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Seismic Movements

  • Published at 03:15 pm February 10th, 2020
Photo: Armand Khoury

Built around the theme of ‘Seismic Movements,’ DAS 2020 categorized works of art and other events to encapsulate different kinds of movements.

Geological movements

In the heart of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, visitors will stand on an immersive installation by Adrián Villar Rojas made of 400-million-year-old ammonite and orthoceras fossils. These now extinct species of undersea creatures thrived for 300 million years, swimming across the super-ocean Panthalassa from the safety of their shells and witnessing the creation and breakup of the single continent Pangaea. Their geological presence in the Himalayas speaks to a time when these melting peaks were once under water, as much of Bangladesh is expected to be in 50 years. This work serves as a metaphor to think of our past, present, and future on this planet outside of human-bound time, and to consider common ground on which to come together. 

Collective movements 

The art scene of Bangladesh thrives on the energy and infrastructure built by artist-led initiatives who have developed networks and spaces to support their practice in the absence of centrally funded institutions and a local market for contemporary art. The Samdani Art Foundation supports many of these dynamic organisations through its Samdani Artist Led Initiatives Forum and grant program. 

Working collaboratively with Kathryn Weir (Cosmopolis, Centre Pompidou Paris), Artspace (Sydney), Gudskul (Jakarta), a public learning space established by ruangrupa, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara (Jakarta), Para Site (Hong Kong), RAW Material Company (Dakar), and Alserkal (Dubai) the Samdani Art Foundation expands this platform at DAS 2020. The resulting platform is a confluence of exhibition programming and workshops between and across the collectives and the public on how to build and sustain grassroots institutions.

Collective Movements are a key theme of DAS 2020 which transforms the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy into a “learning space established to practice an expanded understanding of collective values, such as equality, sharing, solidarity, friendship and togetherness.” 

‘The Collective Body’ is an exhibition within ‘Seismic Movements’ co-curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt and Kathryn Weir which crystallizes concerns pertinent to collaborative practice in Bangladesh, drawing parallels and creating unprecedented exchange with other collective movements emerging across Asia, Africa, Central and South America, and Oceania. Some of these concerns include the transmission of knowledge of long-standing aesthetic forms from rural to urban contexts, the environment, and historical movements around agricultural labour. 

From puppet shows to concerts to debate, installation and performance, 30+ collectives and initiatives will collaborate around issues ranging from land rights and resource extraction, to strategies of visibility and contestation, to analyses of the intersection of gender, caste and ethnicity.

‘Nobody Told Me There’d be Days Like These’ is a historical exhibition within ‘Seismic Movements’ curated by Bangladeshi writer Mustafa Zaman exploring the vibrant work of art, architecture, film, literature, and theatre collectives active in Bangladesh around the 1980s years of martial law. 

Photo: Paweł Czerwiński

Colonial movements 

Colonialism has reached its tentacles deep into the furthest reaches of the world through the seeds of commodities. Visitors will enter DAS 2020 through a newly commissioned performative installation by Kamruzzaman Shadhin in collaboration with the artist-led initiative Gidree Bawlee; the work considers the role of the British-era railways in changing Bengal’s lands from growing food (rice) to producing cash-crops (jute) through migration stories found in traditional folk songs from Bangladesh. 

Thao Nguyen Phan explores a similar history in Vietnam in her three-channel film ‘Mute Grain’ (2018), which led to a little known 1945 famine that killed nearly two million people, consulting texts about Bengal famine of 1943 in its creation. DAS 2020 will contextualize this work within modern and contemporary Bangladeshi artworks that evoke the pangs of hunger that haunt the history of lands that were deliberately kept from nourishing those who worked on them in order to feed a global machine of capitalism. 

While taking a different form today, colonialism and empire are not left in the past. Sawangwongse Yawnghwe’s new painting places visitors within the entangled political web of control and addiction created through the production and trade of opium from Ancient Egypt to today’s opioid crisis (i.e. pharmaceutical empire). Nilima Sheikh is creating one of her largest murals to date for DAS 2020, chronicling women’s ongoing struggles in Kashmir, the epicentre of the destruction left in the wake of the British Partition of India and rising Indian nationalism. 

The video and photographs of Liu Chuang and Samsul Alam Helal look at displacement of indigenous peoples and cultures left in the wake of harvesting massive amounts of energy from the building of hydroelectric dams, connecting historical narratives across China and South and Southeast Asia via the mountainous region known as Zomia. 

Otobong Nkanga extends her ongoing project ‘Landversation’ (2014 onwards) to Bangladesh after iterations in Brazil, Lebanon, and China. This project will be developed through a month-long residency in Dhaka and sets out to explore and compare the complex relationship between the human subject and land, dealing with the contradictory ways in which we inhabit the earth and are dependent on it and the dichotomy of how those two ways of dealing with it two connect. 

Clarissa Tossin explores the 21st Century desire for space travel in the wake of unprecedented environmental destruction in the Amazon, weaving together satellite images of deforestation in Brazil with Amazon.com boxes. 

