Cover Story

Portrait of an Art Collector

The art collection scene has a lot of new members entering and doing their part to protect and promote Asian art. Syed Durjoy Rahman has seen how the art industry has been evolving for over two decades. Colors’ Ziaul Karim sits down with him at his residence to understand how the landscape of art is growing.

Syed Durjoy Rahman on the cover of Colors August 2020 issue. Photographer: Kazi Mukul.

Artists and collections

Art is something that reflects life. And art is a reflection of the artist’s journey of where they stand at the particular point in their times and lives. For an art collector, it isn’t always the case to follow an artist, as Syed Durjoy Rahman says: ‘Following an artist isn’t imperative all the time. It is crucial when you are significantly engrossed in their works, to the degree that their works affect the entire collection one has set up.’ Often identified by acronym SDR, Rahman has been an avid fan of Rafiqun Nabi, who introduced the character Tokai through the cartoon that impressed a whole generation. SDR has been collecting Rafiqun Nabi’s works as he sees them reflecting Bangladesh at its most earnest. Nabi’s wood carving and impressions reflect what Bangladesh and Bangladeshi art represent.

SDR’s collection not only comprises of Bangladeshi artists’ works that are impactful but also those of emerging artists and artists from across the globe. The collection consists of some of the most influential arts from the likes of Jamil Naqsh, Ramkinkar Baij, MF Husain, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Nandalal Bose, and others. ‘These pieces are not only a part of art culture in the makers’ respective countries, but these also represent the Subcontinental culture.’ The works of Jamini Roy, Akbar Padamsee, and others all collectively represent and reflect the Greater Bengal Art Culture. Cultural pieces that have attained treasure like status for their impact on the world of art, form part of SDR’s collection. SDR’s collection also includes work of Lucian Freud and Charles Pachter which are some of the most influential works collected over the years.

SDR’s collection goes beyond merely traditional art. The collection also includes modern art, sketches, paintings, impressions, cultural pieces, sculptures, and more. Art is something that has to blend with the vision of the collection at hand. SDR’s collection incorporates aspects of art that are distinct, yet seamlessly fit together.

White backdrops that have traditional bright art hang alongside the comfort of modern chic furniture. Statues, carvings, and relics are placed elegantly next to modernist art, creating a silhouette of history, culture, and how art can bring the past and the present together. Even the furniture has various artists contributing to its creation. SDR has had exclusive furniture made from artists, as furniture also reflects the vision and artistry of a creator. SDR has acquired various international furniture pieces and modified them to be unique works of art.

The home of SDR also reflects the imaginations and visions of an art lover. The interior of the Residence was done by Serbian born and Toronto-based designer Sanja Kajic who was brought to Dhaka in consultation with Roche Bobois, Toronto Store of the famous French Brand. His mid-century modern furniture collection hails from Knoll, Vitra, and Herman Miller, as well as iconic mid-century modern furniture by designers Warren Platner, Charles and Ray Eames, Noguchi, Panton, and George Nelson. The formal living room is decorated with the Iconic shell chair from Carl Hansen by designer Hans J. Wegner. Even the entrance of his home resonates with the imagination of a dedicated art lover.

Durjoy Rahman has the largest collection of Bangladeshi master artist Rafiqun Nabi. The large painting on the wall behind him is a Nabi titled ‘Fisherman at rest’.

Promoting Art from Asia

The transition from collector to promoter is something that SDR has undergone naturally. Having two decades of experience in the art world, he felt the desire to give back to the community. ‘Being involved with art made me realize that I should be able to give back to the community… by doing something that brings artists from all folds of life to the global platform.’ Bringing local artists to the international scene became a part of SDR’s vision and this is how Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) initiated the residency program called Majhi. Majhi is a 10-year project with the vision to introduce art creators to the world. Local artists from the region, where the event is held, are given the stage to exhibit their works.

Introducing South Asian art to the West is an important goal for DBF. The Foundation has played a significant role in having many art pieces displayed in different museums of the world. They include aspiring artists, established artists, and artists who have gone under the radar from across the world. DBF has been initiating projects, giving platforms to artists, and collaborating to bring scholars, masters, aspirants, and enthusiasts under the same roof in order to make positive changes in the art scene and enrich the culture. DBF also plans to create its own publishing arm to enhance the knowledge and quality of understanding art for its intrinsic value. Promoting and creating art critiques, curators, new emerging artists through the residency program all link back to SDR and DBF giving back to the art scene.

The Venetian Connection

Venice Italy has played a significant part in developing both DBF’s contribution as art lovers as well as giving platforms for artists who were previously under the radar. The Majhi Project’s aim was to inspire collaboration between Asian artists, local artists, and curators with the world. The diverse pool of artists came together to create art that went beyond merely presenting art. The artists made their unique works through the use of different artistic media, installation, photography, painting, and drawing. They used a variety of veneers and aspects from different traditions, cultures, societies to create an outstanding art symposium that included everyone.

Durjoy Rahman’s passion for art collection turns into artist initiatives from organizing artists camps to collaborative exhibitions at major art capitals of the world. Photographs by Kazi Mukul .

Bringing Enthusiasts, Artists for the Love

Art is something that connects people. As a collector, SDR says that collectors should not be influencing artists and makers so that their art is bought, but rather to make for the love of it. ‘Every piece that is made is a form of art. Even the simplest furniture and interior is something that artists make in the vision of the beholder.’ Developing art criticism or criticism on any creative work is important, as beauty cannot be merely in the hand of the beholder, but has to be seen from angles that many may ignore. ‘Can art make life interesting?’ – a question that the Venice Biennale had presented is a statement that SDR wants the art world to consider as well, and enjoy the intrinsic value of art connecting to life in a way that makes it worth living.

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