DAS Talk: Country’s growth must reflect in arts, not just GDP

Staff Correspondent
Thursday, February 8th, 2018


Art patrons and collectors all stressed greater promotion of the arts during a discussion session at the ongoing Dhaka Art Summit 2018 on February 5. The talk, titled “Speaking to the Importance of Patronage of Art and Culture in Bangladesh”, brought leading patrons of art from the government and private sectors together to discuss their experiences of art patronage and the journey so far.


Moderated by Professor Nazrul Islam, Chairman of Centre for Urban Studies, the discussion included panelists Abul Khair Litu, chairman of Bengal Foundation, Faizul Latif Chowdhury, Director General of Bangladesh National Museum, and Enayetullah Khan, chairman of Cosmos Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of United News of Bangladesh (UNB) and Dhaka Courier.


Enayetullah Khan reminisced how he had grown up in the vicinity of Abul Khair’s residence at the Dhaka University area, which, along with their proximity to scholarly people, had led him to influence their fascination for art and culture. “In all the countries I have travelled to, I had always observed a linkage between creativity and human freedom,” he observed, “now in Bangladesh we are witnessing an explosion of art and culture.”


He also said that the benchmark for a country’s growth should not only be counted by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but also by how fast its art and culture scene is growing. He talked about his role as a patron of arts through Gallery Cosmos, Cosmos-Atelier71 Printmaking Studio, Cosmos Books and Cosmos Foundation.


The UNB Editor-in-Chief also revealed upcoming plans from Cosmos Foundation, which includes a first-ever collaboration with UNESCO to organise an art festival for the differently-abled (disabled), an art publication depicting the plight of the Rohingyas titled “Art against Genocide” and forming a National Committee with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to establish an archiving institute. “Similar to how UNESCO has formally recognised the historic 7th March Speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as part of the world’s documentary heritage, we need an archive centre where our future generations can come and find out how Bangladesh was born, how it progressed, what challenges the country faced and such,” he added


Abul Khair Litu discussed about how his close affinity with his uncle, eminent academic and social scientist Professor Abdur Razzaque had shaped his gradual interest in arts. His uncle introduced him to some of Bangladesh’s most well-known artists, including Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin. Litu’s interaction with the artists whom he met through his uncle soon inspired him to start his own art collection. He bought his very first painting in 1970, when he was just 20 years old. He always believed that if one wanted to help society, they had to help the arts and artists.


As part of his endeavour to promote and showcase Bangladeshi art on a larger platform, Litu set up the Bengal Foundation in 1986, of which he is still the chairperson. Since its inception, he has strived to promote Bangladeshi fine arts, making way to build the country’s first modern gallery, the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts in 2000. “I never collected artworks by foreign artists, as it was my intention all along to collect artworks only by Bangladeshi artworks, we had to set an example for others,” he remarked.


Faizul Latif Chowdhury shed light on how the government, despite its best intentions, cannot patronise artists due to lack of budget allocations. But he also said that private benefactors such as Enayetullah Khan and Abul Khair Litu have shown the way for future art collectors to patronise local artists. In response to a question asked from the audience, he informed that the government is thinking about setting up a national gallery of fine arts, where everyone can visit and see the best artworks of all genres made by Bangladeshi master artists.


“The potential of growth in art and culture is there, now it is more evident through the rise of the private sector and their CSR initiatives,” he surmised.


Dhaka Art Summit is slated to continue till February 10 and is open for all at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.

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