Is an ‘overcrowded’ Dhaka Art Summit an encouraging sign?
"Is this even art?" – a question that is very familiar to every exhibition-goer, encapsulates the experience of going to art exhibitions in general. From the 1960s to 2023, Bangladesh has seen an exponential growth in audience visit to art exhibitions. The 6th Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) stands as a testament to the growth of accessibility to art. One of the largest art exhibitions in South Asia, DAS began on February 3 and concludes today.
During these 8 days of celebration, the exhibition featured 160 artists, both local and foreign. Throngs of people flocked in, especially on holidays to take pictures, peruse and analyse art. Now the question is what draws such crowds to events like these?
Often hailed as the elite's Mela, art exhibitions were confined to a particular social class even till the late 2000s. Lately with the in-stream of social media, the status quo and celebration of diverse perspectives. During my last visit, I had the chance to run into a lungi clad individual, a rare sight yet a welcoming one- in crowds of sarees and patchwork denims. Giving the chance of being able to interpret without the interruption of being divided based on money or even outlooks- everyone wants to learn.
There is also this in-seam of people in the art niche, who do raise the question/statement- "They're only here to take pictures with the art". I pose it as an underlying question rather than a pressing one, which indicates towards an intellectual elitism harboured within. Putting a distinction on whether we are allowed to take pictures, or rather who is the defining trait of such elitism. Even professional photographers take pictures of the artworks that you gaze at in newspapers, why is it any different that seen in the Instagram feed of another? Why do we think there is a parameter which defines who enjoys art? A core theory of fine art is that it exists for enjoyment and consumption, no matter in whichever form it is transported in- in a feature writing or as someone's profile picture background.
Whether it is context, knowledge or simply to take part in the dispersion of intellectual property, more people are now visiting art exhibitions. Last weekday's visit to DAS showed exactly that, with the authority even having to almost prohibit taking pictures of artworks, so that everyone has the chance to gaze upon and immerse in the artworks displayed.
In essence, it is impossible to judge the merit of an event based on the crowd itself, however, if more people are inclined to check out what was previously considered an 'elite' pastime, it is a win for both art and the artists. This is where Dhaka Art Summit was successful where so many exhibitions of similar stature failed.