Diana Campbell Betancourt is on a mission to galvanise an East-East dialogue. Building upon the success of this approach to the 2018 Dhaka Art Summit, the Artistic Director of the Samdani Art Foundation and Chief Curator of the Dhaka Art Summit is continuing to think and act in this direction in the lead up to Fabric(ated) Fractures, a group show of works by 15 Bangladeshi, South Asian, and Southeast Asian artists.
Curated by Campbell Betancourt and held in a collaboration between Alserkal and the Samdani Art Foundation. Opening on 9 March in Concrete at Alserkal Avenue, the exhibition will explore ‘sensitive spaces –those that challenge ideas of nation, state, and territory through the works of Pablo Bartholomew, Kanak Chanpa Chakma, Rashid Choudhury, Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad, Shilpa Gupta, Hitman Gurung, Ayesha Jatoi, Ashfika Rahman, Joydeb Roaja, Reetu Sattar, Kamruzzaman Shadhin, Debasish Shom, Jakkai Siributr, and Munem Wasif.
“In a time of rising nationalism, when determining who belongs emphasises ideas of sameness, I try to think of important spaces where we can empathise with the cultural wealth of positions that the majority tries to wipe out,” explains Campbell Betancourt. The title of the show makes a point. “Linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and religious divides that can be found in Bangladesh today were manufactured by the British as a colonial tool to control,” says Campbell Betancourt. “Historically, different communities in Bangladesh got along peacefully, and the synthesis between them can be seen in the rich modern art history of Bengal. The fractures between them were fabricated.”
Fabric(ated) Fractures, the title, is also a nod to the selection of artworks, as textile pieces will feature prominently as a powerful storytelling tool. Three tapestries from the 1980s by the late and seminal Bangladeshi artist Rashid Choudhury - who drew inspiration from the traditional tapestry-making he encountered while studying in Spain and France, village folk culture in Bengal, as well as the works of Marc Chagall - will be showcased. Choudhury set up weaving villages in Chittagong, Western Bangladesh, upon his return from studying in Europe. Members of these villages created Cubist-inspired tapestries that explore the synthesis between myths in the village, which draw on Islam, Hinduism, Animism, and Buddhism—some of the many layers that make up the cultural fabric of Bangladesh. “This synthesis is increasingly at risk,” says Campbell Betancourt.
Rashid Choudhury, Untitled, 1980, Courtesy Samdani Art Foundation.
Bangladeshi artist and activist Kamruzzaman Shadhin’s work Haven is Elsewhere will also be presented as part of Fabric(ated) Fractures. Commissioned for the 2018 Dhaka Art Summit, the large-scale textile piece is made from the clothing of missing people fallen victim to the human trafficking that takes place in Southern Bangladesh, and those of the Rohingya refugees who shed their sullied clothes as they crossed the Naf river on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. “Bangladeshi women have stitched these clothes together in a therapeutic exercise, forming a huge quilt that is basically made of these fragments of bodies that have crossed borders, using traditional Bengali kantha stitching techniques to tell this painful story,” explains Campbell Betancourt.
Through this show, Campbell Betancourt also aims to put forth the idea that ‘sensitive spaces’ are no longer exclusively physical—exploring the impact of social media through the work of Kanak Chanpa Chakma, whose oil on canvas pieces and photographs, Soul Piercing, document the infamous Ramu incident of 2012, during which mobs torched and vandalised a Buddhist village in retaliation to a Facebook post from an account under a fake Buddhist name that allegedly defamed the Holy Quran.
“It was a fake Facebook post, and as a result of it, an entire village was razed,” says Campbell Betancourt. “This is a situation where a lack of understanding and fears between the country’s different communities contributed to this massively violent event—and such events have historical precedence. Artists and their work can be tools to open up minds to considering the importance of difference in society.”
Joydeb Roaja, Generation Wish Yielding Trees and Atomic Tree-8, 2017. Courtesy the Artist and Zaheera Noor.
Over 700,000 Bangladeshis live and work in the UAE, and this inaugural collaboration between the Dhaka-based Samdani Art Foundation and Alserkal Avenue aims to shed a light on a little-understood, and very young nation. “It’s a secular country that is less than 50 years old, where over 40 different languages are spoken, and whose culture emerged out of many layers history,” says Campbell Betancourt, who has been working in Bangladesh for six years.
“Bangladesh is full of people who take care of each other,” she says. “It’s a dynamic place with tonnes of energy, and where culture is very important. It is a solutions-oriented place where people invent new modes of being in an increasingly difficult world.” Her role, she says, is to amplify the voices of Bangladeshi, South Asian, and Southeast Asian artists in a bid to explore artist-led issues. “All of the artists in this exhibition are witnesses to their own time. And though Bangladesh seems very far away, the issues, concepts, and concerns are very close to home for most.”
Undoubtedly set to stimulate an East-East versus East-West dialogue, Fabric(ated) Fractures is ‘an international show’ says Campbell Betancourt. “Western voices tend to drown out local ones—even though it was never the intention.” Looking forward, she will take this inter-Asia dialogue further West to include Africa for the 2020 Dhaka Art Summit, inspired by a specific moment in time that serves as a point of departure for the wider framework of the exhibition, an announcement that will be made in the context of the Fabric(ated) Fractures exhibition in March.
“In 1414, the King of Bengal sent a giraffe to the Emperor of China as a tribute – that is an example of a far reaching international exchange that does not include a Western counterpart,” she explains of her mission to shift curatorial discourses. “We can all learn from each other, and though we can’t fix history, we can chart a new path.”
Fabric(ated) Fractures is a collaboration between the Samdani Art Foundation and Alserkal at Concrete, Dubai, and will run from 9-30 March 2019.