A man and woman standing next to each other in black and white

A man and woman standing next to each other in black and white

Princess Alia Al-Senussi is a key figure in the development of cultural relationships between the West and the Global South, and in the growth of the art scene in Saudi Arabia. In a conversation moderated by LUX’s Leaders and Philanthropists Editor, Samantha Welsh, Alia Al-Senussi speaks with South Asian philanthropist and collector Durjoy Rahman about significant art world debates and developments at the nexus of the developed and developing worlds

LUX: Durjoy, is the relationship between art in the Global South and the rest of the world changing?

Durjoy Rahman: I have been collecting for the over 25 years, and I have always been passionate about creativity, both personally and professionally. Living in Dhaka, I have realised there is a lot of untapped creativity that can probably be moulded and presented to a wider audience, to increase visibility, benefitting Bangladesh, South Asia and, in a bigger picture, the Global South.

These days there is a very fashionable phrase: “Your West is my East”. What one person calls “West” is actually somebody else’s “East”. It depends on the position you are coming from. I have asked many scholars, and no one has been able to give me a clear definition of what the “Global South” is. I think the geopolitical or geographical definition has different meanings and narratives and I expect plenty of discourse and redefinition during the next decade.

LUX: Alia, what has your global vision of the art world been informed by?

Alia Al-Senussi: I came to the art world from a very established position, in the heart of London, so my view has been shaped by the Western perspective, an institutional perspective, a gallery art world ecosystem perspective.

I was very lucky to enter the art world at a time when these perspectives were changing. Tate Modern had just opened and revolutionised the way that we put art in context. There is no longer the “South Asian gallery”, the “Middle Eastern gallery” or the “Asian gallery”.

 A woman wearing a black dress and orange head scarf standing next to a large rock in a desert

Alia Al-Senussi in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. She is a Senior Advisor, Arts, and Culture, to the Ministry of Culture in Riyadh

It was about showing art in conversation with itself, through the eyes of a subject, subject matter, or a generational perspective, rather than a geographical one. And, ever since, as much as I’m in the art world, my perspective on the art world is not as an art historian. It is very much about somebody looking at art, strategy and cultural strategy through the perspective of cultural diplomacy, soft power and how culture interacts with the art world ecosystem, but also very much with identities, governments and politics.

LUX: Alia, how have you noticed the art world changing in the Middle East?

AAS: My work in the Middle East started in 2007, when Art Dubai started. In the last five years, we’ve seen a rapid evolution in the Middle East, positive developments in Saudi Arabia, and Dubai becoming, in many ways, a platform for art from the Global South.

LUX: What do you think is the role of philanthropy in art. Does it engage, facilitate and shape discourse?

DR: This is what DBF is all about. From day one our approach has been very discursive, and we try to position our strategies in a very discursive manner.

For example, we work with photographers like Sunil Gupta, whose retrospective involved queer art. On the other side of the coin, we work with Wadham College of Oxford University, restoring the Holy Qurans, which we announced during the month of Ramadan.

My philosophy towards philanthropic activities and my involvement in the foundation is to challenge negative perceptions. It’s not only about Bangladesh, but the whole perception of South Asia, that I am trying to change through the activities that DBF undertakes. This is why we don’t only focus our activities in Southeast Asia but globally, be it in Europe or America.

A man wearing a white shirt and black vest standing next to a green sofa and a large yellow painting behind him

Durjoy Rahman is a philanthropist and collector based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

LUX: Alia, could you share with us your belief about the role of art and philanthropy?

AAS: I think it is at the very heart of changing perception. I have a deep belief in – as Durjoy said – the power of culture to change people’s minds and perceptions. And I’m not just talking about the West, I mean: it’s even neighbour to neighbour.

For example, we’ve seen black art in the United States transform people’s perceptions of BLM and people’s perceptions of segregationist history. You walk around the Tate galleries, and you see two paintings facing each other in the room about conflict and war. One is about the pogroms in Eastern Europe, and one is about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila [of Palestinian refugees by Christian militias during the Lebanese Civil War in 1982]. These speak to exactly the same universal horrors that many people experience but are from two very different conflicts and parts of the world.

LUX: What responsibility or soft power do you feel you have?

AAS: I feel a deep sense of personal and professional responsibility. In any projects that I get involved in or commit to, I pay a lot of attention to professionalism. I teach a lot and one of the questions I often get asked is, “How do I get involved in the art world? How do I start my career?” I say, “Get involved, show up.”

I think the idea of showing up is really important. Someone invites you to something, go. Someone expects you to be at something, be there. Someone expects you to respond to your emails, respond; and I think that idea of showing up really illustrates a commitment to people.

LUX: What is soft power for you, Durjoy? How can you and/or art bridge discourse?

DR: Everybody wants to understand art. Even Picasso said, “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the songs of a bird?”

An artwork from the Bhumi project, supported by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation that was shown at the Kochi Biennale in India in 2022/23

When I invite people to an art show and they say that “Well, we don’t understand art.” I say, “There is nothing to understand. Just be there. Just try to comprehend that it is something interesting.” An example of how it’s not about soft power, but engagement, is what DBF did during the pandemic. All the major art institutions in South Asia closed for either health or commercial reasons. DBF decided to get involved with a community from north Bangladesh, which had hardly been hit by COVID-19. The project was called Bhumi and involved a minority group in the area who were craftspeople working in textiles. The project involved 260 people from 60 families, and it supported their daily livelihood. The project didn’t end with the pandemic, it was actually taken to last year’s Kochi Biennale to exhibit the works of the craftsmen and shows what is possible during difficult times.

This is an example of how art, philanthropy and art activism can show how culture can play an important role in times of crisis.

AAS: Just like Durjoy said, you see these very different and very nimble organisations involving themselves with communities and making a difference. The Islamic Biennale did exactly that. It was really revolutionary in the context of art in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic Arts Biennale was at the Hajj terminal in Jeddah, and offered locals to come to a place that they’d never entered because the Hajj terminal inherently is a place for Non-Saudis to come into Jeddah to then go on Hajj.

The locals could see this exceptional building, feel the power of Islam, but also of spirituality and of a community coming together. For people who were not Muslim, or had no connection to the Hajj, they saw objects and works of art in a contemporary and historical environment.

jewelled colourful prayer mats hanging on a wall

The Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah, 2023

Certain organisations have the power to be really nimble. They can profess their politics and support artists for art and culture. I think Delfina Foundation, for example, has been very clear about their support for artists from across a plethora of humanity and does it in a sophisticated, nuanced, and empathetic manner.

LUX: Where are you seeing Next Gen concerns amplified through art?

AAS: I think you see the next generation wanting to amplify diverse voices. There is this desire that art is geographically, ethnically, and sexually diverse so people can express the totality of who they are. There is a sense of activism to it, but there’s also a sense of declaration. I don’t always read into these institutional shows or works of art as activism. Sometimes an artist just wants to say, “This is who I am, and this is the art I make.” Artists are going to make art based on their life experiences.

LUX: Durjoy, where do you think the line is between declaration and activism?

DR: I think the majority of people want to see the origin of the artist, their background and their surroundings, reflected in the work they are producing. If I show a Bangladeshi artist and his or her work looks too different or has no context, sometimes curators even question it and say it doesn’t show their struggle or their originality. I’m not an art scholar or academic: I look at art based on whether I like it. But I think it’s important for an artist or a creative practitioner to show the origin, the struggle, and the history.

I think that we want to encourage artists going forwards to show their origin and their perception. An artist should be free to express their opinion, whether they are from Iraq, Lebanon or Africa. If they are willing to they should go ahead. DBF and I always try to work with artists who have enormous creative boundaries that they want to exhibit in front of their audience.

A man and woman sitting by a table with a laptop speaking into microphones

Al-Senussi in conversation with installation and media artist Chris Cheung during Art Basel in Hong Kong

LUX: To what extent do Next Gens feel obligated to witness and pivot or create change?

AAS: What I see more in my lecturing and my academic experiences, is that the next gen is very much about wanting to change the world and wanting to illustrate that. Through their careers and artwork, they want to be a part of the change in some way. It’s a little disheartening because there is this negative feeling about the future of the world, but at the same time there is a feeling that maybe we, collectively, can change the world.

You also see artists that are just reflecting on their own childhoods, like Farah Al Qasimi. She talks about her family home and the changes shifting in the UAE. It’s an activism, but then it’s also a reflection on the changing world.

LUX: Can art collaboration bring about changes of perception?

DR: Definitely. Art has a vital influence on culture towards current situations. I think art has a very influential way to foster international connections and collaborations and can question issues that are happening.

Read more: Maria Sukkar and Durjoy Rahman on supporting artists from your hometown

When I was in Paris at Asia Now art fair, I was talking to an artist from Israel and an artist from Jordan. When these two artists sat together, they realised where the problem lies. I didn’t see a division in their opinion, and I think this is an example of art bridging divides. Art can be used as a very strong tool to solve many of our problems including sustainability and global climate change.

AAS: I think art, at this time, is one of the only tools that we can look to, to unite us or to heal us. Unfortunately, it can also be used and utilised in other ways, but I have faith and hope that we will see a change.

Find out more:

durjoybangladesh.org

aliaalsenussi.com

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Reading time: 10 min
Group of people in a red room watching talk sitting on chairs

people sitting on chairs on a stage giving a panel discussion

Durjoy Rahman of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation addresses the audience at the AVPN South Asia Summit

A pioneering conference in India is seeking to kick start venture philanthropy in South Asia

‘We had a strong sense that our projects had a lack of effectiveness. Add to that the lack of transparency as well as poor methods of measuring impact, and it became clear that something needed to be done.’

On a charity fundraising trip in 2002, Doug Miller realised the futility of his friends’ and his impact ventures in private equity. Unlike traditional investments, metrics were undeveloped, and methods and final impact opaque. In short, a lot of capital and time was being spent with the best of intentions but with limited results.

In response to this, Miller developed the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) in 2004 and the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) in 2011, bringing a collaborative approach to venture philanthropy through exchanges with impact investment.

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His successor is the overwhelmingly accoladed Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of AVPN and Chair of the International Venture Philanthropy Center, proclaimed one of Asia’s Most Influential by Tatler Asia in 2021 and awarded awarded one of Asia’s Top Sustainability Superwomen by CSRWorks. Batra presided over the latest AVPN South Asia Summit in Mumbai earlier this month; it was the first of these conferences to take place in person, last year’s inaugural edition having taken place virtually. This year’s theme was ‘Bringing Fringes to the Fore”, and it brought together individual philanthropists from culture, education and social impact, and major global companies and organisations.

