Growing up, Tanzim Wahab never planned on becoming a photographer, let alone a curator. But one thing he always knew was that he wanted to work in a highly creative and motivating environment- something that is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.
And he is one of the lucky few to live his dream as one of the finest and amongst the first few curators of our country.
As a curator, he continues to work on the institutionalisation of new media art with a focus on South-Asia. Currently working as the Chief Curator of the Visual Arts Programme of the Bengal Foundation, he was the Vice Principal of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute from 2013 to 2015.
What sets him apart from many other contemporary photographers is his attempt to learn, evolve and grow by experimenting with different media of arts. Starting his creative journey as a documentary photographer, Wahab does not believe in confining himself to a certain job.
“I have become a photographer by accident,” he says.
Wahab's love for photography goes beyond his camera. Jointly with his co-editor Munem Wasif, he published a number of editions of Kamra - a comprehensive Bangla book of photography on ideas and debates in photographic history and theories.
An art history enthusiast, Wahab taught photography in numerous workshops and reviewed portfolios at Dhaka, Chittagong, Kathmandu, Siem Reap etc.
He was the curator of Chobi Mela Photography Festival, Dhaka in 2013 and 2015, and curator of the Photography Oxford Festival, Oxford, in 2014. He taught at Anjali House, Angkor Photo Festival, Cambodia, for five years and participated in several fellowship programmes including Art for Social Change, State Department, USA; Art Think South Asia, Germany; World Press Photo- Train the Trainer, Netherlands, etc.
He has also worked as an instructor at the UNICEF Adolescent Programme and participated at the Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia.
“No one in my family was happy with my career decision, as they were not even willing to acknowledge that photography or curating could be my primary source of income,” he says. “People who work as freelance photographers or curators in Bangladesh are in a constant struggle for minimum financial security.” The struggle that he had experienced as a freelance documentary photographer for almost a year, made him discover how frustrating this profession can get. “You have to count on international grants if you want to pursue your dream, which do not come easy. Or you might start working as a wedding photographer which many photographers don't prefer. Or you can work for newspapers. Even though the art scene is thriving here, the opportunities are very limited.”
Wahab believes that the challenge lies in popularising the need to have curators in the art scene and making people understand why curating is also an important form of art.
When Wahab, along with other fellow curators, took up the challenge of curating Chhobi Mela, they were not afraid of experimenting and pushing the limits of displaying works to break the monotony of the same white cubes, even with the limitation of resources.
“Other than art being just a visual treat, it also gives us a historical record, cultural values, beliefs and helps us share our individual and shared history.
Through curating the amazing art works of the artists and photographers, we try to inculcate the essence of both national and international art scenes. Through a cross cultural exchange, we encourage art where the artists can remain true to their root while adopting the global art culture.”
Wahab has some amazing projects in the pipeline that he is really looking forward to. “We are planning to set up a curatorial intensive symposium where we will talk about contemporary curatorial practice and create multiple dialogues among the artists, curators and viewers. Another interesting project we are putting a lot of effort into is bringing different forms of performance art into the gallery and making a proper documentation of the performances through intensive researching, cataloging and latest conservation techniques. We are working on an archive that will be accessible and more structured.”
For Wahab being an art curator is not just a matter of the physical staging of pieces or putting together what looks good.
“It's a matter of putting together what works best for the audience, to make a connection between the art and artists,” he believes.
And, as a curator, he intends to be the bridge that connects the spectators to not only the art, but also the beauty that lies in its extensive history.