Contemporary art News Bangladesh

Dhaka Art Summit: don’t call it an art fair

Bangladesh’s three-day biennial event is a crucial platform for artists and galleries from the region, organisers say

Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, founders of the Samdani Art Foundation

The artistic director of the Dhaka Art Summit, which launches its second edition next year (7-9 February), says that the three-day event in Bangladesh is crucial as “very few artists from Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal, for example, get included in international exhibitions, unless they live abroad”.

Diana Campbell Betancourt adds that the citywide biennial event, which will feature works by 250 artists including 14 solo projects, offers artists “the chance to explore shared cultural histories which are challenging given current and historical political conflicts”.

The summit is primarily funded by the Samdani Art Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 2011 by the Bangladeshi couple Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani. Participants at the second edition include Sheena Wagstaff, the head of the department of Modern and contemporary art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who will be part of a panel discussion on international museums showing South Asian art; the New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective, who will transform 160 billboards across the city for a public art initiative; and the Indian artist Nikhil Chopra and the Burmese painter Htein Lin, who have both been commissioned to do performances.

In the solo projects section, ten artists, including Shilpa Gupta of India and the local artist Mahbubur Rahman, will create new works. The Lahore-born artist Rashid Rana, who plans to create an “installation, which displays photographs in a wallpaper format”, says: “There is no single centre of the art world nowadays. I’m proud to have been able to work on both sides of the India and Pakistan border for years, and am exceptionally pleased to now be working in Bangladesh.” After the summit, the works belong to the artists, not the foundation, stresses a spokeswoman.

More than 30 local and international galleries, some of them commercial, are also due to take part but Campbell Betancourt insists that the Dhaka Art Summit is not an art fair. She adds: “We have 33 galleries participating, 17 from outside of Bangladesh, because we want them… to share information and best practices as to how to support their artists; a system of representing artists does not currently exist in Bangladesh.” The presentation stands are free of charge and the Samdani Art Foundation does not receive any income from sales that might arise from the display, she adds.

The summit organisers hope that local audiences will sample the works on view. Campbell Betancourt underlines that there are no permanent venues in Bangladesh that show international contemporary works as the import tax on art ranges from 75% to 120%.

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