Durjoy Rahman, a philanthropist from Bangladesh engaged in South Asian art and culture, focused around the creative realm and cultural soft power. Speaking of the cultural world, he said that one of the missions of this Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation was to show that the cultural world “does not need to be seen or judged by the West’s historical perspective”. Durjoy said he is finding this message is finding resonance both in the rest of the Global South, and also in the traditional cultural capitals of the West.

people sitting on chairs in a red room listening to a talk

AVPN South Asia Summit brings together philanthropists, venuture capitalists and other leasers to promote the field of venture philanthropy

“It is important to lead the conversation, and to do so needs to involve a multilateral, global conversation. It’s not about doing something and broadcasting information about what we do: multiple dialogues are the way to ensure we engage with like-minded individuals and institutions around the world.”

Durjoy also spoke about how the creative realm can contribute to future-ready education; and specifically, how the creative and cultural field can play a “soft power” role in influencing international views of Bangladesh, a country only founded in 1971 which previously had a negative economic reputation but is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the region.

The same panel, moderated by Vivek Agarwal of the Tony Blair Institute, also focused on educational reform, and featured Dr. Akhil Shahani, Managing Director of The Shahani Group, Dr. Nivedita Narain, CEO of OneStage and Rakshit Kejriwal, President of Phillips Education, speaking about empowerment in employability.

With a history of philanthropic infrastructure lacking in Asia, AVPN CEO Batra is building a network, catering to models that suit the collective regional story and its challenges, moving from a purist venture philanthropy, focused on empowering voices and expanding the network at all costs.

Venture philanthropy itself is a relatively new field, pioneered in the US and now making inroads around the world. It combines elements of traditional philanthropy, where a return is measured purely on the impact of the philanthropic aims, and traditional venture capital seeking a return. There is a prevailing view now that this maximises returns on both levels.

The AVPN conference is aimed to be an interregional weaving of thought leaders and industry experts, where a collective regional story is conducive to progress as opposed to challenging it. Its brief spans culture and education, as well as sustainable development goals.

Left to right: Vivek Agarwal, Dr Akhil Shahani, Rakshit Kejriwal, Durjoy Rahman at the AVPN Summit after their talk on future-ready education

A conference on social impact and sustainable development runs the risk of empty pledges. But not at AVPN – Lavanya Jayaram, South Asia Regional Director, ensured animated conversations, with stakeholders ‘debating unique regional challenges and solutions towards charting a roadmap for philanthropy and impact investing in the South Asian region.’. Founder Doug Miller’s aversion to inaction charged the summit, which hosted over 70 speakers over 27 sessions, a variety of panel discussions, keynote speeches, workshops and ‘fireside chats’. The agenda is also interspersed with networking opportunities, encouraging an ongoing dialogue between speeches, to expand the AVPN ecosystem, with over 600 members across 33 markets and its own academy dedicated to teaching skills in impact investment.

In the wake of environmental disasters that struck the region over the past year, the 2023 summit featured panel discussions on climate resilience and energy transitions in South Asia. Speakers such as Prerana Langa of Aga Khan Agency for Habitat India, developing network based models for disaster risk reduction and biodiversity conservation, spoke particularly to this year’s floods and industrial accidents in Bangladesh, bringing investors into contact with means of making effective impact.

Read more: Cyrill Gutsch on saving the oceans through art and collaboration

A panel discussion dedicated to ‘Bridging the Borders’ and ‘Global Perspectives’ brings as one of the speakers Sanjay Gujral of Everstone Capital, a private equity firm investing across the South Asian landscape, further engaging investment in a cross cultural design. Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar also spoke about finding purpose in philanthropy.

The conference equally addressed gender gaps and supporting women within the economy through talks on gender lens investing, furthered by AVPN’s Asia Gender Network, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which seeks to advance equality through representation in leadership positions, economic empowerment and education, just to name a few.

Through a multiplicity of sectors and regions, the South Asian Summit is driving a collective effort in sustainable development and in centralising fringe communities in the discussion. The phrase ‘catalytic platforms’ is often thrown around, and yet could not be more apt in such dynamic conversations taking place. The Summit, through the focused involvement of leaders in their fields, is set to catalyse significant change in important and evolving areas. – Olivia Cavigioli

Find out more: avpn.asia

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Reading time: 5 min
thread hanging on a wall coming of a textile
thread hanging on a wall coming of a textile

Works by Aiko Tezuka on display at Asia Now Paris in the Majhi International Art Residency booth

The Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) continues its mission to bridge the art communities from the East and the West through the Majhi International Art Residency, this year taking place in Paris

The Majhi International Art Residency was started by DBF in 2019, with its first edition in Venice. Since then, the residency has taken place every year in different locations in Europe including Berlin, Eindhoven, Amsterdam at the renowned Rijksakademie, and now Paris.

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This year’s two-week residency programme saw three artists from Asia and the Asian diaspora creating new works for an exhibition curated by Ricko Leung. Ricko Leung was born and raised in Hong Kong but has lived in Paris since 2014. Her art and curation focus on topics including, fear and control, cultural identity, and post-colonialism, as well as eco-feminism.

4 women standing together outside a building in Paris

The artists and curator involved at the residency, left to right: Aiko Tezuka, Ricko Leung, Raisa Kabir and Rajyashri Goody

The theme of this exhibition was textile and indigo, in particular, around the history and meaning of indigo, being a material very closely tied to the colonial history of Bengal. Indigo is a material also used very frequently in the textile industry, which coincided with the focus of the venue partner, Asia Now Paris. The artists selected for the residency were Raisa Kabir, Aiko Tezuka and Rajyashri Goody.

Raisa Kabir is an artist, textiles researcher and weaver based in London. Kabir’s creations cover the interwoven cultural politics of cloth, archives of the body and colonial geographies, by using woven text and textiles, sound, video and performance.

A room with a red tapestry hanging on the all and pictures hanging on strings beside

Works on display at Asia Now by Rajyashri Goody (right) and Raisa Kabir (left)

Kabir’s (un)weaving performances use queer entanglement to comment on structures of trans-national power, global production, and the relationships between craft and industrial labour. Her work speaks to cultural anxieties surrounding nationhood, textile identities and the cultivation of borders.

Aiko Tezuka was born in Tokyo but has lived in Berlin since 2011. Using different readymade fabrics Aiko produces unique works in which she unravels materials to create new structural forms using her own techniques.

A woven tapestry in pink, blue, yellow and green of a bird flying

Details of an artwork by Aiko Tezuka

Rajyashri Goody is from Pune, India and currently works between India and the Netherlands. She was also a residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam from 2021-2023. Goody’s practice has been heavily influenced by both her academic background and her Ambedkarite Dalit roots.

Read more: Mera Rubell on catalysing cultural change

She focuses on messaging around how basic needs of everyday life, including food, nature, language and literacy are actively used as tools to enforce caste rules for generations. She shows this messaging through various mediums incorporating text, voice, paper, pulp, ceramics, photography, printmaking, video and installation into her works.

A poem next to a paper coloured in blue

Indigo not only has strong ties with the colonial history of Bengal, but its pigment is extremely prominent in textiles, which was a point of focus at Asia Now

‘Majhi’ can be translated into English as a ‘leader’ of a house or group of people. In some ways, the Majhi International Art Residency programme acts as a leader by bridging divides, connecting individuals and creating a vibrant channel for the exchange of ideas and experiences.

Find out more: majhi.org

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A man in a suit with a red waistcoat standing in a room with art
A man in a suit with a red waistcoat standing in a room with art

Durjoy Rahman, founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

A philanthropic foundation from Bangladesh is creating powerful ties between art and culture in East and West, with a nexus in Italy. Greg Thomas reports on the remarkable dialogues and cross-fertilisation across the Global South and North being catalysed by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

“We have craft traditions in Bengal that are thousands of years old,” Durjoy Rahman tells me from his home in Dhaka, the capital of his native Bangladesh, which is part of the wider Bengal region. A vibrant abstract painting hangs on the wall behind him, and coloured beads adorn his wrist. Since launching the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) in 2018, the art collector and philanthropist has made it his mission to promote the creative culture of his home country and the wider South Asian region, including Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka; and to create links between the Global South and North.

Over the past five years, DBF, which grew out of Durjoy’s collecting, has supported countless creatives through residencies, exhibitions and exchange programmes. It has linked up artists, art writers and craftspeople in South Asia and Europe, but also reaching across South America, Africa and elsewhere.

A group of people standing for a photo outside a building

Members of the Venice Bangladeshi community, from the local Bangla language school, at an open studio visit, Majhi International Art Residency, Venice, 2019

A particular concern has always been to establish ties with Italy. Or rather, as Durjoy puts it, “not Italy, but Venice. When we were making plans to build bridges between East and West, and to think about how creative people from South Asia could gain greater visibility, we felt that Venice was a perfect place to focus our efforts. Because of the Venice Biennale, it’s a gathering point for global art populations.”

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The foundation’s latest project, the DBF-KMB Award, was launched in Venice in 2022 in collaboration with London’s Hayward Gallery. Every two years until 2028, curators from the Hayward, with representatives from the DBF and the Kochi Biennale Foundation, will select one outstanding South Asian artist exhibiting at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, to show their work at the prestigious London gallery’s  HENI Project Space.

A group of people standing by some pillars holding a flag

Members of the Venice Bangladeshi community, from the local Bangla language school, at an open studio visit, Majhi International Art Residency, Venice, 2019

The recipient of this year’s inaugural award was announced in Venice (of course) in July – creating the third side of an international triangle between South Asia, London and Venice. Amol K Patil is an artist who works with a variety of media including installations, drawings, sculptures and moving images. He was chosen for the award on the basis of his work at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an installation entitled The Politics of Skin and Movement; his work at the Hayward this autumn is a development of this theme. Durjoy says he admires Patil’s work for “seeking to bridge the gap between East and West, fostering an atmosphere of openness and embracing diversity.” Amol K Patil is also being supported by the DBF for his fellowship at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam for a year from September 2023.

To complement the artist award and exhibition, in alternate years, an instalment of the Durjoy Bangladesh Lecture Series, co-curated by the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation and programmed by Hayward Director Ralph Rugoff, will be held at the Hayward Gallery, introducing key themes and figures from South Asian art.

