The Year in Arts and Culture: Far from immune

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The year of 2020 has still a week left to get its adieus from the world, something that the world is waiting to bid like never before - thanks to the ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19, which has brought so many changes in almost every aspect of life and taken many of the brightest stars from every sector. The jingle bells of 2020 in everywhere around the world including Bangladesh, are chorusing a sound of bliss with a sense of relief that the year is nearing to its end - because it has been a tough year for almost everyone. People saw horrible serenity in the streets due to the lockdown, caregivers and frontliners put their constant efforts behind saving lives, panic buying led groceries and supershops to showcase empty shelves and most importantly - the world went into a new phase of relying upon virtual reality, as everything became home-based these days - be it office, classes, meetings or even concerts.

In the journey of togetherness under the reality of global lockdown, the cultural arena in Bangladesh has also seen how ‘things fall apart’ since the end of March, despite the year being the long-awaited Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - an occasion, that genuinely was expected to be gloriously celebrated. A handful of celebrations got shelved this year including festivals like Pahela Baishakh and the Victory Day, as well as religious festivals. Major and international events such as Dhaka Lit Fest, Dhaka Folk Fest, Asian Art Biennale and more also got postponed, and a lot of eminent and celebrated stars in the Bangladeshi cultural scene fell out of the sky this year, due to the coronavirus and other reasons.

So how was the overall year of 2020 for the cultural sphere and people associated in cultural activities in Bangladesh? Let’s find out.

Events

Although people spend most of the days in lockdown around the world this year due to the COVID-19 which did not let people celebrate outside to avoid mass gatherings and risks of contamination, and Bangladesh also followed the same lockdown restrictions for a couple of months - 2020 started with juvenile festivities. The first major event was the 18th edition of Dhaka International Film Festival, took place from January 11 till January 19. In February, the country celebrated two major events - the festivity of Amar Ekushey Book Fair in Bangla Academy and the 5th edition of Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), known as South Asia’s biggest art and painting biennale exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA). The 6th edition of the Joy Bangla Concert took place at the Army Stadium on March 7, marking the day of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historical March 7 speech. BSA arranged and orchestrated a grand carnival marking the Birth Centenary of Bangabandhu titled ‘Muktir Mohanayak’ - however, that carnival avoided being recorded live as the coronavirus began to spread in Bangladesh during that time, so instead it was broadcasted at all the television channels in Bangladesh on March 17 night. Soon after that, the country went into lockdown mode and new normalcy of online events began, however, BSA got reopened for audiences in September and since then, the National Art Gallery organized various exhibitions again. Most notably, a month-long exhibition marking PM Sheikh Hasina's 74th birthday, a month-long art exhibition reflecting COVID-19 aftermaths, a special three-day art exhibition organized by the Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) and the High Commission of India in Dhaka, in collaboration with BSA - and the 22nd edition of Young Artist Fine Arts Exhibition Biennale.

Gallery Cosmos, the philanthropic and artistic wing of Bangladeshi conglomerate Cosmos Group, also continued its committed dedication towards arts as it organised the first-ever online live art camp on June 8 titled ’Brightening The Spirits With Art’, in association with 'Hidden Her Foundation' and Cosmos Foundation in a fundraising effort towards the coronavirus victims. It also arranged ‘BRAVE HEART’ - the first-ever virtual exhibition from August 14 - 31, reminiscing the founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, marking his Birth Centenary and National Mourning Day. The gallery also organized an exclusive Art Camp titled ‘Sheikh Hasina: On the Right Side of History’ on November 27, in collaboration with Cosmos Atelier71 and supported by the Cosmos Foundation with 22 leading and promising painters of the country at Gallery Cosmos, Cosmos Centre (Studio, Books and Rooftop), Malibagh in the capital. The camp led to an exclusive exhibition which was inaugurated on December 12 and will remain open till February 12, 2021 at Cosmos Centre.

The new normal on the web

As offline and crowd-based programmes had to be shelved, the entire world including Bangladesh went for virtual arrangements throughout the entirety of 2020 since March. Online platforms such as Zoom, social platforms like Facebook-YouTube-Instagram became the mediums of several virtual programmes in the country. BSA arranged multiple virtual programmes throughout the lockdown under its ‘Art Against Corona’ campaign in which noted artists from home and rural areas to abroad, joined and performed for the live audiences at BSA’s verified Facebook page. Country’s renowned cultural institution Chhayanaut also catered several virtual arrangements at its official Facebook group and YouTube channel throughout the year, including special programmes on Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, as well as celebrating occasions such as the Pahela Baishakh - breaking its age-old tradition of hosting the event at Ramna in every year.

International institutions in Bangladesh including the EMK Centre and German cultural organization Goethe-Institut Bangladesh also arranged many virtual programmes.

Several festivals also went online this year, most notably the 8th annual Liberation DocFest Bangladesh-2020 by Liberation War Museum from June 16 till June 20. Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bangladeshi conglomerate Cosmos Group, has associated with this year’s festival as the Technology Partner while the media partner is United News of Bangladesh (UNB), South Asia’s first fully wired digital news agency. Another festival was the 4th edition of Dhaka DocLab which also held virtually for the first time from August 23 till October 3.

A tentative return

2020 had been the weirdest and saddest year in this regard for sure, as most of the places including theatre halls, concert venues and cinema halls had to stop catering audiences. Virtual concerts and sessions became a regular thing, however, the theatre arena again restarted welcoming audiences in October and several plays are being staged since then at the venues of BSA and Bangladesh Mahila Samity auditorium.

Meanwhile, cinema halls in the country reopened from mid-October as well - however, the lockdown-driven audiences are now moving forward more to OTT (Over-the-top) media platforms such as Netflix, Hoichoi, Binge, Zee5 and more, and content makers-actors are continuously enthralling audiences via these platforms which are now collectively being considered as the mainstream future, putting halls at economic risks with fewer audiences.

Losing the stars

2020 has bid adieus to a handful of legendary personalities and celebrated superstars including Soumitra Chatterjee, Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, ‘Black Panther’ actor Chadwick Boseman and many more but the most notable was, however, the untimely suicide of Bollywood heartthrob Sushant Singh Rajput which shook Bollywood at its core, revealing the dark side of drugs in Bollywood. Bangladesh has also lost noted and popular celebrities including the ‘Playback King’ Andrew Kishore, eminent thespian Aly Zaker, legendary academic Professor Anisuzzaman, music maestro Alauddin Ali and Azad Rahman, Journalist Kamal Lohani, BTV’s founding producer Mustafa Kamal Sayed, ‘Memsaheb’ author Nimai Bhattacharya, folklorist Dr Ashraf Siddiqui, Kali o Kalam magazine editor Abul Hasnat, eminent sculptor Mrinal Haque, actors including Sadek Bachchu, Ferdousi Ahmed Lina, Rana Hamid, KS Firoz, Mohiuddin Bahar, playwright Mannan Hira and more. Some of these celebrated lives passed away being infected with COVID-19, while others died due to several other diseases.

In a nutshell, 2020 was not a fantastic year for the cultural arena in Bangladesh and the entire world - and with the beginning of a brand new decade on next Friday, the only expectation revolves around the restoration of jovial festivities, without the panic of any infectious hazard.

  • Lockdown
  • Covid-19
  • Art & Culture

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