Artists across Asia, confronted with emerging realities, are increasingly adjusting their personal strategies to the global preference for new media while working within traditions where artistic expressions are seen to reflect the interconnectedness of art, society and environment. They are looking to create works that are not only socially engaged but are also embedded in the diction of the current digital age.
Bangladesh has always encouraged artists to explore their contemporary society, its cultural and aesthetic values, its history, economy and everyday life, yet range across cultures beyond their borders and, at the same time, be conversant with their artistic traditions, their styles of expression, radical innovations and the diversity of their aesthetic formulations. Today the country is a hub of young talents who are constantly making efforts to expand their artistic horizon by employing new styles and techniques to shape contemporary aesthetic aspiration.
Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh, since its beginning in 1981, has attempted to display the various artistic endeavors of our time in which continuity and change come together. The geographical parameter is important only in a generic sense and also for identification of sponsorship in this pioneering venture. It was inevitable that with time, other regions that share, more or less, the same artistic impulses and face the same challenges of identity would be included in the exhibition as has happened in recent years.
The 18th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh 2018 expects to encapsulate such path- breaking creative trends that have energized the entire region. The focus of this edition reflects Dhaka’s awareness of the material changes — particularly the fast-track developments in communication technology, the expansion of the visual media and urbanization — that are eliminating geographical barriers but also, ironically, enforcing formidable political and ideological ones that separate nations from each other. Art, in this ambiguously positioned world, can provide a common ground of interaction.
President Abdul Hamid has said cultural activities play an important role in promoting the tradition of communal harmony, including the development of the spirit of nationalism, patriotism and discipline among the youths of a nation.
He was delivering his speech as chief guest at the Biennale’s inauguration ceremony at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. The president dubbed arts and culture as a powerful tool to occupy one’s place in the world map. “One of the main tools of art and culture is to create knowledge-based society, intellectual practice and progressive society.”
He said art has also a strong contribution in developing good relationship and bonding.
Hamid said Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, founded by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, played an important role in the development of native culture with the support of the cultural personalities.
“I believe that international arrangements will also play a unique role in highlighting Bangladesh’s cultural heritage abroad.”
Calling culture the mirror of life, he said: “Traditionally, people of this country are cultural-minded. Many of the poets, singers and artists of this country have been inspired by the great nature of Bengal and liberal cultural sensibilities. They have enriched our art and culture with their intellectuality and brilliance and highlighted the country abroad.”
Remembering the role of artists and cultural workers in every democratic movement including the liberation war and struggle for liberation, the president said: “The role of art and culture in building nation is immense. Artists and cultural workers have an outstanding contribution in the achievements of Bengali nation.
Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor was present as special guest while Jury Board President prominent artist Shahabuddin Ahmed announced the names of winners at the inaugural session and later awards were given to winners.
Four observers -- Artist Jogen Chowdhury from India, Professor Tetsuya Noda from Japan, Marek Bartelik from Poland and Deborah Frizzell from the USA -- also attended the festival.
BD artists’ works are interesting and imaginative – Tetsuya Noda
In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Courier, one of the international observers and Professor Emeritus of the Tokyo University of the Arts, Tetsuya Noda, was all praises for Bangladeshi printmaking artists. Despite this being his inaugural visit to Bangladesh, he previously had the opportunity to observe Bangladeshi works of students who went to Tokyo to study printmaking. “I find their works very interesting and imaginative. The Bangladeshi students are very diligent about honing their printmaking craft. One of my earliest students, who is now my friend and the person to bring me here to the Biennale, Kalidas Karmakar, was very energetic and through him, I could deduce that Bangladeshi artists are highly talented in their own right”.
A contemporary photographer and printmaker, Noda is best known for his series entitled, Diary, which includes over 500 works and spans the last 50 years. Using photographic silkscreens, the artist prints altered photographs over pale woodblock prints. Tetsuya considers the camera his sketchbook, using it to capture all aspects of his daily life. Noda was the first Japanese artist to combine photography and woodblock printing. He is well known for artworks that capture moments in daily life; neighborhood scenes, his young daughter or vegetables in the kitchen as a series of diary entries by silk screen with photograph and wood engraving. Oil painter Hideo Noda was his uncle.
“Most of my still life works represent somebody, a man, a woman, a relative, or a friend who thought about me kindly, sent or gave me and my family some presents–fruits, vegetables, and so on. Sometimes they depict fruits or vegetables that I grew myself in our garden,” he has said. “My still lifes symbolically express certain persons. I have never gone to a fruit shop to look for a model for making a still life.”
After training with first generation sosaku hanga artist Ono Tadashige, Noda won a grand prix at the Tokyo International Print Biennial at age 28. He went on to develop a highly individual mixed-media style, combining woodblock, screenprint, stencil, and hand additions. Nearly all his prints from the late 1960’s onward bear the rubic Diary, followed by a date, an explicit indication that the imagery emerges directly from his own memory and experience.
Noda radiates calm happiness. He finds not only delight in the everyday, but also the subjects for his art. Thirty years ago he said that he had almost no time for his own work. “It’s important to live first,” he said, “to think what is art th rough everyday life. This is the only way I can do anything because that is I.” He has won grand prizes in Norway and Slovenia and is the recipient of the Purple Ribbon Medal given by the Japanese Government.
Works of Bangladeshi artists very “introverted” – Dr Marek Bartelik
Dr. Marek Bartelik studied art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris after moving from Poland to France in 1981. Bartelik holds a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Columbia University and a PhD in Art History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been teaching modern and contemporary art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York since 1996. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yale and MIT. Bartelik was a Graduate Critic-in-Residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore (2006-2011). As an art critic, he served as immediate-past President of AICA International (International Association of Art Critics), which gathers 4500 critics in 63 national sections around the world.
This year marks his second visit to Bangladesh, he is more familiar with the works of Bangladeshi artists. “I find the works to be very introverted, which emits certain moods of the artists and a sober tone. While there is a hint of certain sensibility in them, the works ultimately remain engaging,” he said while speaking to Dhaka Courier.
He opines that although the contemporary art scene has been eclectic for some time now, artists are being seen to be returning to painting, as well as printmaking. This is a very good sign as a genre such as printmaking is not an easy medium of art. It requires technique, intelligence and a set of skills. Conceptual and figurative arts are also being revisited as well.
But he also pointed out that Bangladeshi art still remains in the shadows of other “giant” art nations such as China, Japan, Republic of Korea and other European countries. “There appears to be a lack of promotion and more importantly, no clear vision as to what Bangladeshi artists want to portray about their works and culture. It is only normal to assume that the audience will see the artworks based on their set of pre-conceived notions, which is based on the international media who did not highlight the country in positive light all the time. Art should reflect upon the positive aspects of one’s culture, at least to garner enough attention. If someone looks at an artwork and remains confused about what it is trying to represent, it remains a puzzle and hence, Bangladeshi art has been suffering from this for a long time now”.
But he also had strong words for the ongoing Biennale in Dhaka. “It boasts a strong collection of sculptures and installation arts. Naturally, the substance is there. It is now only a matter of how to share this across the world. But this requires time and wisdom, and undoubtedly Bangladesh will get there in the near future”.
Countries like China, Japan and Korea has already stirred up conversation regarding their arts, which is why they are always in discussion whenever the topic of contemporary art comes up. But Dr Bartelik believes that Bangladesh has the ability to develop in order to reach its full potential.