A white gallery with paintings on the walls and a sculpture in the centre of the room

Arlecchino, Arlecchino and Mating Tigers, 2021, by Shezad Dawood, and Man in Shower, Porter Series, 2006, by William Kentridge, at the DBF Creative Studio, Dhaka

Durjoy often talks about his foundation’s work in terms of building bridges within and between countries. Indeed, references to water and crossings punctuate his discussion of DBF’s mission. Of equal and related significance are the affinities Durjoy sees between Bangladesh, with its maritime infrastructure and shipbuilding traditions, and the host city of the world’s most celebrated Biennale.

After all, Venice has an equally strong history of nautical trade and technology. And the businessman points out that it also has a “very large Bangladeshi community, because of the big dockyard industry. There are a lot of migrant professionals there: engineers, draughtsmen.” It is notable that, perhaps unlike some philanthropists in privileged positions in parts of the Global South, Durjoy considers all of his compatriots as equally important citizens.

Man in a black t shirt and blue jeans standing with arms crossed by a white wall

Amol K Patil, recipient of the inaugural Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation – Kochi-Muziris Biennale Award, 2023

In 2019, Durjoy launched DBF’s first major initiative, the Majhi International Art Residency Programme, hosted at Combo, a former convent in Cannaregio, Venice. This saw Venetian and Bangladeshi artists come together over two weeks to create collaborative artworks, present and perform. “The word Majhi means ‘ferryman’,” says Durjoy. “In Venice they have gondolas on their canals and in Bangladesh we have many boats on our waterways, too, so it makes sense. ‘Majhi’ also means ‘leader of the house’ or ‘leader of a group of people’, and I’d like the scheme to show a possible future direction for artistic endeavours in Europe.”

Majhi 2019 was also about nurturing local Venetian talent. Participant Andrea Morucchio is a Venetian artist whose practice raises awareness of the impact of mass tourism in Venice. His Covid 19-era project, Venezia Anno Zero, documented the serenity of La Serenissima during lockdown. “And we didn’t work in isolation from the Venetian Bangladeshi community, either,” Durjoy continues. “There’s a school that teaches Bengali to the Bangladeshi children in Venice, and the children came to see a performance by an artist from Bangladesh.”

Black and white photo of a group of soldiers with helmets wearing sweater vests

Sheikh Abu Naser, freedom fighter and younger brother of “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the battlefield, 1971, by Raghu Rai, DBF Collection

Subsequent Majhi projects have also strengthened DBF’s connections with other European countries and institutions. DBF has a strong presence in Berlin, which made it possible to host the second Majhi Art Residency in Berlin in 2020 during Art Berlin, immediately before Berlin went into lockdown. In fact, DBF’s first collaboration, in 2018, was with German museum the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, to which Durjoy donated a major installation by Mithu Sen, the first work by a female Indian artist collected by a major German institution. The third Majhi residency was held in 2021 in Eindhoven, another city where the foundation has a strong presence.

A further recent major achievement of the foundation was the creation of the DBF Creative Studio. This former storage unit of Durjoy’s was converted into a gallery and space for limited gatherings during lockdown, as a way of exhibiting the wonders of the DBF collection in a safe setting.

White gallery with black and white photos of people's distressed faces on the walls

Photographs from the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, from the book Rise of a Nation, by Raghu Rai, images from the DBF Collection, shown at the DBF Creative Studio

Through it all, connections to Venice have remained central. In October 2019, following the first Majhi residency, artists involved in the scheme came to Dhaka to take part in the city’s first Italian Contemporary Art Days, supported by the Italian Embassy in Bangladesh and other partners. This was part of the wider programme for the 15th Italian Contemporary Art Day and “a prime example of how a cultural bridge can cross borders,” Durjoy notes. Meanwhile, in Dhaka, the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation works closely with the Italian Embassy in other areas – notably staging a vintage car and motorbike event to celebrate 50 years of friendship between the two countries last year.

Read more: Art Dubai opens in support of South Asian artists

What is the wider context for DBF’s work? The idea of “writing back to the centre” is a common trope in postcolonial literature and theory. “Writing back” identifies a paradigm wherein liberated nations turn the tables on the cultures of their former colonisers through the critical optic of art and writing.

Colourful cube sculpture and wall art

Black Square Breaking into Primary Colours, 2016, by Rasheed Araeen, DBF Collection

A similar idea underpins Durjoy’s thinking on DBF’s work, which is not just about building bridges but also about subverting what he calls “the Western gaze” on South Asian culture. “It’s not about blaming anyone,” he clarifies. “It’s just that when publications about South Asian art appear, the scholars have all been groomed within the Western education system, so you get a European or American perspective.” Within news culture, meanwhile, the Western gaze has been predisposed to find images of disaster and deprivation, particularly since the 1970s, when independence from Pakistan in 1971 was followed by a period of famine and hardship for much of Bangladesh’s population.

Five men stand by a sign celebrating friendship between Italy and Bangladesh

Enrico Nunziata, Durjoy Rahman, Atiqul Islam, Shahriar Alam and Anjan Chowdhury, at the opening of the DBF/Italian Embassy vintage car and motorbike event, Dhaka, 2022

Durjoy doesn’t seek to counter negative tropes within uncritically positive ones. In fact, he is keen to talk about how the British Raj and latterly the government of Pakistan – which took control of what is now Bangladesh, first as East Bengal and later as East Pakistan, after the 1947 partition of India – both subjugated national creative cultures. “It’s not only colonialism but achieving independence late, in 1971, that has hindered the cultural development of Bangladesh,” he reflects. “And the loss of connection with our cultural heritage was due to these same factors. During colonial times, craft and creative endeavours were purposely obstructed so that craftsmen could get on with work more useful to the colonial government. Then, after the 1947 partition, still other aspects of our cultural heritage started fading away, including our own language, Bengali. There was a revolution in 1952 to protect the language.”

Strange cat like coloured sculptures presented on a wooden bridge in a gallery

History/Cartography/Territorialism, 2023, by Dhali Al Mamoon, participant in the Majhi International Art Residency in Venice, shown at the DBF Creative Studio

Happily, many of these traditions have been reborn in recent decades, with Bangladesh’s millennia-old textile industry an area of growth, notably through renewed production of jamdani, a fine handspun muslin cloth that has become an emblem of national cultural pride.

Nonetheless, as Durjoy points out, DBF’s programme for his country’s ongoing cultural rejuvenation remains timely and relevant in a global arts scene seeking to heal rifts caused by imperialism. As Durjoy puts it, in a phrase that is reminiscent of that ferryman again, the foundation is “on time”. All aboard for the ride, from Dhaka to Venice, London and elsewhere.

Read more: durjoybangladeshfoundation.org

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Reading time: 8 min
A girl looking at a painting frightened clutching a notepad
portraits of people

Dilara Begum Jolly, Parables of the Womb. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Barrister A B M Hamidul Mishbah, who specialises in Intellectual Property (Copyright & Visual Art) and Technology Law writes about three historic derivative artworks from the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation’s extensive collection, and provides insight into the complex issues of copyright and ownership in the art world

“I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph” said Leon Levinstein. Every element of an artistic or creative work, be it a photograph or a painting, weaves a tapestry of ingenuity. The pursuit of collecting such artistic or creative works is a testament to the realities we encounter in our lives.

“Parables of the Womb”, acquired and preserved by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF), is a series of portraits of Birangonas (War Heroes) of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. The masterpieces were created by Dilara Begum Jolly, acclaimed artist, painter, and sculptor in Bangladesh. Jolly  rejuvenated original photographs to commemorate the plight experienced by women during the troubled times of the Liberation War.

The artworks consist of reprinted photographs of the Birangonas (War Heroes), adorned with needlework, achieving the status of ‘derivative work.’ Derivative work is a form of creative expression spawned from pre-existing original work that contains substantial transformation in line with the creator’s vision. As a result, it receives the protection of copyright law and allows the creator to control her integrity and commercial interests.

A profile of a woman in lots of different colours

Andy Warhol, Ingrid Bergman, Edition 10/30. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Andy Warhol, perceived as one of the pioneers of Pop Art, created the artwork “LIZ” in 1963. The “LIZ” series comprises several paintings devised from Elizabeth Taylor‘s publicity photograph for her film ‘Butterfield 8.’ Andy Warhol used a method of silkscreen printing, and the series showcases Warhol’s signature style of vibrant and bold colours blended with contrasting hues to highlight the artist’s fondness for fame, iconic personalities, and celebrity culture.  The series remains a significant part of Warhol’s enduring legacy, speaking to the relationship between art, commerce, and mass media, inspiring the artists and audiences of this age. One of the artworks in the series of derivative works, is another jewel of the DBF’s collection.

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Atul Dodiya, one of the most coveted contemporary artists in the Indian subcontinent, rose to prominence in the late ’90s for a series of artworks he created on Mahatma Gandhi. One of the artworks from that series depicts Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose engrossed in a deep conversation, created using a public domain photograph dating back to 1938. The original photograph was captured during a session of the Indian National Congress in Haripura, marking the first resolution after regaining India from the British Raj.

The artistic rendition created by Dodiya is a sepia-washed watercolour painting, immortalising the historic moment that paved the way for India’s liberation and commemorates the significant roles played by the two iconic leaders. The DBF steadfastly preserves this piece.

A girl looking at a painting frightened clutching a notepad

Atul Dodiya, Noakhali, November 1946. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Original photographs enjoy copyright protection under copyright law. Copyright protection for photographs begins the moment the image is created, i.e., fixed onto the film negative through the camera’s shutter click. The person who captures the photograph is considered the ‘author’ and becomes the first owner of the photograph’s copyright, enjoying exclusive rights, including the right to reproduce (copy, print, download, etc.), the right to communicate to the public, create derivative works, and the right to prevent unauthorised use by third parties.

This means the original photographs, whether portraits of the Birangonas, Taylor’s publicity photograph from the film ‘Butterfield 8,’ or stock images from the 1938 session of the Indian National Congress in Haripura, were standalone works created by independent photographers. These photographers are presumed to be the authors and owners of the copyright in those photographs unless there is covenant to the contrary; the portraits are unequivocally not orphan works.

