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Dhaka Tribune

Can Art Make Peace?

Rohingya art makes its debut at DAS 2023

Update : 09 Feb 2023, 04:01 PM

Rohingya art makes its debut at Dhaka Art Summit 2023, with Rohingya work appearing in the exhibitions Very Small Feelings, To Enter the Sky and Purposeful Goods. With the attention to the ongoing crisis in Cox's Bazar fading yearly as new disasters complete for funding, the DAS curators wanted to humanize and bring awareness and visibility to Rohingya stories and art.

Multiple works appear, including a large-scale mural by arts organization Rohingya Artolution; architectural elements, photographs, and scale miniatures from architect Rizvi Hassan, who (with his collaborators) received the Aga Khan Award for architectural excellence for his Rohingya work; intricate embroidered tapestries from IOM's Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) including a new triptych inspired from a Rohingya folk tale, commissioned for DAS 2023; and the collection ‘Rohingya Folktales' by Rohingya folklorist Mohammed Rezuwan, available for purchase at the Cosmos book stall on the third floor. Collectively, these words tell the story of the Rohingya people, including their aspirations – as in the RCMC tapestry ‘Future Life' on the second floor, depicting the life they hope for when, one day, they return to their homeland in Myanmar. The exhibitions were made possible with generous support from the EMK Centre and US Embassy.

Artifacts from 'Living in Impermanence' Rizvi Hassan

At the last Dhaka Art Summit in 2020, I brought the RCMC project team to Dhaka for a tour of DAS by chief curator Diana Campbell. That immersive experience, emphasizing participatory art, helped imbue a sense of what a Rohingya community museum could be. As we sketched out our ideas for the centre we would co-create with our Rohingya volunteers — with Rizvi as our project architect — we were inspired by the inclusiveness, exuberance, sheer joy and delight of DAS. The seeds of the DAS 2023 x Rohingya collaboration were planted then, and the audience response to this year's works has been amazing.

A message of the Dhaka Art Summit is that art is for everybody. It is the best expression of our shared humanity, connecting us across borders, religions, races, genders, and diverse experiences. In many ways, art can be a 'secret weapon' for forging peace. We hope visitors to the Rohingya works at DAS 2023 will come away with deeper understanding, respect, and empathy for the Rohingya people, and with newfound tenderness for Rohingya hopes and dreams.

Shahirah Majumdar is an aid worker, writer, and researcher. She is the former manager of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre in Cox's Bazar.

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