Finding new bearings in uncertain times, via art

Finding new bearings in uncertain times, via art
From Al Jazeera - February 12, 2018

Dhaka, Bangladesh - As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I was transported from the Shilpakala Academy in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, to the edge of a vast and dark ocean, whose choppy waters appeared to stretch out into an endless and untraversable horizon.

Disoriented, I felt unsure of the ground beneath my feet.

Kalapani or Black Waters, a video installation by Indo-Caribbean artistAndrew Ananda Voogel, whoseancestors were plucked from colonial India and shipped across the oceans to work as indentured labourers in Britain's colonies in the Caribbean,evoked for me the loss and longing of exile - a topic that has never been more urgent, living as we do in a world where more people are displaced due to conflict and persecution than any time since World War II.

"I wanted to reflect that journey into the unknown and the accompanying loss of sense of self and identity," Voogel, whose work was on display at the Dhaka Art Summit last week, told Al Jazeera.

"This is a story that is ongoing."

That theme of dispossession runs through this year's Dhaka Art Summit, the newest hub for contemporary art on the global circuit.

For Diana Campbell Betancourt, the biannual summit's curator, artists cannot afford to be apolitical.

"We are living in crazy times right now," she said.

"There's so much pressure mounting, as if something is going to explode."

That urgency charged the dizzying array of art, spread out over four floors at Dhaka's Shilpakala Academy, last week.

The fourth edition of the summit, which ranfrom February 2 to 10, alsobrought together works from more than 300 artists, with installations that touched on a range of issues, from migration and labour, to religious and ethnic conflict, as well as environmental destruction and climate change.

At the centre of the exhibitions is Bangladesh, a country of 165 million afflicted by political and religious turmoil, a refugee crisis and poverty.

"But Bangladesh has only been poor for the past 150 years. Before that, it was one of the richest civilisations of all time. Colonisation destroyed that," Bentancourt Campbell said.

"We want to reorient how people think, to ground ourselves in the past, so we can think towards a better future."

According to Betancourt Campbell, the main aim of the nine-day summit, which also featured a series of lectures and performances, was to carve out a space for Bangladesh and its South Asian neighbours outside the India-Pakistan narratives that dominate other South Asian art shows.


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