Maurizio Cattelan
has said: “Culture has been rewritten many times from many different points of view. If we look at history, copying has been the method of disseminating knowledge as much as in the contemporary world: scribes copied books to ensure future generations had the same knowledge and to preserve their culture over the centuries. A few years earlier, the Romans copied Greek sculptures, as today we copy the great classics and see them in souvenir shops. Copying is a concept as old as humanity because it is the presupposition of knowledge tout court.” This philosophy that resonates with Rabindranath Tagore‘s school of thought on ‘moner mukti’ (indulgence of the mind). This is the juncture where the law intersects with creativity and innovation.

Three artworks of tools in the sky

Shilpa Gupta, Unnoticed, 2017. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Creating derivative works from original photographs is permissible if endorsed by, and without prejudicing the interests of, the original author. Some jurisdictions are accommodating to derivative works created for certain purposes under the principles of ‘fair use,’ without the original author’s permission, taking into account the underlying purpose, nature, extent, and potential impact of the derivative work.

Read more: Syed Muhammad Zakir’s imagined city of Baghreb

By and large, artistic works create bridges that connect our past, present, and future, reminding us of the timeless beauty and relevance of human creativity. Artistic works such as “Parables of the Womb”, the “LIZ” series, and Dodiya’s paintings have the innate ability to evoke emotions, resonate the connection between art and human experience, and ignite the passion for collecting and celebrating art.

Two women, one holding a child in a dark room wearing large green glasses

Firoz Mahmud, part of a photograph series, ‘Soaked Dream’. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

The interplay between copyright protection for photographs, derivative works, and digital artistic assets has become remarkably intense in the age of NFTs, which consistently push the boundaries. NFTs have revolutionised the concept of ownership and the domain of collecting and preserving art. Owning an NFT and owning a copyright are not the same. Copyright law does not confer any rights to the NFT owner, but the NFT owner may use ownership to exert substantial control over an NFT. This control is not automatic; two separate rights come into play here—the right to own a single copy of the artistic work, and the right to make copies and generate derivative works from the original work. NFT technology enables broader access to innovative creations. Collectors of artistic works can now play a transformative role and foster a dynamic ecosystem that blends artistry and commerce in ways never seen before, while the tokenisation of artworks into NFTs opens new streams for generating revenue.

Nonetheless,  collectors remain custodians of history. It’s not the financial gain but the narratives woven by the creators that motivate most collectors. They dedicate themselves to safeguarding artworks as a testament to the evolving journey of humanity. Each piece of artistic work encapsulates a moment frozen in time. With every piece of work, artists breathe life into their visions, and collectors, in turn, take on the responsibility to ensure that these visions endure for generations.

A family with children wearing large green glasses in a dark room

Firoz Mahmud’s photograph series, ‘Soaked Dream’, is a project about performative refugee, displaced and migrant families, being progressed between 2015-2021. Image courtesy of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

The acquisition and conservation of artistic creations like “Parables of the Womb”, the “LIZ” series, or Dodiya’s watercolour paintings by a collector passes down our narratives to the generations to come.

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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A man standing in front of a painting of a boy with a bow and arrow
A painting of two children and a real man with long black hair and a black scarf beside the painting

Matthew Krishanu with Riverboat, in 2021. Photograph by Jean-Noël Schramm

British-Indian artist Matthew Krishanu’s paintings offer a nuanced exploration of cultural identity, memory, and personal experience. LUX looks at his works and career through an autobiographical lens

Matthew Krishanu was born in Bradford, England to an Indian mother and a white English father, before moving to Bangladesh where he spent 11 years of his childhood, returning to the UK at age 12. The experience of growing up between two cultures has had a profound impact on his work, which often reflects on the tensions and complexities of cultural identity.

Two boys standing in red and bleu tops and jeans holding archery bows

Archers, 2021, part of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation. Photograph by Peter Mallet

His figurative paintings have a distinctive flatness, compounded by the use of vivid, block colours and ambiguous, even distant, facial expressions. He explores themes of family and grief, religion and race, childhood and memory, with many of his paintings representing his early years in Bangladesh.

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For one of his most famous shows, ‘Another Country’ (2014) at the Nunnery Gallery in London, Krishanu worked from old photographs, and his own memories and imagination to reconstruct images from his childhood. The viewer is transported not only to another continent, but to another time, entering the artist’s personal past, remembered landscapes, moments, his relationship with his older brother.

a boy in a blue top and a girl in a red top sitting on rocks playing by a stream

Two Boys on Rocks, 2022, from the series Another Country. Photograph by Peter Mallet

When the artist was asked where feels most like home to him, the UK or Bangladesh, Krishanu responded, ““I have lived in England for over three decades, and London in particular feels like home now. However, the world of the ‘two boys’ (Bangladesh and India) feels like home to them – the places I paint are the home of my childhood.”

A painting of a woman standing in jeans, a white t shirt and a white hat

Safari 2021, part of the the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation. Photography by Peter Mallet

In other works, Krishanu explores faith and religion and this way in which they relate to race and colonial history, a key part of his own personal experience as the son of a Christian missionary in South Asia. Paintings such as “Ordination” (2017) observe unsettling power dynamics relating to complex religious politics of Bangladesh, while in his contribution to Southbank’s ‘Everyday Heroes’ exhibition (2020), he pays tribute to the faith workers from different races and religions and their contributions to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A painting of priests in a church

Ordination, 2017, from the series Mission. Photograph by Peter Mallet

In 2021, he exhibited ‘In Sickness and Health’ at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum, a series of profoundly intimate paintings, including several of his late wife at different moments throughout their relationship, and his daughter as a newborn baby. In one painting his wife appears bright-eyed in a wedding dress, while in others she is receiving hospital treatment towards the end of her life. The series acts as a quiet and calm, yet deeply emotional study of not just grief and loss, but the vulnerability and changeability of the human body.

Krishanu explains, “I am interested in how one’s emotional connection to a subject can be communicated in the paint handling, colour, atmosphere and feeling of a painting. It’s something I look for in painters I love – and I feel creates a point of entry for the viewer.”

paintings on a wall of a gallery

In Sickness and in Health, Mead Gallery, 2022. Photograph by Ed Florance

The artist graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in Fine Art and English Literature and went on to complete a master’s degree in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2009. Since then, he has exhibited his work in solo and group shows across the UK and internationally, including shows in India, China, Pakistan, Germany and the US.

Read more: Sam Dalrymple and Durjoy Rahman On Cultural Reconnections Post-Partition

His work is included in numerous major collections, including the Arts Council Collection, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Government Art Collection UK, Komechak Art Gallery and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art..

A painting of children standing in a room

Four Children (Verandah), 2022, from the series Expatriates. Photograph by Peter Mallet

Krishanu continues to invite his readers to share in the rich narratives of his personal and cultural history, as well as their own. His first trade monography was published in March 2023 and features a selection of his works, including ‘Another Country’, ‘Expatriates’, ‘Mission’, ‘House of God’, ‘Religious Workers’ and ‘In Sickness and In Health’.

Find out more:

matthewkrishanu.com

casematepublishing.co.uk/matthew-krishanu.html

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Pakistani engineer turned conceptual artist, Rasheed Araeen, is using his geometric art to highlight racism and inequality. LUX explores the history behind his celebrated works
A man wearing a beige jacket and striped shirt standing in front of a geometric painting

Rasheed Araeen

Rasheed Araeen is now considered one of Britain’s pioneers of minimalist sculpture during the mid to late 20th Century. But during that period, he received little institutional recognition for his contribution to the modernist discourse in Britain. Araeen’s Pakistani background side-lined him as a non-European whose work was consistently evaluated within the context of post-colonial structures, which inevitably resulted in far less exposure.

A yellow, blue, red and black wooden clock with cut out shapes hanging on a wall and open sided cubes in blue, yellow, greed and red on the wooden floor

Black Square Breaking into Primary Colours, 2016, from the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

This latent racism led to his work in the 1970s and 1980s – in performance, photography, painting and sculpture – developing an overtly political content which drew attention to the way in which black artists were invisible within the dominant Eurocentric culture.

pieces of paper with colourful drawings stuck on a wall

Untitled, 2015

Araeen is now famously known for using geometric structures, in which vertical and horizontal lines are held together by a network of diagonals, to play on the links between Eastern and Western thought and the frameworks of social institutions and aesthetics.

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He often overlays his photographs within geometric structures, to further emphasise humans and the social structure in which they exist.

Rhapsody in Four Colours, 2018. Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Araeen comments, “I’m sick of the avant-garde and I want to get out of it. It is believed that the idea of abstraction is a twentieth-century phenomenon. In Damascus, it took place 1200 years ago. Nobody wants to hear about that in Europe.”

Read more: Behind The Lens Of Sunil Gupta’s Photographs

purple, green and orange triangles on a black and white diamond background

OPUS TD 3 (2), 2017. Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Through his artworks and books, Araeen has become a key activist in establishing a black voice in Britain’s art scene, publishing ‘Black Phoenix’ in 1978, and subsequently ‘Third Text’ in 1987, and ‘Third Text Asia’ in 2008. Araeen also founded Kala Press, to spread information and recognition of unacknowledged African and Asian artists in Britain who contributed to the development of post-war British art.

Rasheed Araeen lives and works in London. He is represented by Grosvenor Gallery.

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Two men playing with a basket ball standing next to a van filled with basket balls
Two men playing with a basket ball standing next to a van filled with basket balls

The 2023 edition of Art Dubai will feature 24 Dubai-based galleries, the largest number the fair has ever had, reflecting the continued growth of Dubai’s artistic ecosystem and its increasing reputation as a global creative and cultural hub

The most significant art fair in the Middle East opened today with a focus on artists from South Asia. LUX reports on the multi-sensory experience that Art Dubai is currently offering to its visitors

Art Dubai has traditionally bee a blend of art from the Middle East from surrounding regions and the rest of the world. This year the focus is firmly on South Asia, specifically countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose thriving contemporary art scene is informed by ancient cultural and craft influences as well as much more modern societal conversations and clashes.

A woman looking at a red and pink light installation

Art Dubai is featuring over 130 contemporary, modern and digital gallery presentations from six continents

“South Asian artists are receiving reinvigorated attention on the world scene due to a new generation of collectors, artists and galleries. Many of the most interesting artists from the region have been creating significant works for years or even decades, as the recent Pop South Asia exhibition at Sharjah Art Foundation, hosted by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, demonstrated. Although there is a current growing interest in South Asian art, it is also important for collectors to understand the cultural and historical nuances that inform it.”

