Learnings from the Dhaka Art Meet

The Dhaka Art Summit, which was a six-year-old private Dhaka biennale, was largely organised and funded by the Samdanis.

The Dhaka Art Summit, which was a six-year-old private Dhaka biennale, was largely organised and funded by the Samdanis.
By Franck Barthelemy

DAS ? The Dhaka Art Summit, the six-year-old private Dhaka biennale largely organised and funded by the Samdanis, took place a few days ago in Bangladesh. I had the pleasure to visit it and discover a very interesting art scene in terms of artists, collectors and audiences. To my great surprise, the affair was very well and professionally organised. Though some artistic choices were questionable, the Summit's artistic director, Diana Campbell Bettancourt, did a fantastic job.
One could feel she was in charge. Diana could answer all sort of questions about the artists and their backgrounds. She had a personal connection with all of them. She was everywhere, hands-on, guiding groups of children though the exhibition, helping with the slides during talks or welcoming museums' directors and curators. I wish to highlight the efforts to cooperate with international institutions, particularly to grant the Samdani Art Award. There were no obscure jury members to choose the winner but four recognised professionals under the chairmanship of Aaron Cesar from the Delfina Foundation. This year, the winner is Rasel Chowdhury , selected amid 300 applicants.

The 28-year-old photographer represents a new generation of artists, keen to capture the changes happening in their young country . Railway Longings, a series of 200 + photographs, narrates the artist's journey along the 181 km railway track from Dhaka to Jamalpur, his hometown. Rasel uses analogue-film cameras. Over the years, he developed a low-contrast style that renders a sepia-like effect. His signature style brings in the nostalgia the artist wishes to include in his visual narration.

He tells subtly the story of the transformation of a society he had known in his childhood vs. what it is today. Through landscapes, buildings and rare portraits, his photographs capture the time passing of an old fashioned means of transportation, the train, mostly used today by people who cannot afford the fast bus services. There is something of Walker Evans in Rasel's practise. Museums would be wise to keep an eye on it ! Mariam Suhail, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Ayisha Abraham, all from Bengaluru, made it to the list of 300 artists exhibited in Dhaka: Mariam with her estranged art divers video (There were sightings, this will be a significant year), Prabhavathi with a 3-D arrangement of 16 cubes (dpsixteenpart one) and Ayisha with her short movie (I saw a god dance). The later was surely the best ambassador of our city !

(The author is an art collector and adviser , who has been living between France and India for over a decade. He travels extensively, hunts, expos es and supports hidden talent)
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