立場新聞 Stand News

Escape or Reimprisonment? The Dhaka Art Summit 2016

2016/10/3 — 14:32

(This article is the original edition from the author. 中文版原刊於台灣藝術家雜誌491期,全文可見於 http://blog.roodo.com/angelus_novus/archives/57784616.html

The third edition of the Dhaka Art Summit attracted 138,000 visitors, almost double the numbers of the previous edition. This year it opened to the public with free entry for a longer time. “People mountain people sea” is probably the best way to describe the exhibition experience. Bangladesh does not have a single contemporary art institution, the four-day long third edition of the Dhaka Art Summit seemed like it was taking place as a pop-up museum. However, if you came out from the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, you would feel it was more like a thing from outer space. Just took a tour of the city, there are people wrapped in blankets sleeping in the streets, beggar children, and, due to a colder than normal winter (thanks to the effects of climate change), street people were burning garbage to try keeping warm. The scenes on the streets formed a stark contrast to the interior space of the galleries. But even in the face of such ubiquitous poverty, contemporary art is still needed. The innate desire of the artist to create and to be seen remains inexhaustible, the Bangladeshi economy is taking its first, tentative steps, and apart from capitalists and a social elite, a middle class is beginning to emerge with great demand for culture and the arts.

Of course Bangladesh’s arts sector is not stagnant after the War of Independence. In 1981, with financial support from local government and now partial from the UN, Europe and Japan, it hosted the inaugural Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka, an event it continues to host to the present day. Although this large-scale arts event is little conservative in nature and is criticized by some for corrupt practices, its overall style tends to favor the modern art vocabulary of local arts academies, only encouraging artists with specific styles and shoring up the authority of certain individuals. However, under conditions of subsidized exchange, at least Bangladesh’s arts community has the opportunity to connect with the outside art world, to see some European and Japanese innovative and conceptual artworks. But it is still difficult to escape the confines of domestic power structures.

廣告

Audience with Sandeep Mukherjee's work.

Audience with Sandeep Mukherjee's work.

廣告

How + Why to Interpret the South Asian Art

Samdani Art Foundation uses the framework of “South Asia” to break this predicament. They define South Asia as comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, as well as Myanmar. The Mining Warm Data exhibition curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, either inadvertently or intentionally, included Afghanistan in South Asia, it seems like a hint of their next ambition. Termed “the world's largest non-commercial platform for South Asian art”, it desires to proclaim itself to the world as “South Asian art”.

The interesting thing is, at this arts event tasked with raising the profile of local South Asian and Bangladeshi artists, all of the forums were conducted in English and all presenters were required to give addresses in English. No Bengali interpreters provided, and when content discussed artistic analysis and cultural production, it seemed crammed full of academic language which based on European and American background. These discourses left one feeling there was a lack of solid local research, and an overlooking of the regional cultural and socio-economic context and the predicament of Bangladesh and neighboring countries. The forums seemed to more closely resemble a Western enclave parachuted in for the duration without regard to local feeling. Here the audiences were mostly comprised of western faces as well as Indian and Pakistani participants. Bangladeshi audience members were in a minority. At one forum, Art Initiatives Off the Centre, eight participants representing local arts organizations from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan were each given a mere eight minutes presentation time, with no extension allowed for discussion and hence no chance for any creative sparks to be ignited. This was quite a shame. In contrast, other forums featuring curators from overseas arts institutions gave their speakers time to talk at their leisure. Forums were designed to focus on Indian and Pakistani elites and western arts institutions, with English as their common tongue. Local arts practitioners were seemingly assigned to subordinate roles.

At the forum Art Initiatives Off the Centre.

At the forum Art Initiatives Off the Centre.