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“People in these countries have been creating notable art works in a variety of mediums for a very long time and we should be careful to avoid a simplistic western-orientalist perspective that it is just being ‘discovered'”, says Durjoy Rahman, LUX partner, philanthropist and founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

A man looking at three squares of art in blue, yellow and purple

The 2023 fair includes over 30 first-time participants and more than 60% of the gallery programme is drawn from the Global South

Rahman’s foundation supports both the Sharjah Art Foundation and Art Dubai.

The programme is unlike other art fairs, delivering daily performances and food-based experiences spanning Dubai to South Asia.

Read more: Rana Begum and Durjoy Rahman on South Asian art’s global ascendancy

People in costumes standing on a stage holding bowls of food

The focus on the Global South has been heightened by a new commissioned performance programme in partnership with leading South Asian galleries and institutions

The themes explored at the fair include those of community, celebration, hope and connection. Among the significant galleries involved in the South Asian focus at Art Dubai are Galleria Continua, Efie Gallery and Unit London.

Art Dubai is open from Wednesday 1st-Sunday 5th March 2023

Find out more: artdubai.ae

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Two men and two women standing around an award
Two men and two women standing around an award

Left to right: Kamruzzaman Shadin, Salma Moushum, Sangeeta Jindal and Durjoy Rahman

The Asia Society India Centre hosted their first in-person event since COVID-19 for the The 2023 Asia Arts Game Changer Awards in which the winner of the Asia Arts Future Award 2023 was announced.The event was attended by a diverse group of collectors, curators, artists, gallerists, business leaders, and global institutional heads

This year’s winner of the Asia Arts Future Award 2023 is the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts.The Foundation was founded in 2001 by Kamruzzaman Shadhin and co-run by Salma Jamal Moushum in the village of Balia in Thakurgaon, Bangladesh. The organisation aims to develop artworks and projects that respond to local history, culture, and the environment. This is done through various social practices and community-focused activities.

An artwork of sculptures of people holding hands in a circle

Bhumi Project at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022/23. Image courtesy of DBF/GB

This award category has been supported the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) since 2020 for. Since 2019 Gidree Bawlee has been working with DBF on various projects. Kamruzzaman Shadhin was even a participant in the organisation’s first Majhi Art Residency Project in 2019 in Venice, Italy.

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In 2020, DBF collaborated with Gidree Bawlee Art Foundation, to create the “Bhumi” project which supported traditional crafts and workers in the Thakurgaon District during the pandemic. Subsequently, the works are currently on display at the Fifth Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Fort Kochi, India until April 2023.

three women and a man all wearing dresses and tunics standing side by side

Left to right: Salma Moushum, Varunika Saraf, Nilima Sheikh and Kamruzzaman Shadin

DBF also funded another exhibition with Gidree Bawlee Director, Kamruzzaman Shadhin, titled “The Elephant in the Room”.

Read more: Rana Begum and Durjoy Rahman on South Asian art’s global ascendancy

The exhibition was was hosted at the US Embassy and the Canadian High Commission in Dhaka in 2020 /21 and was later exhibited in D3 space during Art Dubai 2021.

Find out more:

www.gidreebawlee.org

durjoybangladeshfoundation.org

 

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A man in a yellow dress and white trousers wearing a black cardigan standing with a woman in blue dress in front of a multicoloured net hanging from the ceiling

Durjoy Rahman is a collector of Rana Begum’s mesmerising works

The second of the LUX dialogues co-hosted with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation covers the hot topic of artists from a region long overlooked despite a powerful legacy and thriving local artistic culture

South Asia was, until recently, dramatically underrepresented in the global art world. Contemporary and historical artists from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan had few champions on the world stage, and their home countries often lacked the infrastructure or cultural will to support them. In this fascinating dialogue, moderated by LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai, British-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum chats with Dhaka-based philanthropist Durjoy Rahman, Founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, about how things are changing, Western perceptions, and whether everything can be blamed on colonialism or post-colonial legacy

LUX: Durjoy, for artists from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, is private patronage needed, with institutions not as strong as in wealthier countries?

Durjoy Rahman: Private patronage is essential for the development of art and its ecosystem in South Asia. Western art practices are organised, with support systems between government and private institutions. That’s missing in South Asia. Art and culture have historically been important, but during colonialism, what are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were controlled by the British, who didn’t promote them. After independence, there was the Bombay Progressive Arts Group (PAG), but no significant structural developments – and there have been religious and political tensions. Interest has grown in the past two decades but, I think, not yet into in the wider communities.

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Rana Begum: I feel, in arts terms, that India got attention, Pakistan struggled along, Bangladesh was left behind. It’s only in the past decade, since people like Durjoy have created support networks, that art and attitudes towards it are changing. Durjoy, I think you have three works of mine, and that shows a seriousness that artists require to survive and grow.

LUX: Rana, as a Bangladesh-born, UK-based artist, has the perception of you and your art changed?

RB: I remember, as an artist studying and growing in the UK, being pigeonholed as a “female Muslim artist from Bangladesh”. I tried hard to not be restricted as that – you have to be careful how you and your work are perceived. I see myself as a Bangladeshi-British artist. Ironically, to make it into institutional collections you must meet certain criteria. I don’t fulfil Bangladeshi criteria for a certain institute; I fall under the British category – a bigger pond to select artists from. There are positives and negatives. In terms of my career trajectory, it really started at Dhaka, 2014. That’s where it took off.

red, blue, yellow and green glass frames on grass outside a building

Rana Begum’s works blur the boundaries between sculpture, painting and architecture

DR: Before that, people were aware of your practices but didn’t have access to your work. With, say, the basketwork at Dhaka, people saw you take a local material and transform it. So you have been in our ecosystem, but were not properly presented until then.

LUX: Rana, is this an historical moment for art from South Asia? Are we seeing change in its creation, perception and global transmission?

Rana Begum: I saw a shift when I first exhibited at Dhaka Art Summit in 2014. It was amazing to see an international audience. I’ve seen artists’ visibility grow since – and politics around #MeToo and race has meant female artists and artists of colour have become more visible. It’s great to see the calibre of artists in the limelight having the success they deserve.

LUX: So if we had this conversation 10 years ago, would there have been less recognition in Europe of South Asian art?

DR: For the past decade, there has been great momentum around South Asian art, so yes, there was less then. But interest in South East Asian art started around the millennium, and grew with events like Art Dubai.

A woman spraying paint on a canvas wearing a mask

The geometric patterns in Rana Begum’s works are influenced by Islamic art

RB: Curators and institutes are more aware of what to do to be multicultural and grow a multicultural audience, and galleries are looking for artists working in different ways. My relationship with Jhaveri Contemporary has opened up a wider South Asian collector base. Slowly, things are shifting in how the art worlds work in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and they support each other, which gives a strong base for artists.

LUX: Thinking of your 2022 show at Pitzhanger, Rana, how important is it for people to understand your history when they see your works?

RB: Not at all. My work is about experience and what the viewer achieves from it, so, for me, my culture or gender doesn’t dictate that. I can see that background can give an insight, but, for me, it’s not significant.

LUX: Durjoy, what needs to happen around South Asian art in the next ten years in Europe and the States?

DR: South Asian institutions and corporate bodies should build connections with Western institutions, so our voice is heard and our art is seen. UK-produced work is not considered as South Asian or as produced by a South Asian diaspora, so those areas need highlighting. Regional tensions also need straightening out to develop the ecosystem. And I agree with Rana about Bangladesh: we only gained independence in 1971, and there are tensions that must go to get to the next step.

Read more: Liza Essers and Durjoy Rahman on art and the Global South

RB: Having a collector, like Durjoy, is a huge factor. Some artists wouldn’t have opportunities to develop without collectors. It’s also important that artists get support from other artists in positions to give it. For me, the opportunity to go to Bangladesh to see Durjoy is a chance to see what’s going on and what can be done.

LUX: Durjoy, you have three of Rana’s works. What fascinates you personally about her work?

DR: I actually have four of Rana’s series – her paperwork came to my collection from her 2022 Cristea Roberts Gallery exhibition. Rana’s work has many elements that move me – I saw Folds as kites, which are important in Bangladesh, where we have a famous kite festival. Net reminded me of the fishing nets of Sylhet, where Rana is from. She also uses a green that resembles the green of the Bangladesh flag. There is a particular motif that looks like a river flowing, and our rivers look like that exotic pattern. Rana’s work is influenced by Islamic architecture, but I also see it from a Bangladesh perspective.

A woman wearing jeans and a black t shirt standing in front of multicoloured nets hanging on a wall

Rana Begum’s art distils spatial and visual experience into ordered form

LUX: Rana, what’s next for you?

RB: I’m working on some US projects; there’s a site-specific installation at the Dhaka Art Summit; and Dappled Light is touring to Concrete, Dubai from 26 February, then to The Box, London, and to St Albans, where I grew up.

LUX: Fantastic. Durjoy, is there anything you would like to ask Rana?

DR: I would just offer my appreciation and recommendation – keep doing what you are doing; engage through the community and your practice, especially the charity work I have the pleasure to attend. Communities need you, collectors need you. Keep doing those good things.

Find out more:

durjoybangladeshfoundation.org

ranabegum.com

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three men standing together, two in navy blazers and a smaller man in the middle wearing a multicoloured scarf and grey t-shirt

Durjoy Rahman with Bose Krishnamachari, president of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery, at the launch for the DBF-KMB Award and Lecture Series, Venice, April 2022, photographed by Clelia Cadamuro

With the opening of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on Monday 12th December, LUX speaks to the founders of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation/Kochi-Muziris Biennale Award, which has been created in collaboration with the Hayward Gallery, London.

The inaugural recipient of the multi-year award will be chosen shortly after the opening of the fifth Kochi-Muziris Biennale, held in Kochi, Kerala, India, in December 2022. Aligning with Rahman’s ethos, the award will be bestowed based on merit to an emerging South Asian artist participating in the Biennale.

framed items on coloured canvases hung up on a wall

Spring Song, 2016 ongoing, by Munem Wasif

“Recipients will have their first UK solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space in the Southbank Centre. Such an honour will no doubt transform the trajectory of their careers,” says a clearly pleased Rahman. “Seeing a South Asian artist, irrespective of their religion or country of origin, occupy such a prestigious space in London – the former centre of colonial Britain – is a powerful example of decolonisation, progress and tolerance.”

