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Exploring art as activism

  • Published at 01:34 pm May 10th, 2018

DAWC holds art auction in Dhaka to support female artists

Ferdousi Priyabhashini passed away in Dhaka this year, after a lifetime of advocating for women through her art and activism. She showed valour not only by surviving months of sexual assault and violence during the nine-month-long Liberation War, but also by speaking out about her sufferings and creating awareness, in our country and beyond, about what many Bangladeshi women had experienced in 1971. 

Priyabhashini was the first woman to publicly embrace the title of “Birangana” and continued to work for women like herself to be recognized as freedom fighters, a status that she finally achieved in 2016. The renowned sculptor and freedom fighter was conferred a special honour during “Women in the Arts,” an event that was organised by the Dhaka American Women’s Club (DAWC) at the Edge Gallery, who paired up with Edge the Foundation and the Swiss Embassy in order to create a space for female artists, as well as art enthusiasts and women from various other fields.

With the aim to promote and support female artists in the country, art lovers and philanthropists gathered at the art auction and fund-raising reception that was held on Friday, April 27. All proceeds from the event will go to programs working for the education and development of young women artists in the country, as well as to children's art organizations in Bangladesh. 

Providing a way to socialize and become active in the greater Dhaka community

The Dhaka American Women’s Club is an organization of women, mainly from the US and Canada, living temporarily and permanently in Bangladesh. Founded in the 1970s, DAWC is committed to developing a strong sense of fellowship within the American community, as well as the larger Bangladeshi fraternity. One of their main objectives is to promote volunteerism by engaging in fund-raising and charity events, which over the years, has become an important foundation to the organization. 

Under the leadership of Taheerah Haq and her team, the DAWC has been working relentlessly this year to put together events while focusing on the direction that they will be heading in the next two years. DAWC raises funds by sponsoring social and charitable activities throughout the year, in order to provide scholarships and grants to organizations that are working for the development of women and children. At the heart of the success of the DAWC in raising funds has been the long term vision that the committee has been working on in order to better choose sustainable funding opportunities. The DAWC has, since its inception, organized events to raise money and find organizations to give to within Bangladesh. 

Donations have gone to organizations that needed support with infrastructure, access to resources like books in a library, food and blankets. The DAWC is now formulating a vision that will ensure that funds are allocated with concentration and emphasis on development, sustainability, enhancement of skills, access to nutrition and resources, academic and art scholarships to those marginalized in Bangladeshi communities as a result of patriarchy, stereotypes, taboos and caste or gender discrimination. 

With “It’s a SHE Thing,” the issues that women in Bangladesh face on a regular basis within the reality of each individual was showcased. With the “High Tea” event in February, DAWC's primary concern was to create awareness of the language movement among the international community. Through the event, more than 130 saris were collected and given to survivors of the sex work industry, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, who are now being reintegrated into the workforce. The children’s event in March ensured an excellent time for the kids, but also helped raise toys donated by the children for unprivileged children being taken care of by Basha – a social enterprise that works to support women at risk and survivors of trafficking, helping them to escape exploitation and rebuild their lives.

In fact, most of the events that they hosted and organized this past year brought with it awareness of a social phenomena that the DAWC was concentrating on. Each event also created the opportunity for young adults to volunteer and gain experience and access to meeting accomplished, talented and inspiring women of their time.

Celebrating the creative female voices of Bangladesh

For hundreds of years, art has been considered as one of the most significant forms of human expression. The mysterious aura of a woman has played an important role in the field of art – be it as the artist or the inspiration. However, the amount of recognition that women receive today as an artist or a muse, still remains in question.

“Women in the Arts” featured artwork from 22 leading female artists in Bangladesh, including architect Marina Tabassum, sculptor Ivy Zaman, designer Bibi Russell, and painters Rokeya Sultana, Maksuda Iqbal Nipa and Gulshan Hossain. Spanning a number of genres and artistic mediums, most of the artwork at this event displayed certain emotions – from pieces like “Worship to Earth” by Kanak Chanpa Chakma to “Samraggi” (The Empress) by Ferdousi Priyabhashini – each piece offered a unique perspective on social issues.

The event concentrated on creating awareness about the talented women of Bangladesh and the heights at which the local creative community has reached. The funds have been allocated to organizations like the Maria Cristina Foundation who support the education of children in the slums of Uttara. The keynote speakers at the event included US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Swiss Ambassador René Holenstein, DAWC President Taheerah Haq, Minaal Chowdhury from Edge the Foundation, and Priyabhashini's daughter, Fuleshwary Priyanandini.

Breaking the barriers

No matter how much society has progressed over the years, there is still quite a lot of discrimination against women in many professional sectors. Bangladesh is known to have the highest proportion of women in the work force within South-east Asia. Yet again, globally, women are less likely to be in leadership or management positions. With more initiatives specifically designed for women, they will not only get encouragement to participate, but to focus their voices and become leaders in actively shaping the future of their communities. 

When asked how DAWC came up with the concept of organizing a women-centric art exhibition, Taheerah Haq, the President of DAWC replied, “Our mission is to promote and support women and children, starting with our members and reaching out to include wide segments of the society. Art is traditionally a field dominated by men, and this is true globally. We wanted to organize an event that would give visibility to women's voices.” 

“We wanted to showcase and celebrate these talented women. It was very gratifying to see the gallery filled with the work of 22 top Bangladesh women artists. We also loved the virtuous circle of women in the arts supporting other women in the arts. That’s exactly the kind of community spirit DAWC wants to promote. Our goal for 2018-2019 is to support the growth of young artists through scholarship programs, exhibitions and collaborations,” added Taheerah. 

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