The Dhaka Art Summit 2020 (DAS 2020), currently underway at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, boasts of exquisite exhibitions that truly highlight Bangladesh's art history and heritage. Organised by Sandani Art Foundation in association with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the special exhibition, Roots, is supported by Brihatta Art Foundation, with research assistance from artist educator Sumon Wahed.
The exhibition, curated by Dhaka based artist and educator Bishwajit Goswami, examines the transfer of knowledge by art educators who have been critical in the building of Bangladesh's art history. The interesting educative programme focuses on the role of Bangladeshi artists in building the institutions that support artistic production in the country. It notes that institutions such as Zainul Abedin's Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka as well as Rashid Choudhury's the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Chittagong and informal art education outside of the capital with SM Sultan's Shishu Swarga, Narail and Charupith, Jashore, play a key role in the realm of art.
Roots explores the contribution by 61 art educators who have been critical in building Bangladesh's art history. Zainul Abedin, Safiuddin Ahmed, Quamrul Hassan and SM Sultan were pioneer artists and educators, who established the foundation and next generations of the 50's and 60's, moving art from East Pakistan into a newly Independent Bangladesh. After independence, artists from the 70's and 80's focused more on the relocation of their identities in the global context through their own practices. Building on the foundations built by these four figures, the artists in this exhibition were crucial in creating the contemporary art ecology of Bangladesh today. Their art and thoughts go beyond the context of the art world, and have a stake in the wider Bangladeshi society.
Bishwajit Goswami, an Assistant Professor of the Department of Drawing and Painting, University of Dhaka, and founder and one of the trustees of Brihatta Art Foundation, elaborated on his historically significant and ambitious exhibition in a recent conversation with us.
"Roots connects everything like the bodies, branches and leaves of a tree, which gives us shadow, shelter and oxygen. Here the title, 'Roots' signifies the generations. The branches denote the collectiveness, while the leaves signify the individuality in the realm of Bangladeshi art," explains the curator. "We aim to make new generations aware of our roots so that they can take pride in it. This is significant for creating social harmony."
Along with modern and contemporary art Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin equally emphasised on our folk art heritage and crafts, noted Bishwajit. "What Abedin sir established for our art education and movements was amazing and his noble deeds always inspire us to do the best for the country," he says. "I have tried to emphasise on how the master painters formed their individual art languages, along with creating platforms to make people aware in a rather uncongenial ambience in the then East Pakistan."
Bangladeshi art educators have a great role in shaping our art into a solid identity. From the Language Movement, the Liberation War to the present-day movements, artists played the role of activists. During the War of Liberation, artists of Chittagong were not only depicting paintings, they were rather bringing about revolution in the region. "They thought how their paintings can contribute to the war. On 14 March, 1971, the folio by Rashid Choudhury, Devdas Chakraborty, Shah Mohammad Ansar Ali and Syed Abdullah Khalid created an important document," adds Bishwajit. "After Bangabandhu, they visually documented powerful words like 'Shadhinata', 'Joy Bangla' and 'Purba Bangla Shadhin Koro' in the folio. This was a challenging but gallant step to visually write the document and spread the folio among the people."
While Abedin, Choudhury and other pioneers were busy with academic practices, SM Sultan, with his unmatched and pro-people philosophy, created an alternative art movement in this part of the world. Sultan went to the roots and mingled his artistic soul with the soil. He established Shishu Swarga, made Bajra for the artists to have river cruises and broaden their perspectives, the same way that Abedin established Shishu Niketan. Bishwajit has tried to present the exhibition in a neutral way with a bird's eye view.
A famous and relevant quote by Abedin, alongside Quamrul Hassan and Shirshir Bhattacharjee's powerful artworks, among other things, are on exhibit at Roots. The exhibition truly reflects Bangladesh's art, for which the curator is thankful to eminent art collectors and organisations like Nilu Rowshan Murshed, Goutam Chakraborty, Enayetullah Khan, Bengal Foundation and the permanent art museum of the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka.