It is an open space. As you walk forward across the balcony, the man who is smothered in grey paint comes alive.
He is moving around in a circle that he has painted on the floor. There are bags of raw meat next to him.
“They’re full of chicken livers,” a spectator tells me. The artist, Atish Saha, then goes on to open the bags of meat and tie the pieces to his limbs and hangs them around his neck.
From the other corner of the room, you can hear howls of a girl sitting on a toilet seat. She is dressed in black, with a colourful Rubik’s cube sitting next to her. A few feet away from her, there is a seated lady who is stitching buttons and beads onto the sari she has on.
The room is engulfed in dramatic intensity as spectators quietly walk about, observing the performers at the Samdani Seminars Open Performance at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
At the seminar, held yesterday, local artists presented their pieces developed in the Samdani Seminars workshop, which were conducted over the past two weeks by visiting international artists Nikhil Chopra, Tori Wranes and Gustav Gunvaldsen, Myriam Lefkowitz, Sandeep Mukherjee Gregory Castera, and Sandra Terdjiman. Slovenian performance artist Jana Prepeluh and Madhavi Gore collaborated with Nikhil Chopra for the workshop.
“The Dhaka Art Summit has always had a performance section, and a lot of artists are interested in performance, which is not taught as a medium in the arts schools here,” says Diana Campbell Betancourt, Artistic Director of Samdani Art Foundation, which organises the biannual summit. “So we thought of bringing international performers here and having an exchange. We decided to create this incubator.”
This exchange sparked magic in the corners of Shilpakala yesterday as performers took to different mediums and voices to send a message. Along with those mentioned above, there were others who used sound as a key medium in their performances.
Performer Ali Asgar lay on a white sheet with crayons and would draw on the sheet as response to any sound made by his audience. By late afternoon, he could be seen rolling across the sheet in a chaotic collage of different colours.
Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty, a participant, says the workshop has worked wonders for him.
“I’d never think of the trivial things before – now I am aware of my body parts and how they play a role in our everyday roles. This has been fantastic. I have recovered my own body,” he says.
“The workshop explored the possibilities of the body and the space that it occupies, attempting to break out of what we understand as the 'normal' workings of the body, its automatic responses, and coded behavioral patterns,” Diana says.
“These seminars consider the body as the primary tool of expression,” she adds.
For this workshop, 16 people were chosen out of an applicant pool of 60 artists. They work with renowned artists from around the world. However, not all of the 16 participants come from the background of visual arts.
Chisty, an MFA student of sculpture at Dhaka University, says this workshop has also greatly enhanced his knowledge of his own body.
“After this workshop, as performance artists we have established a controlling system over our body,” he says.
Leading Norwegian artist Tori Wranes who has performed at the Sydney Biennial and in New York, had conducted a workshop along with Gustav Gunvaldsen. Yesterday they gave a live performance which included all the participants as well as eight rickshaws and rickshaw pullers.
With such momentum and energy in the performances, participants are hopeful about the outcomes of this workshop. Chisty says: “The output will be a revolutionary step towards the performance arts scenery in Bangladesh.”