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Mainstreaming Bangladeshi Art

It takes a lot to recognize the beauty of art, and a lot of efforts to preserve it. Even harder is to create awareness of contemporary art produced in Bangladesh and to promote the artistic achievements of local talents to the art capitals of the world. To raise awareness of Bangladeshi contemporary art and bring under one platform the best of South Asian art, Dhaka Art Summit, or DAS bursts onto Dhaka art scene in 2012. Over the past four editions of DAS, Bangladesh has the privilege of witnessing some of the most exciting and cutting-edge contemporary art productions from South Asian region. To understand the fast-changing global art scene better and to know more about mega art projects that await the art lovers of Bangladesh, Arka Dev Biswas got in touch with the popular face of international art circuit Rajeeb Samdani and Nadia Samdani, the minds behind Dhaka Art Summit and the change-makers of Bangladesh art

Rajeeb Samdani & Nadia Samdani
Photographer: Kazi Mukul

The Journey so far

It’s been almost 10 years since the inaugural Dhaka Art Summit and after four editions with the fifth one up on the horizon in 2020, the journey has been a really positive one. The idea was to put Bangladesh on the global art scene and give a platform to all talented artists that are not able to display their talents to global art connoisseurs.

Rajeeb Samdani enjoys being with his prized collection

This regional event, according to Rajeeb, has provided the scope not only for contemporary and emerging artists but also to modernists who needed the space to display their works. Since 2012, the summit has created a large impact, in terms of where our roots lie, with a curating team of 32 members from all over the world to enhance the quality of art viewing, where they collect knowledge gathered and research further at their own institutes, keeping every edition unique.

Rajeeb Samdani, Nadia Samdani, artist Chitra Ganesh and Assistant Professor Atreyee Gupta of UC Berkrley in a Talk programme at University of California, Berkeley, 2018

The insufficiency of the art infrastructure in Bangladesh may have acted as a challenge – there is a lack of proper commercial galleries for contemporary art as well as art installers. However, the support and cooperation from Shilpakala Academy and the cultural ministry was crucial in bringing in necessary resources from across the world to give the true essence of art. This leads to the exchange of information, equipment and technology as well as training of the domestic team. Rajeeb sees an overwhelming response from the local audience who respects art and enjoy the aesthetics of art.

Being the largest public event, the art summit has attracted over 1200 foreign visitors and 317,000 visitors. To give everyone the opportunity to appreciate art, rooms had to be kept off and crowded out. The summit focuses on attracting all age groups and families, with four dedicated days for school kids to visit it. Its success stems from how the Bangladesh people appreciate culture and events, making them all crave for the next edition.

The event has been a highly publicized event, and the Dhaka Art Summit created the summit scene for a lot of other summits being created across countries, making Dhaka Art Summit the root of such setups.

Srihatta preoccupies most of Nadia’s time and imagination.
Photographer: Kazi Mukul

Srihatta: Land for Culture Centre and Sculpture Park

Both hailing from Sylhet, the Samdanis feel it would be a perfect place to create the center and the park, away from the bustling urban life, nestled in the greenery beauty that Sylhet has to offer. The cultural center is aimed at creating a new space that will act as an art center, artist residency, and sculpture parks that art enthusiasts can enjoy. The park will be something that will act as a destination for all to visit from across the world.

Rajeeb Samdani and Nadia Samdani talking about Bangladeshi Art Scene at The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University, 2019

The Samdanis see this cultural center as an attraction hub for both the creators and the enthusiasts who want to visit and embrace art in a more natural setup, where visitors will be able to absorb both the natural and aesthetic beauty that will be all around. Moreover, the synchronization of overlooking hill ranges and sculptural beauty will fulfill the wanderlust for all, having its own charm and catering through various cultural events around the year.