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Speaking exclusively to LUX, Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff adds his own thoughts on the initiative: “With the DBF-KMB Award, Durjoy Rahman will be expanding the impact and legacy of South Asian art by funding exhibitions of South Asian artists at London’s Hayward Gallery, introducing UK and European audiences to important new artistic voices from the region.” He adds, “By fostering cultural exchange and community-engagement programmes, the DBF plays a vital role in creating new connections and conversations between South Asian artists and the rest of the world.”

a brick wall

The Wall, 1967, by Murtaja Baseer

Fittingly, Rugoff will also be co-curating another impressive facet of the collaboration, The Durjoy Bangladesh Lecture Series, alongside the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation team. Slated for 2024, 2026 and 2028, the programme promises to feature an impressive line-up of distinguished curators and artists from the Global South.

Read more: Durjoy Rahman: Making Space For Art Of The Global South

Staying true to his mission, Rahman notes that the public series will “further build the Hayward Gallery’s critical and research-driven engagement with the South Asian arts landscape.”

Untitled, 1975, by Shahabuddin Ahmed

Remembering partition is never a simple exercise. But doing so through the lens of Durjoy Rahman, via his artistic philosophy, philanthropic mission and art collection, offers a unique understanding of the subcontinent and applicable methods of decolonisation. “Rather than alienate one group or another, art should bridge our collective understanding,” says Rahman, as our time together comes to an end. “This is the moment to remember that lesson.”

Find out more: durjoybangladesh.org

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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A man wearing a black suit and pink shirt sitting on a chair in front of green portraits hing up on a wall

During the pandemic, the conventional public and private art spaces closed their doors as it was clear art was not a necessity at this time. Durjoy Rahman realised this but thought there must be a way for creativity and discussion to still occur during this difficult period and so the DBF Creative Studio was born in collaboration with Porcelanosa Studio Bangladesh

A sculpture of a lion walking in a wooden room
buddhist statues underneath a chandellier
A brown sculpture on a wooden plinth

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DBF Creative Studio, located in the heart of Dhaka City, invites creative thinkers to showcase their work for others to enjoy and appreciate. This alternative space allows people to engage, converse and experience art and creativity on a limited scale whilst maintaining safety parameters.

Nupami Grupo, founded in 2013 in Spain, originated with the goal of brining high-quality products from Spain to different South Asian markets. Nupami, as a Porcelanosa Associate, very quickly became a leader in the high-end building materials sector. Nupami’s collaboration some of the industry’s most prestigious architects and developers has provided a platform for new materials to be discovered and used as well as refresh the market with new trends in the architectural and design field.

wood crafted sculptures and furniture in a room
green portraits on a wall
portraits in a room hung on a wall

CEO of Nupami Bangladesh Ltd, Porcelanosa Associate of Bangladesh, Aritz Izura commented “The planning and design of this 1,450 square foot gallery included the reuse of materials from old cultural heritage sites, resulting in a beautiful interplay of the old and the new. So, when we were tasked with choosing the material for the gallery display wall, we gave it careful consideration and research.

Art and the contexts in which it was displayed changed dramatically with the rise of modernism. The use of neutral colors was thought to be an effective way of creating a “pure” space; a void-like atmosphere in which art could be experienced without being distracted by extraneous distractions. For private galleries, the practical solution was to select a color and material that would complement the majority of the works on display.

We felt that XLight, a timeless large-format porcelain tile featured on these walls with artworks by such great artists, would provide the ideal setting and enhance the aesthetics of the space. Marble has long been used in both art and architecture as a design element. Thanks to technological advances, the beauty of marble has been captured by Porcelanosa’s exclusive range of products. Concrete Grey, the XLight used in this project, serves as a subtle canvas on which artists can tell their stories for many years to come.”

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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A man and woman sitting on chairs having a discussion
A man and woman sitting on chairs having a discussion

Liza Essers and Durjoy Rahman in discussion at Goodman Gallery, Mayfair, London

In the first of our series of online dialogues, Liza Essers of Goodman Gallery and South South speaks with philanthropist Durjoy Rahman about the western eye on art, and the future of culture in the Global South. With an introduction and moderation by Darius Sanai and created in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

History is always written by the winners. Whether or not that is true, there is more than an element of truth as far as art history is concerned. The West, home of most of the world’s wealth for most of the past millennium, is where the biggest auction houses, collectors, galleries, institutions, and market-makers are based. When the average LUX reader thinks of art history, they are more likely to think of Michelangelo or Monet than Khmer sculptors or 12th century Chinese visual artist Zhang Zeduan.

The art fair is now a global phenomenon, and Art Basel and Frieze, the two biggest players, have editions in Hong Kong and Seoul, as well as London, Paris, Basel, New York, Miami and Los Angeles (note the weighting there between East and West). But they are American and Swiss-owned organisations driven by legitimacy from heavy-hitter galleries in New York and London. When Abu Dhabi wanted to gain instant credibility in the art world, it opened a Louvre (with a Guggenheim coming soon).

Yet art did not start in the West, and is unlikely to end in the West. One of the most significant organisations seeking to loosen the western grip, and accompanying neo-Orientalist viewpoint, in the art world, is South-South. Co-founded by the esteemed Johannesburg-based gallerist Liza Essers, owner of Goodman Gallery, who represents William Kentridge, among many others, it bills itself a resource for artists, galleries, curators and collectors across the global south.

A woman wearing black sitting on a silver chair and a sculpture of a person with a green head and colourful body next to her

Liza Essers. Photographed by Anthea Pokroy. Courtesy Goodman Gallery

For the first in our series of online dialogues, we brought Liza together with a growing force in the rebalancing of east-west art relations, Durjoy Rahman. Founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, Durjoy is a multifaceted collector and philanthropist supporting artists and institutions across South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The foundation supports a residency at Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie, is launching a new partnership with India’s Kochi Biennial and London’s Hayward Gallery, and supports the esteemed Sharjah Art Foundation, among many other initiatives.

The dialogue between two intriguing leaders in art in the Global South was moderated by LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai, himself from Iran, in Essers’ Goodman Gallery in Mayfair, London.

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LUX: Liza, you set up South South as an organisation which does not just promote dialogue and art action, but additionally serves as a way to provide artists and galleries with a new way of interacting and selling work.

Liza Essers: Absolutely, it goes back much further than I think most people realise. South South started in 2010 after visiting Brazil and being completely inspired by walking through the streets of Sao Paulo and thinking about Johannesburg. These two places I felt had shared histories and realities of their current situation. South South then started as a curatorial initiative that I began with Goodman Gallery. There were two strong curatorial initiatives; South South and another project called In Context, that was looking at the dynamics and tensions of the place. I was really interested at the time in the term the ‘Global South’ which was very much established by Lula da Silva, as an economic term around foreign policy. I suppose my background in economics got me thinking about seeing these real distinctions within the Western art market and The Global South, in a context of underlying political and economic realities. Over the last 12 years, there have been big multi-place projects with galleries around The Global South.

A blue red and white scarf hanging on a washing line

Samson Kambalu, Beni Flag- Sovereign States (this is not what I meant when I said bang bang), 2019

LUX: Durjoy, do you see any parallels between the work of your foundation which is focussed around supporting south Asian art, artists and organisations, and the work of South South?

Durjoy Rahman: Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) was founded in 2018 and our mission was to support artistic, socially-activated practices. Not only do we promote South Asian artists, but also all across The Global South. There are many similarities between artists living in Asia, Africa and even South America with a lot of their work being interwoven as they live in similar social positions and environments. We also work with artists from Africa whose practices are aligned with social contexts that exist in South Asian countries like Bangladesh. For example, we hosted an artist from Ghana whose work we collected back in 2017 and his practices are very similar to those that we see in Dhaka. When I found his work and I realised the similar socio-economic environment, we started working with him and donated his work to a museum in the Netherlands for his first show in 2018, which is now in their permanent collection.

LUX: As part of the driving force behind the gathering momentum and support for artists from The Global South, is there a need for more organisations like yours?

LE: I feel that there is a need of course, but more importantly, we need collaboration. Instead of everyone trying to individually reinvent the wheel, the whole art world needs to shift together. Collaboration is so much more powerful if people work together to achieve better things for the arts.

DR: I agree, but I also believe that we need to make these artists more visible in their role throughout European history. A lot of South Asian or African artists came to Europe in the 50s and had shows alongside Picasso or Miro, there was a real cultural exchange. Unfortunately, due to the economic situation right after the end of colonial history, in Asia we became less visible and prominent. There is an urgency to work together to establish the position of the global south so that we are equally important in the development of modern art.

LE: Absolutely.

A TV in a gallery with a bench and headset

SP-Arte 2022

LUX: Is there a challenge for people to become artists in some countries in the global south, due to the lack of recognition of an art as a viable career? My father, who was Iranian, was a huge art lover and collector but he would have been aghast if I had wanted to actually be an artist.

LE: You are spot on. It is much better than it was, as there are more museums and contemporary art spaces, but there is still a long way to go concerning cementing arts and culture as central to education. For example, in our school system in South Africa, it isn’t part of the mainstream education system, so it is not something that kids are even growing up with. People who are struggling and are below the breadline want their kids to go and become professionals rather than artists due to the perception that they would be unable to make a living.

DR: Regardless of which class, middle or upper, the concept of your child having an arts career, has always been looked at with scepticism from the parents. Every family wants their children to be prosperous and this is not something that has traditionally been considered with an art career, as it is a high-risk option. I think, however, that the times are changing with the increase of museums and art spaces. I think more and more people will be interested in creativity and artistic practice because of the larger income generation.

LUX: Let’s talk about the Western Eye on the Art world. People might say “I’m going to go to an African Art Fair” or “going to look at some Asian Art” but they wouldn’t talk about a “European Art Fair”. Should that change and how important is it?

LE: I think it is of critical importance and one of the main reasons why I felt that it was not constructive or positive for Goodman Gallery to associate with the term African Art Fair. I do think we have to move away from the confines that come with these labels, and consider art as a global language, which is about the human condition globally. I think it is too driven by economics and markets in the West.

women dancing in long colourful dresses on the street

Yinka Shonibare CBE, Un Ballo in Maschera, 2004.

