Misery as Art: How Bangladesh is Transforming Tragedy into a Cultural Movement || Dr. Zinia Afrin Kotha

Misery as Art: How Bangladesh is Transforming Tragedy into a Cultural Movement || Dr. Zinia Afrin Kotha

Art has emerged as a transformative force in the face of the tumultuous storms of climate change and disasters that have plagued Bangladesh. The country has witnessed its fair share of heartbreak, from the ravages of floods to the destruction of massive industrial accidents. Yet, through it all, art has offered a glimmer of light, providing a means for people to process and make sense of the hardships they have faced. With brushstrokes and melody, it has become a powerful tool for healing and resilience in the face of tragedy. Yet, in the aftermath of these events, artists have stepped forward to turn the pain and sorrow into something beautiful. This art form is not only cathartic for the artists and communities, but it’s also a testament to the human spirit and our ability to transform tragedy into something positive. This article will explore how this art form is changing the cultural landscape of Bangladesh and inspiring people around the world.

The Dhaka Art Summit  is the world’s largest research and exhibition platform for art from South Asia and  one of the most anticipated cultural events of the year in Bangladesh. Having successfully completed its 6th edition  from February 3rd  to February 11th of 2023, this summit was a gathering of some of the most talented artists and thinkers from across the country and the world. The event showcased the best of contemporary art from Bangladesh and beyond, providing a platform for artists, curators, and collectors to engage in meaningful dialogue about the future of the arts.

The theme of this year’s summit was “BONNA“, and the organizer ‘Samdani Art Foundation’ had put together a diverse and thought-provoking lineup of exhibitions, performances, talks, and workshops. From large-scale installations to intimate discussions, the summit offered something for everyone, whether they’re a seasoned art lover or a newcomer to the scene. One of the standout exhibitions at this year’s summit is the “Climate Change” exhibit, which showcased works by artists who have been inspired by the tragedy of disasters made upon by people. The exhibit was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and how artists can turn pain into beauty. Visitors were moved by the powerful images and stories on display, which challenged our perceptions of what is possible in the aftermath of disaster and climate change.  Beyond the captivating displays, the summit was a celebration of creativity, offering a rich tapestry of discourse and performance art. Attendees were gifted with the chance to bask in the wisdom of renowned artists, curators, and visionaries, engaging in a lively dialogue about the path ahead for the arts. The gathering was not only a feast for the senses but also a golden opportunity to weave connections with fellow art enthusiasts, collectors, and professionals in the field.

A piece that needs particular mentioning was by a visionary artist named Sohrab Rabbey, who was able to evoke deep reflection on this year’s theme. “Almanac of an Eroded Land Borrowed from our Children” is the title he chose for his installation, in which he explored the aftermath of a human-made catastrophe and intertwined it with the rhythms of life in the region. The installation paints a picture of the river navigation in the Bengal Delta, where it has been controlled, politicized, and transformed in the past decade, reflecting the shifting tides of humanity’s impact on the land.

Art is a form of expression that has the power to evoke emotions and stimulate the imagination. It is a reflection of the artist’s inner world and their unique perspective of what they observe around them. For art to truly have an impact on the soul, it needs to be experienced in an environment that is free and unencumbered. A cluttered or crowded space can be distracting and limit the viewer’s ability to fully engage with the art and allow it to penetrate their soul. A peaceful and open setting, on the other hand, allows the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the artwork, connecting with it on a deeper level and allowing it to leave a lasting impression. The freedom to experience art in this way allows it to become a part of who we are, shaping our perceptions and influencing our thoughts and emotions. In essence, art becomes a part of our soul, forever etched in our memories and shaping our experiences.

The Samdani Art Foundation always plays a crucial role in promoting and supporting contemporary art and artists. As such, it is important for the organization to acknowledge the significance of providing an environment that allows art to be experienced in a free and uncrowded setting. By creating a space that is conducive to the immersive and contemplative experience of art, the foundation has the power to enhance the impact of the art it showcases and deepen the connection between the viewer and the artwork. Recognizing this, the organizer should make it a priority to ensure that its exhibitions are held in environments that allow the art to be appreciated to the fullest, which was slightly missing this year. Also, by doing so, the foundation will not only fulfill its mission of supporting and promoting contemporary art, but also enable visitors to have a truly transformative and soul-stirring experience.

To put it simply, The Dhaka Art Summit 2023 was an important event for anyone interested in the arts, and succeeded in creating a memorable experience for all who were fortunate enough to attend. The exhibit was a celebration of creativity and innovation and showcased some of the most exciting, thought-provoking, and groundbreaking work being produced in Bangladesh today. Nonetheless, A more tranquil environment would make the experience more enjoyable for art connoisseurs such as myself.

Exhibition previously on Gaanpaar 1
Exhibition previously on Gaanpaar 2