The Performance Pavilion: Low Cost, Long Performance

There has a high concentration of performance artists in South Asia. The complexities of politics, culture, religion and philosophy are all expressed physically. The Dhaka Art Summit hosted an interesting performance art workshop a year before the Summit, with a number of international performance artists leading South Asian artists in street performances, from whom five artists were selected to perform at the Summit. However, the performances did six to eight hours of performances each day (some works even longer), for days on end. Some performances are interesting, some are not so easy to understand, one is making her venue by themselves during the exhibition. They got material fee, but no other wage for their body laboring. Actually many Bangladeshi artists in this event only got the material fee or even no material fee; the Samdani Art Award, given to young Bangladeshi artists, did not offer funding for materials. Perhaps it has been considered as a convention in this art circle. For example, in the national event Asian Art Biennale, many local participated artists have never get any fee for material. Sometime it was believed to relate to the culture of corruption, but the situation happened in Dhaka Art Summit is different, it is much like to reduce the cost or to turn the artist fee into ‘brokerage fee’, for the cost of inviting the VIP guests from the West and other places.

In Bangladesh Art Spaces corner, Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts shows Adnan Chowdhury’s work.

In Bangladesh Art Spaces corner, Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts shows Adnan Chowdhury’s work.

South Asian Contemporary Art or Contemporary South Asian Art

However, the Soul Searching exhibition curated by Bangladeshi native curator and the Bangladeshi Art Space Presentations were both jammed into the highest floor, which is not a popular locale. Also the standard of exhibit selection for Soul Searching at times left one a little confused. A total of 52 local artists seemed like an attempt to boost the number of local participants (65% were claimed as Bangladeshi artists) and as a means to secure good relations with the Bangladesh government. Maybe it was actually an honest reflection of the state of Bangladeshi art – conceptually it seemed to favor conservative academism, but then art alone cannot compare with the importance of maintaining good relations with the powers that be.

So that probably for other reasons or silencing the local art war, the credible research and writing on local art history can only be undertaken by overseas arts institutions. This authorizes those overseas institutions using their views to interpret the Bangladeshi/ South Asian art and permits them to expand their spheres of authority to Bangladesh/South Asia. On the other hand, while in the face of the European debt and financial crisis, no one should miss the chance to get something from a growing pie to help their globalized financial crisis; in the same way, while the rise of global conservatism and fascism, profound trauma of the colonial experience and the extremely rich development of post-colonial narratives in South Asia have led to it being looked to for aspirations to some of the world’s problems.

Work of Shakuntala Kulkarni.

Work of Shakuntala Kulkarni.

Nevertheless it is still clear that it is less and less possible to ignore the desire of “South Asia” to be seen as a distinct entity. Whether for a globally powerful art museum or for smaller organizations such as from Taiwan, South Asia, a region where the oldest civilizations in the world. While the nations and territories of South Asia have historically been entangled in countless disputes and conflicts, with many wars of separation and battles for land and resources still unresolved. This means that interchanges and co-operation are problematic. Unlike ASEAN, which is in substance a real political and economic community now, the conflicts that exist between these states are very apparent. As a certain Indian art critic wondered aloud, how are we to ignore history and the complexities of the situation? In this alleged community of “South Asia”, who is the subject of the sentence? The answer is clear.

From exhibition organization, to inviting authoritative overseas guests, to hosting a VIP banquet, the Dhaka Art Summit made a big effort to make this event such a success. Nearly 700 international art activists participated in this event, including famous artists, celebrity curators, critics, arts media, researchers, scholars, even the auction houses sent their scouts to look for the next big thing. We all know it is truly difficult in Bangladesh, the expenditures must have been considerable. Apart from a governmental subsidy and private support (under 10%)[1] , all other funding comes from the Samdani Art Foundation and related enterprises. In comparison with the scenes of poverty outside the venue walls, we might easily feel morally ashamed or even lay blame. But then again maybe this is the fastest way: to let outsiders with resources see first-hand the social realities of Bangladesh, to appreciate the creative power of contemporary art, and to generate more investment and overseas exhibition opportunities.

This is only the first step in changing the current situation, but what is undeniable is that a compromise between ideological conflicts and cultural competition quietly becomes a price that must be paid when you have an organizing body that is blindly pursuing a neo-nationalist agenda. It seems like the artists tried to escape from local structures but also re-imprisonment with more freedom in a bigger system, like most of the artists in that centralize art world.

貴賓室。VIP room

貴賓室。VIP room

--

Remarks

[1] Samdani Art Foundation. Samdani Art Foundation Frequently Asked Questions [official website message]. Retrieved from http://samdani.com.bd/faq/ (retrieved date: 27 Feb 2016)

發表意見