DR: I agree! Art is global – it’s not about Asian, African, American. I also think that it has a lot to do with the influence of a lot of organisations that have a ‘South Asian Sale’ or ‘Asian Art Week’. It doesn’t matter how much we think that the art is global if the branding or wording pushes us further into the corner that we want to come out of. This seems to be shifting as the West is looking more at the East. Of course, it will take time, but eventually one day art will be global, and for now we must work together to create global branding rather than regional.

LE: I will say that where it has been useful, if one thinks about a counterpoint, is something like the Johannesburg Art Fair. There has been a benefit of this as it becomes an educational opportunity to build a local collective and for artists to make money. I think we need give a little bit of credit as these regional fairs help to build art markets within our particular communities where there is an absence of cultural institutions and big museums.

Read more: Alan Lo On The Next Asian Art Hotspot

We also encourage these regional fairs to focus on quality and moments, bringing international art into the programme. That’s why for the Johannesburg Art Fair this year, being on the advisory board, South South have an interesting role in creating this shift. We included a video program with international galleries showing artists within the art fair context. It would be too expensive for galleries to show up at international art fairs, but it is an interesting way for audiences to experience international artists and galleries through the South South platform. This has been successful at art fairs this year as audiences can see international art.

LUX: Do you think there is a form of colonialism within the art world, whether conscious or unconscious, from major galleries and auction houses?

LE: I do feel so, although this is probably a bit controversial. We have all got a broader responsibility within our lifetime that I think we generally don’t necessarily take seriously enough and many of the big galleries will colonise or take the artists from the galleries in the Global South. They could be supporting artists and the community in a more productive way. Many galleries want William Kentridge, for example, but how many of them have actually shown up in Johannesburg and understood the context. It just becomes about brands and markets.

a grey, white and black doodled art work

Nolan Oswald Dennis, notes for recovery (touch), 2020

DR: In these galleries the financial aspect is a very big factor and a lot of emerging galleries are not able to participate in the big fairs. I think it is more about the financial strength of certain galleries and their ability to dominate space rather than colonialism.

LUX: Looking to education and the consideration that many people who move in the Western art world have Art History Degrees, a.k.a an education dominated by the teaching of the European History of Art and 20th Century US history. Does there need to be a shift in the way the history of art is taught and its many origins and truths?

LE: Definitely – I think that is one of the fundamental pillars of South South. It is much more about the curatorial aspect and the archive than it is around the selling of art. We have a whole archive section on the website where we are looking to gather in one central place and repository of the history of art from The Global South. It is amazing how all of these histories or particular moments in The Global South are not written into the history books, so the idea is really around gathering all of them into a central space.

DR: Information, which is a big factor, was not available or generated in our part of the world – it always generated from Europe, for example there was a huge printing industry in Germany. Due to the fact we, politically and financially, relied on the Western world, they became the authority of information through their dissemination. That is where a lot of things have been influenced, it is not because of colonialism but because of the financial strength they had, that they told their own story, rather than The Global South.

A projected screen under a wooden canopy in front of a purple wall in a gallery

Installation at FNB Art Joburg

LUX: Liza, Durjoy, what would you like to ask each other?

LE: For us at South South, we are now in a place where we want to recognise that post-covid we are returning to ‘business as usual’ with exhibitions and art fairs. I suppose what I am struggling with is how to make South South post-covid meaningful in the art world going forward, when we have to deal with the art world in its old form which is being on the road every few weeks for another fair. I am interested to know if you have any ideas while we are in a moment of reflection on how to move forward and make a success out of it?

DR: The South South platform must be balanced between commercial and non-commercial activities, because ultimately no activities can be successful long term if the business is not culturally sustainable. I think that covid has given us all a realisation of what the world needs, but I always say that art is an object too. We need to ensure its commercial viability. But on the other hand, what we have seen pre-covid at the art fairs is everything attached to the commercial sense. If we can encourage all the stakeholders and beneficiaries associated to work together to create a programme that is designed to give The Global South a stronger presence, I think that would be brilliant and give more representation and visibility to these artists.

Find out more: 

durjoybangladesh.org

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Reading time: 12 min
different colour saris on a green back ground
different colour saris on a green back ground

Whose Sari Now, 2007, by Charles Pachter

On the 75th anniversary of the end of British rule in India, LUX’s Maya Asha McDonald speaks to Durjoy Rahman, Bangladeshi philanthropist, art collector and founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, about the legacy of colonialism and Bengali art

At midnight on 15 August 1947, British India ceased to exist. As the British Empire receded into the history books, the vast land was divided into two dominions largely along religious lines: Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Marred by large-scale violence and mass migration, the controversial division of the subcontinent would be known as the partition.

With 2022 marking 75 years since the end of British rule, it is a time for reflection for many in these countries, not just about politics and history, but about the art and culture of the region, traditions that stretch back millennia but are now in the same vortex of globalisation as others on the creative planet. Durjoy Rahman founded the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF), a non-profit organisation, in 2018, with a mission to support and promote art from South Asia and beyond in a critical, international- art context. There is, he believes, a vantage point from which we can examine the past, understand the present and envision the future.

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Speaking with me amid his art collection, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Rahman says it is important to acknowledge the weight of the moment. “This is a big year for the Indian subcontinent: it’s 75 years since partition. 1947 may sound long ago, but my parents and many others retain vivid memories of that time,” he says. A seismic event, partition saw the migration of 14 million people and laid the groundwork for a second postwar revision of the subcontinent’s political cartography some years later: the creation of Rahman’s native Bangladesh, from what had been East Pakistan.

A man wearing a navy suit and white shirt standing by a window

Durjoy Rahman, founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, whose mission is to support and promote South Asian artists in a global context

“It is important to consider that Bangladesh was born in 1971, much later than India and Pakistan,” says Rahman. “Since we were established further along in the historical timeline, Bangladesh is behind in development compared to the subcontinent’s other countries. But our rich heritage and culture, originating in Bengal, has helped us reclaim our reputation.” The historic region of Bengal, to which Rahman refers, covers present-day East Bengal in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.

The Dhaka-based entrepreneur turned cultural activist is playing a vital role in rebuilding his country’s national voice, working diligently to elevate his homeland’s artistic titans and emerging talents. In establishing the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, Rahman also committed to furthering decolonisation. By incorporating his country’s name within the foundation’s title, in place of his surname, Rahman shares the DBF’s accomplishments with Bangladesh. In fact, ‘Durjoy Bangladesh’ means ‘Invincible Bangladesh’.

A cardinal tenet of the DBF’s mandate is to preserve the canon of Bangladeshi artists who flourished throughout the 20th century. “I have consciously collected works by artists who shaped the practice of modern art in Bengal,” says Rahman, whose foundation has created the first online personal-collection resource on Bengal Masters. “Murtaja Baseer, Mohammad Kibria and Safiuddin Ahmed are among those names. They have all sadly passed, but held great artistic influence before and after partition. Today, their work continues to inspire.”

A white paper sail boat on a black piece of paper

A Child’s Boat for Aylan and Ghalib, 2015, by Zarina

And so to the art collection. Pleased to share his Bengali treasures, Rahman directs my attention to Murtaja Baseer’s 1967 work, The Wall, from his series of the same name. Depicting a brick wall in the Dhaka Central Jail, the painting references the harsh realities of life in the 1960s under the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, the general who had seized the presidency in Pakistan (including East Pakistan, later Bangladesh). Composed of precise lines and balanced colours, this influential work of abstract realism is also broadly interpreted as a critical commentary on society at large.

Next, Rahman shows me two pieces by Mohammad Kibria and Safiuddin Ahmed, both created in 1980. At a glance, it is clear that Kibria and Ahmed share Baseer’s desire to visualise history. Ahmed’s copper engraving, aptly named The Cry, is a witness to the volatile period, including partition, that the artist lived through. Similarly, Kibria’s painting, Memorial, functions as precisely that, a visceral ode to the many souls lost during Bangladesh’s bloody Liberation War of 1971. In recent years, Kibria’s emotionally charged netherworlds have realised prices far above estimates at Christie’s auctions. It would seem Rahman has prophetic instincts.

Executed with a Bacon-esque flair and featuring baroque-like figures, Rahman’s masterwork by Bangladeshi artist Shahabuddin Ahmed, Untitled, 1975, is instantly one of my favourites in the collection. “His style may be slightly more European,” says Rahman, “but his subject matter is always something close to home.” With its dynamic composition, the scene emanates a kaleidoscope of emotions. Ahmed’s cosmic dancers at once invite the viewer to come closer, while alluding to the turbulence surrounding the 1975 Bangladesh coup d’état.

A woman in an Andy Warhol style picture

Herself, 1983, by Andy Warhol

To a large extent, Ahmed’s seminal work epitomises what Rahman believes art ought to be at its highest ideal. “Art should address the common man. It should not be completely detached from our daily life and society; if it is, then art won’t survive,” he expounds decisively. “That being said, creativity should be exercised with tolerance. Artists should look outside themselves and respect all peoples, regardless of race, religion or region.” Unsurprisingly, Rahman’s collection reflects his artistic philosophy.

Consequential and bewitching, Rahman’s modern works by South Asian artists offer a powerful visual chronology of the Indian subcontinent. I stare at them in awe. To my right, Nandalal Bose immortalises the struggle against British colonial rule in India with his 1936 portrait of a freedom fighter, Untitled (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan). Further down, Sayed Haider Raza sharply illustrates the Bangladesh Liberation War, with partition as its antecedent, in a lithograph, Untitled (Bangladesh), created around 1971. And hanging above where Rahman stands, Atul Dodiya takes on the mantle of decolonisation by reversing the Western gaze, in his 1999 diptych, German Measles: Kiefer’s Cell. And that is only to examine three artworks out of hundreds.

