Maksudul Karim, Rendering of Chhaya Tori (Shadow Boat), 2017 Image Credit: Supplied

In 2012, when Bangladeshi investors and prodigious collectors of art, Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani first held the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), little did they realize it would reach unexpected heights. Founded by the Samdani Art Foundation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and People’s Republic of Bangladesh, DAS is hosted every two years at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the country’s National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.

DAS is an international, non-commercial research and exhibition platform for art and architecture related to South Asia. Expanding on the success of past years’ iterations, the fourth edition of the summit will be held from February 2-10 - Opening Celebration Weekend (February 2-4) and Closing Scholars Weekend (February 8-10).

With a core focus on Bangladesh, DAS reviews different forms of art in both regional and international context. Explaining about its importance in his life, Rajeeb Samdani, founder and trustee of Samdani Art Foundation, said, “It is such a rewarding experience to be part of the artists’ journeys as their horizons expand after engaging and making valuable connections at the Summit. Since entry to this event is free and ticketless, it encourages and welcomes people from all backgrounds to gather the know-how to world-class art. It is all the more encouraging seeing participation of school children.”

His wife, Nadia, director of DAS, shared that the increasing number of international exhibitions being held, which included Bangladeshi artists, provided a feel-good factor. “Works of some artists, specifically commissioned by us, are showing at prestigious art galleries in several countries. This has truly been the aim of the Summit,” she informed.

Over 300 artists are being featured in 10 exhibitions led by chief curator Diana Campbell Betancourt. Detailing on how the 2018 edition would be different from the previous events, Betancourt highlighted, “DAS destabilizes an idea of an Indo-centric South Asia by looking east to Bengal’s historical and contemporary engagement with Southeast Asia. This is especially timely keeping in view the Rohingya refugee crisis. DAS has always been an educational initiative and we are waiting to see the response to free pop up art school introduced for the first time.”

Over 120 speakers will participate in 16 panel discussions and 2 symposiums deliberating on future developments of art within the region’s rich, yet lesser-known, past.

For each edition of DAS, Bangladeshi artists shortlisted for the Samdani Art Award exhibit their work. Organized in partnership with Delfina Foundation, the award has created an international platform for the chosen artists. Many of whom have later exhibited in South Korea, Austria, China and Switzerland. Previous award winners include: Khaled Hasan and Musarrat Reazi (2012), Ayesha Sultana (2014) and Rasel Chowdhury (2016).

Education Pavilion

Committed to nurturing the next generation of artists and architects, architectural students from across Bangladesh were invited to submit proposals for the design of its 2018 Education Pavilion. The winning individual or group will construct a pavilion to house DAS’s rich educational programming. Aiming to transform the summit into an art school, the first-ever Education Pavilion has been designed by Maksudul Karim, winner of the inaugural Samdani Architectural Award. Apart from the several avenues that opened for him on bagging the award, Karim admitted, “Working on the project made me learn about the variety of indigenous materials available in Bangladesh. This helped in changing my outlook towards many other naturally available items that I could put to use. While keeping the culture, traditions and heritage of my country in mind, I implemented those in the design process. It enabled me to draw attention to the rural culture and opened a gateway to utilize rural material in a tropical and modern manner.”

“The exposure I received will not only help me hone my skills, but will also come in handy to discover architecture from a deeper perspective. This practice is bound to inspire the coming generations and encourage them to use environment-friendly material,” the artist added.

At the time of the inaugural architectural award, students were invited to propose new models for learning in abandoned urban spaces across Bangladesh. They were required to use ecologically sustainable and locally sourced materials and technology. The winning design ‘Chhaya Tori’ by Karim encompassed traditional Shampan boat-building techniques, synonymous with fishing communities in southern Bangladesh. The design will be unveiled at the Shilpkala Academy.

In its capacity as a research platform, DAS collaborates with leading institutions of several countries. These include private foundations, independent public bodies and arts councils such as: the Sharjah Art Foundation, Alserkal Avenue, Phileas, Art Jameel, TBA21-Academy, In Between Art Film and Fiorucci Arts Trust. Continuing the momentum, the commissioned projects and exhibitions will travel to: The Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (Poland), the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane (Australia), Artspace, Sydney (Australia), Liverpool Biennial, (UK), Whitworth, Manchester (UK), TSI, Yangon (Myanmar) and Para Site (Hong Kong).

In one of its varied efforts, DAS has initiated a research fellowship programme to encourage international arts professional to travel to Bangladesh to develop exhibitions. Also, for the first time, it has sought to create new connections by exhibiting artists from countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Madagascar and the Philippines.

Nilima Pathak is a journalist based in New Delhi.