Independence movements 

Artists played a major role in spreading the will for independence in what is now Bangladesh, from the Swadeshi movement from 1905, to the language movement of 1952, to the country’s ultimate independence in 1971, to the important activist work that they do today. Works evoking this energy by artists such as Murtaja Baseer, Quamrul Hassan, Rashid Talukder, and Zainul Abedin will be present across DAS 2020, grounding the exhibition in Bangladesh’s history of protest and the artistic movements that were part of its struggle for freedom. 

Bangladesh’s history is parallel to similar histories of independence movements in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Maryam Jafri’s ‘Independence Day 1934-1975’, an ongoing work started in 2009, features over 60 archival photos culled from more than 30 archives of the first Independence Day ceremonies of various Asian, Middle Eastern, and African nations, homing in on the 24-hour twilight period as these places transform from territories to nation-states. 

In her ongoing project, ‘Flowers for Africa’, Kapwani Kiwanga researches archival imagery relating to African independence, before consulting with florists to re-create flower arrangements found therein. Initially fresh, the flowers run the course of their transient cycle and wilt and dry. In Kiwanga’s own words: “Just as the enthusiasm present during the period of independence has faded, pan-African dreams have been eclipsed by the everyday difficulties of the average African citizens.” 

Social movements and feminist futures 

Independence and freedom are two different things. Just because a new nation-state is created does not mean that the state recognizes everyone within its borders as a citizen with rights to protect: disenfranchised people continue to fight for a space to exist. Chitra Ganesh expands upon her exploration of gender and power in a futurist imaginary that takes the 1905 utopian, sci-fi, feminist novella ‘Sultana’s Dream’ by Bengali author and social reformer Begum Rokeya as a point of departure to consider a world where men stay home, and women innovate new ways of being by harnessing the power of the sun. 

Ellen Gallagher imagines a parallel universe underwater in her ‘Watery Ecstatic’ series, inspired by the legend of Drexciya (developed by the electronic music duo of the same name), which imagines a birth through death, where children of the pregnant slave women thrown overboard are born with gills and don’t have to come up to the oppressive world above for air. 

In an ongoing collaboration with Artspace Sydney, Taloi Havini collaborates with her community in Bougainville, transforming traditional weaving techniques to create a monumental meeting place at the centre of DAS 2020. This new commission is a space to consider personal and political narratives around themes of place, protection and resilience at a time when communities across the globe find themselves at the tipping point of environmental and social change. Nearly every society across time has imagery of women carrying pots of water on their heads. In his performative installation ‘Movimientos Emisores de Existencia’, Héctor Zamora explores what a life emancipated from this burden might look like as women smash the pots that weigh them down with patriarchal burdens. 

Photo: Susanne Schwarz

Spatial movements 

‘On Muzharul Islam: Surfacing Intention’ is a group exhibition of primarily commissioned works by 17 artists/collaboratives responding to the built and unbuilt legacy of the ground-breaking Bangladeshi architect Muzharul Islam (1923-2012). 

Co-curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt with Sean Anderson, Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art and Nurur Khan (Director, Muzharul Islam Archive), the exhibition observes the interplay and occasional confrontation inherent among architectural spaces within an emergent nation-state. 

Active in politics because of his own conviction that “it was the most architectural thing he could do,” Muzharul Islam humbly and uncompromisingly forged an architectural movement in what was East Pakistan as part of a broader claim toward decolonial consciousness in the 1950s leading to the country’s independence in 1971. His buildings and ideas influenced multiple generations of Bangladeshi architects working today and subsequently international figures such as Louis I Kahn, Richard Neutra, and Stanley Tigerman, each of whom contributed to ideas around modernist architecture in South Asia. 

Working across photography, painting, sculpture, performance, sound, and film, the artists in the exhibition present work that at once negotiates and builds worlds that are borne from the local environmental and cultural climate of Bangladesh. For Muzharul Islam, and the artists presenting, architecture and art are conceived as benefiting all who make up the lands of any nation, no matter their origin, without the boundaries of class or caste. 

Modern movements 

With support from the Getty Foundation’s ‘Connecting Art Histories’ initiative, The Dhaka Art Summit has launched Connecting Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia (MAHASSA) in collaboration with the Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) at Cornell University, and the Asia Art Archive. 

MAHASSA is a project shaped by shared institutional and intellectual developments that are closely related based on the fact that Africa, South and Southeast Asia are marked by similar experiences during the twentieth century. These include the rise of modern art practices associated with the withdrawal of colonialism and the consolidation of nationalism; the founding of institutions such as the art school and the museum; and increasing exchange with international metropolitan centres via travel and the movement of ideas through publications and exhibitions. 

Viewing this in terms of statist and national art histories obscures their analysis in a comparative framework. MAHASSA emphasises a connected and contextualized approach to better understand both common developments as well as divergent trajectories. Under the leadership of Dr Iftikhar Dadi, art historical panel discussions and symposia will take a thematic approach to draw comparisons across the rich modern art histories of these regions across the nine days of DAS 2020 with established and 21 emerging scholars in the field.

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