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     Volume 7 Issue 22 | May 30, 2008 |

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An EmergingArt Market

Art in Bangladesh has flourished remarkably over the decades
although the market for Bangladeshi art is nowhere near those
in neighbouring countries. There are signs, however, that
the market for art is ready to take off.

Fayza Haq
Rafiqun Nabi

There are many more qualified and working artists today than there were three decades back. Many of our artists have had exposure overseas. Artists such as Monirul Islam, Shahabuddin, Shahid Kabir, Wakilur Rahman and R.A. Kajol have settled overseas, winning repute for Bangladesh. More galleries have come up to house the different works of art. If one visits Saju's, Bengal, or Chitrak on average days, one sees potential buyers along with the run-of-the-mill art enthusiasts. More of the local artists are sending their works abroad and foreign artists are coming to show their paintings and sculptures in Dhaka, in exhibitions such as the biennales.

Selling paintings is still a tricky job for many. Noted artist Rafiqun Nabi, speaking about paintings as a commercial commodity says, "Some painters find it easy to sell their work while others don't. It depends on the choice of the buyers. Some artists are apparently in the good books of the buyers. There are some artists who are not so good but they manage to find patrons easily. However, the younger generation, along with some senior painters fail to have frequent exhibitions and don't sell much. In this respect, the well-known artists usually manage to sell easily."

Rafiqun Nabi says that compared to what the situation was 30 years back there are many more collectors; people have more money and more desire for collecting paintings. Today, says Nabi, art works are regarded as assets, as in Europe.

"I myself have not faced too many difficulties, although I've not had much financial gains after paying the gallery. The mental and physical energy, the toil and expense are never all repaid," Nabi comments.

Gautam Chakrabarty, a well-known artist who has been running his own gallery, Kaya, says, "In the last four years there's been a steady market for art pieces. Earlier there were a few people collecting art items in a scattered manner, in their own individual way. At present many people are collecting paintings in a dedicated manner and they have reasons behind this."

Gautam remarks that today's buyers look upon their purchase as an investment, which is a good sign in the art market. Of course, says Gautam, this is nothing compared to the art market in China, India, Latin America, and other emerging nations. Recently, in Kolkata, he says, at an auction, one of M.F. Hussain's paintings, three and a half feet by five feet, was sold for Rs 4 crores. There are many elements related to the rise and fall of demand in the market, such as our economic strength and our orientation, he says.

Kanak Champa Chakma

"Around the year there is considerable activity in the existing galleries,” says Gautam. “Organising exhibitions in Dhaka today doesn't mean just putting up shows: they have intelligent thoughts behind the shows. Now three to four newspapers allot definite pages to art appreciation on a weekly and daily basis. The printed and electronic media make considerable contribution to promoting of visual art through coverage of openings etc. This shows that we are in the process of creating a promising art market," says Gautam.

What we lack are publications, says the artist. There should be numbers of books on artists and movements in Bangladesh such as the ones in the 60s, 70s and 80s. There could have been a book on women artists or the young emerging experimental artists etc., adds Gautam. "Recently there was a book on Mohammed Kibria," he says, "As far as I know there has been just one more book on him published by the Shilpakala Academy. Similarly, there could have been books on so many of the leading artists. Art should be analysed from different angles. This will create awareness overseas about Bangladeshi art."

We should be professional about our dealing with art: This includes the artists, art dealers and other people related to them. We should all benefit from the art market through mutual trust, he says.

The buyers, according to Gautam, are usually businessmen such as bankers and industrialists, as they have the purchasing power. “I believe that our local art enthusiasts are local patrons and not expatriates. In my recent visit to Kolkata, I learnt that a patron asked Hussain to paint 100 paintings each of which cost Rs. one crore. Many people in the art market would gain from this stake."

Nazia Andaleeb Preema

Kanak Chanpa Chakma, recounting her own experience in the art market says, "In a small country like ours there is a limitation of galleries and buyers. If people say that my paintings sell even before I hang them in the galleries, I've earned the reputation over years of hard work. I admit that sometimes buyers simply give the subjects and I come up with the necessary canvas or they see half done paintings on the easel and book them up. However, the life of the average Bangladeshi artist is not an easy one."

Kanak and her husband Mithu, inspired by what they had seen in the US and Europe, ran Gallery Tone for some years. However, they had to give it up as their own paintings suffered, and Kanak needed time for her growing family.

Nazia Andaleeb Preema, an established artist who has a gallery of her own, says, "The galleries are controlling the art market. There are not enough of them to serve as outlets for the many artists who qualify every year. To accommodate the art products there are six main outlets: Bengal, Drik, Alliance Francaise, Shilpangan,Chitrak and Art and Soul. The galleries go for those artists who sell well. New works are not being promoted. We see the works of the same established artists again and again. New artists don't know where to display their work."

Her own gallery, 'Preema's Atelier' is a non-profit one, where her friends and acquaintances can exhibit. She'll soon be launching "www.Bangladeshart.net" which will help buyers get to know the artists and contact them directly through the website. Today the number of local buyers has gone up as they have more money in their hands as in the case of young executives. However, it is the galleries that are controlling the sale, says Andaleeb. People go for what the gallery recommends. Well-known artists sell with ease while good artists, without much exposure find it difficult even to get by and go in for commercial art side-by-side with their freelance paintings, she adds.

Gautam Chakrabarty

"People like Murtaja Baseer, Rokeya Sultana, Kanak Chanpa Chakma and Ranjit Das sell well. Some promising artists manage to find buyers too. It is the mid level artists like us who are finding it difficult. Today it is the signature that carries weight. For me, as a gallery owner, business is not difficult. I feel that if half of the paintings of an exhibition are sold, that is good enough. When the economy of the country improves, so does the art market. At the same time, sometimes certain paintings such as oil paintings cannot withstand all weathers and as a consequence foreigners are sometimes hesitant to buy them, "says Andaleeb.

Wajmun Nahar Runty, who is the curator of a new art gallery Shamatat, says that her gallery hopes to promote young artists. Buyers, she says from her experience, usually seek out prominent artists rather than go for any intrinsic quality. Those with limited incomes go for new artists whose works they can afford, says Runty. "I believe that if an artist is really talented and works hard, he can get by with free-lancing," she adds.



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