potentials of Bangladeshi art. The seminars were conducted by representatives from internationally renowned art houses such as Christie's and Rossi & Rossi.
The well attended seminars included sessions by Kyla McDonald, Curator of Tate Modern Museum, London (“12 years of Tate Modern”); Yamini Mehta, Head of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art of Christie's (“The History of Collecting South Asian Contemporary Art”); Dr. Amin Jaffer, International Director of Asian Art at Christie's (“Corporate Involvement in Art”); Dr. Deepanjana Klein, Chief of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Department (“The Emergence of South Asian Art: Bangladesh and the Future”); Tayeba Begum Lipi, Bangladeshi artist (“Artists: Changing and Widening Ideas”) and Dr. Shahidul Alam, internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer (“Can Photography be Taught? The Limits and Possibilities of Photographic Education”).
SAF also presented two awards Samdani Artist Development Award (worth Taka 1million) and Samdani Young Talent Award (Taka 500,000) at the closing ceremony held at the National Museum.
An international jury comprising Kyla McDonald, Dr. Deepak Ananth, art historian and expert (France), Elaine W. Ng, editor and publisher of Art Asia Pacific, Indian artist Ravinder Reddy and Bangladeshi painter Shahabuddin Ahmed added an insightful perspective to the prestigious summit.
Shahabuddin Ahmed, chairman of SAF said, “Bangladesh is blessed with brilliant artists. However, none of the galleries in Bangladesh represent individual artists and also do not participate in international art events. Due to the lack of support, these artists were unable to get international exposure. The summit is a pioneering initiative to promote the art of Bangladesh globally.”
According to the internationally acclaimed, Bangladeshi artist, Monirul Islam, the summit opened up Bangladeshi art to the bigger overseas market.
“The exchange of news and views on art widened the concept of art,” said Mahbubur Rahman of Britto fame.
Internationally famed Indian artist Ravinder Reddy said, “I think that a number of Bangladeshi painters' works carry signs of internationalism. Installation and video art will however, not go a long way in our region due to plagiarism.”
According to Dr. Amin Jaffer, “The summit has drawn positive attention from other countries towards Bangladeshi art. The organisers have put in a big effort to hold the summit in the country.”
Among the art connoisseurs who gravitated to the exhibit in large numbers, there was a similar sense of optimism. The start of the Bangla New Year seemed to have heralded in a new age for Bangladeshi art.