Nadia Samdani: The energy behind Dhaka Art Summit.
Photographer: Kazi Mukul

Providing International Opportunities to Asian Talents

The summit itself acts as both an exchange program and a workshop where foreign curators are training and grooming the local curators, laying the foundation for future curators that will yield over time. Mr. Rajeeb also observes that foreign teams working on the fifth edition are the foundations of where local artists meet foreign enthusiasts. “The summit itself works as an exchange program. All these arts become mobile and travel across different museums of the world. Since our art is well-traveled, it also has been booked until July 2020.” The effect that the summit would have is significant and the impact that it has on the Asian art and culture has been significant, where the art is traveling to Europe, Asia and both the Americas. Having Cornell and other schools coming in giving the platform which otherwise, would have been difficult. A bigger step by the Samdanis to promote artists and art comes in the form of awarding the best artist with the Samdani Art Award, giving the winner all an opportunity to stay at the Delfina Foundation in London, where they will be able to work and learn from international trainers.

Rajeeb Samdani and Nadia Samdani, co-founders of Samdani Art Foundation, being honored with ‘The Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award’ at a ceremony at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai in 2017.

The Ambitions of the Impending Edition

The fifth edition will feature different varieties of art collections that, organizers are confident, will mesmerize and amaze all the art enthusiasts. As every edition is unique in its presentation, concept, and collection, it gives its own form of charm where it would emphasize greenery, and how different art setups will be there. Ms. Nadia visualizes how the summit will showcase art that will have historic artifacts all under the theme ‘Seismic Movements’, featuring different historic art and display different cultural aspects of different places and having large monolithic structures that will be the awe of all those who go to visit. Like the previous editions, it would have all the works and research put into, but moreover, it is to present something vastly different and unique. With each edition, the renaissance and art galvanization continues, educating those who crave the intellect that would ultimately elevate the quality of art, curation, and culture that has been overlooked for a long time, due to lack of proper initiation, as well as lack of a clear vision. It’s a vision that is finally being realized through combined efforts of Ms. Nadia and Mr. Rajeeb Samdani, Samdani Art Foundation, and the Dhaka Art Summit.

Rajeeb Samdani, Nadia Samdani and host Christoph Noe in a talk programme at Larry’s List, 2018

THE POWER COUPLE OF GLOBAL SCENE

Mr. Rajeeb and Ms. Nadia Samdani have garnered numerous accolades and established influence as both art collectors and ambassadors of Asian art. Co-founding Samdani Art Foundation, they have made significant contributions to elevating Asian art on the global art scene. Ms. Nadia is a member of Tate’s South Asia Acquisitions Committee, Tate’s International Council, Art Dubai’s Advisory Council, and Alserkal Avenue’s Programming Committee, and is one of the founding members of The Harvard University Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s Arts Advisory Council along with Mr. Rajeeb Samdani. She has also been inducted into Chaîne des Rôtisseurs guild in 2019. Mr. Rajeeb Samdani and Ms. Nadia were the first and only South Asians to receive the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage award in 2017 and were recognized in the Top 200 Collectors list by Artnews in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Power 100 list in 2015, 2016 and 2017 by Art Review and The World’s Top 100 Art Collectors 2016 by ArtNetNews.

Nadia and Rajeeb are among the world’s most powerful, active, and influential art collectors list of top art magazines for some time now. Photographer: Kazi Mukul

Mr. Rajeeb and Ms. Nadia have also been noted by Forbes as two of the top 200 most influential art collectors in the world. With multiple features in Forbes, New York Times, The Business Times, as well as being named Art Review magazine’s 2019 Power 100 list of the most influential people in the contemporary art world. The accolades and recognition show how beloved they have grown to be for their love for art and culture.

Their collections – more than 2,000 artworks – range from works of contemporary artists in Asia and abroad, to traditional artists from Asia and across the world. The collections comprise pieces of history, affectionate gifts, and priceless artifacts, which are displayed across different museums including the ones in Germany, the UK, Poland, Malaysia, USA, and Singapore.

Sheer ambition and connection to various institutions, have significantly helped to elevate the art scene in Bangladesh, and create the space that Asian art in general deserved. Having Bangladeshi contemporary artists being assisted to champion Asian art in international museums to creating the behemoth known as Dhaka Art Summit, Ms. Nadia and Mr. Rajeeb have created something special in the form of art appreciation.

The role that the Samdanis have played in putting Bangladeshi and Asian art on the global art scene has seen a plethora of researchers coming to Asia to learn more about the art scene in Asia, and play their role in assisting the Samdanis to stamp what Asia has to give to the world.

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