Two women and a baby wearing large green glasses

From the ‘Soaked Dream’ series, 2013 ongoing,
by Firoz Mahmud

Rahman has a special place in his collection for those artists of South Asian origin who left the subcontinent and settled in the West. “The legacy of partition is fundamentally linked with the concept and experience of displacement,” he explains. “This concept applies to diaspora artists, too, such as Rasheed Araeen and Zarina Hashmi, known professionally as Zarina.” Araeen is a celebrated Karachi-born conceptual artist living in London, and the late Zarina was a trailblazing Indian-American minimalist active in New York City. Both artists are in the permanent collections of Tate Modern and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

orange and brown paintings

German Measles: Kiefer’s Cell (diptych), 1999, by Atul Dodiya

Another prominent artist from the South Asian diaspora community for whom Rahman is a patron is the rising star Firoz Mahmud. Originally hailing from Khulna, Bangladesh, Mahmud lived in Japan and now lives and works in New York City. “The DBF is always engaging with projects that deal with the topics of migration and displacement,” says Rahman. “Mahmud is an expert at tackling these issues in his multidisciplinary exhibitions.”

a child looking at a picture of an old man and behind him art on the wall

Noakhali, November 1946, 2017, by Atul Dodiya

Indeed, Mahmud’s ongoing series, ‘Soaked Dream’, begun in 2013, which features displaced minorities including the Rohingya people, has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the 2019 COAL Prize at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The harrowing yet hopeful photo-sculpture series depicts migrant families envisioning their dreams through green sci-fi glasses, crafted with found objects from shelters and symbolising each family’s resilience and commitment to making a better life. It was photographed in Bangladesh, which has accepted more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees. Rahman says the series helps bring awareness to an issue that has largely faded from the West’s consciousness.

colourful pictures on white backgrounds stuck in rows on a wall

Untitled, 2015, by Rasheed Araeen

Several works in the collection address both Eastern and Western canons. One such piece is Atul Dodiya’s monumental 2017 collage, Noakhali, November 1946, which was shown at Art Basel 2018. As part of his series ‘Painted Photographs/Paintings Photographed’, Dodiya juxtaposes Europe’s first half of the 20th century against the same period in British India. “A dramatic shift took place, particularly in France, with artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp,” Dodiya wrote of the work. “During this period, India was fighting for freedom, which resulted in Independence from British rule and ended with Gandhi’s assassination.” Feeling almost inconsequential in its presence, I would suggest that this is Rahman’s most significant artwork.

a man sitting on a cream sofa wearing a cream jacket, white trousers and a denim shirt

Portraits by Matt Holyoak

As a cosmopolitan figure, the DBF founder’s collection also contains works from the Western canon that often wink at the Global South. These include enviable acquisitions, such as Charles Pachter’s witty 2007 painting, Whose Sari Now, and Andy Warhol’s iconic 1983 screenprint of Ingrid Bergman, Herself. Both Pachter and Warhol famously travelled to India, voyages that would inform Pachter’s subject matter and influence Warhol’s affinity for using vibrant swathes of colour in his work.

Gold outline of a person on a black background

Untitled (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), 1936, by Nandalal Bose

Unexpected links arise, too. Even Ingrid Bergman has a connection to the subcontinent through her one-time husband, Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini rather publicly left the Casablanca star in 1957 and eloped with Bengali screenwriter Sonali Dasgupta, to whom he remained married until his death in 1977. Clearly, Rahman’s collection is saturated with buzzworthy creations, rich in historical and cultural intrigue.

black paint on a red canvas

Untitled (Bangladesh), c 1971, by Sayed Haider Raza

Tearing my gaze from a brightly coloured Bergman, our conversation flows away from Rahman as collector to his ever-expanding identity as an international change agent. With the continued reverberations of the partition top of mind, the philanthropist draws a straight line between the largest mass migration in human history and the DBF’s mandate.

Read more: Shezad Dawood: Out Of The Blue

As a fledgling foundation itself, Rahman believes the DBF can empathise with the South Asian struggle of trying to gain purchase on the global stage. To help others avoid the similar exclusionary effects of colonialism and partition, he says, “many DBF initiatives work to help individual South Asian artists claim recognition outside the Global South. Part of that process means taking up space, both physically and metaphorically.”

Find out more: durjoybangladesh.org

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 9 min
a red art work with patches of other coloured paint on it
Painting of people playing tribal instruments

The Picture, 2002, by Shishir Bhattacharjee. This painting was sent to the exhibition by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation following collection from the artist

For one of the first times in history, the Sharjah Art Foundation has opened a major exhibition displaying pop culture modern and contemporary art from South Asia, titled Pop South Asia: Artistic Explorations in the Popular. Using humour, the works display the difficult issues that individuals and societies face on a daily basis

The exhibition, organised by Sharjah Art Foundation in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) has brought together 40 intergenerational artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and the diaspora, creating a show with over 100 artworks.

black and cream painting of people crowded together

Could have been the story of a Hero, 1987, by Shishir Bhattacharjee. This painting was loaned by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation collection

Whilst there is a wide range of the style of art being spotlighted in the show, from  print, cinematic and digital media to more traditional crafts and folk culture, all the artists, have a common theme running through their works: local capitalism. The works are accompanied by comments on identity, politics and borders.

A yellow, red and green of painting of women and men wearing army uniforms

In the Time of Pregnancy, 1990, by Dhali Al-Mamoon. This painting was sent to the exhibition by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation following collection from the artist

Curated by Iftikhar Dadi, artist and John H. Burris, Professor at Cornell University and Roobina Karode, Director and Chief Curator of the KNMA, Pop South Asia: Artistic Explorations in the Popular highlights the results of capitalism and media continuing to modernise and urbanise, not only in South Asia but on an international scale.

The show will be on display at Al Mureijah Art Spaces in Sharjah until 11th December 2022 after which it will be moved to the KNMA

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Reading time: 1 min
A colourful painting that says Nepali Power in an art gallery
An art gallery with pink and yellow walls and a piece saying 'Nepal Power'

Köken Ergun and Tashi Lama, Nepali Power, 2022

LUX sends Contributing Editor, Samantha Welsh, to report on the opening ceremony of Garden of Ten Seasons at Savvy Contemporary in Berlin

At the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale an announcement was made at the Nepal Pavilion, that a collaborative initiative between Kathmandu Triennale, Savvy Contemporary, Para Site, Siddhartha Arts Foundation and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF), with further support of Wellington and Virginia Sun Yee Trust, was going to take place.

A precursor to the Kathmandu Triennale (KT-2077), Garden of Ten Seasons engaged 40 international artists, aiming to investigate identity, cultural hegemonies and the politics of material. The exhibit aimed to connect different developments in the art scene in the South Asian region, from paubha painting in Nepal to ink in East Asia and barkcloth in the Pacific. The show discussed appropriate frameworks of understanding and bringing together these multiple aesthetic and cosmological lineages active today.

 

A gold and orange tapestry on a pink wall

Front:  Sainchi Phulkari Textile, late 19th century
Back: Mary Dhapalany, Untitled, 2018, Pandanus mat
© Raisa Galofre

a group of people standing in front of a pink and gold wall

Opening of Garden of Ten Seasons at Savvy Contemporary, 2022, with Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Aqui Thami, Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Cosmin Costinaș, Hit Man Gurung, Elena Agudio, Karan Shrestha and Durjoy Rahman © Raisa Galofre

A printed beige, black and red tapestry hanging from the ceiling and a gold rug below it

Citra Sasmita, Timur Merah Project II; The Harbor of Restless Spirits, 2019, Ink on leather, turmeric powder
© Marvin Systermans / Raisa Galofre

clothes hanging on wooden bars in a gold art gallery

A selection of amulet clothes, mid-20th century–2021
© Marvin Systermans / Raisa Galofre

People looking at art on golden walls in a gallery

Installation view of Garden of Ten Seasons at Savvy Contemporary, 2022 © Raisa Galofre

Find out more: savvy-contemporary.com

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Reading time: 4 min
A group of people standing together in front of an artwork
A group of people standing together in front of an artwork

Artists from around the world, including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Italy, came together for the Third Majhi International Art Residency in Eindhoven; and their installations on show in the 1918 Steentjeskerk church

Like many organisations, the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation saw its programming curtailed during the pandemic. In the second of this two part feature, Mark C O’Flaherty reports on the Majhi Residency, in which he saw artists from South Asia take over a church in Eindhoven, overcoming travel restrictions and bureaucracy to do so

Sometimes art takes on a significance and poignancy through timing and circumstance, like Andy Warhol’s ‘Sixty Last Suppers’ silkscreens, completed shortly before the artist’s death in 1987, or the ballerinas of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ performing their pas de chat on a loop on Russian state TV, marking the end of the Soviet Union. The theme of the Third Majhi International Art Residency, held at the historic Steentjeskerk church last October, was ‘Land, Water and Border ‘–inviting a group of artists from a broad range of geographic locations, to explore their individual and collective experiences of the roles played by each of the elements in the title in their lives, along with the politics, culture, heritage, nature and technology associated with them.

three screens in a church

Interactive installation by Yu Zhang, ‘3 Screens [land; water; border]

Its timing, initiated by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, was apposite, marking 50 years of Bangladeshi independence and close relations with the Netherlands, but the title took on extra layers of meaning for all involved during the residency. Each of the 10 artists –some travelling just a few miles to take part, others having made arduous journeys from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Italy–felt it differently, but deeply. In the autumn of 2021, crossing borders involved obstacles.

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“The response to Covid showed just how easily the Western world can open and close borders on a whim,” says Durjoy Rahman, the initiator and founder of the residency. “We faced a travel ban for certain Asian countries, and Bangladesh was among them. I had to solve the logistics of numerous travel permissions before concentrating on the content. We were proud to be able to create the only art event of its kind in the Netherlands during the period.”

A screen with a picture on it under a stained glass arched window

Audio-Visual Installation by Anon Chaisansook, ‘Lands with no Volcanoes’

Once the artists had managed to cross their various borders, there were other issues. “Many of the artists have vaccination records that the local authorities don’t recognise,” explained the UK-based event organiser Eeshita Azad at the launch event. “They weren’t able to access cafés or restaurants.” At the time, even the McDonald’s in Markt, the centre of town, was off limits to anyone without an EU-accredited pass, excluding Azad as well as the artists from the Indian subcontinent. Periodically, Durjoy hosted private dinners of hot meals and wine. There is a symbolism inherent in breaking bread together around a table that a snack from a street vendor simply doesn’t have.

A man playing a sitar in a white outfit in front of an artwork

Mixed media installation and performance by Joydeb Roaja, ‘Poolang, melody of the flute that brings unity’

The artists in Eindhoven bonded over a shared outsider status, but also the challenge of creating work for an imposing space that they were unfamiliar with. The church, built in 1918, stopped being a place of worship in the 1970s. Its pews are long removed, leaving a grand interior of tiling, marble and pillars. “It was overwhelming when we first arrived,” said Moch Hasrul, the Indonesian artist who created an interactive installation entitled ‘Protypo #2’, chronologising flour production and distribution within the agricultural industry using microcontrollers, sensors and Play-Doh. The work, conceived before coming to Steentjeskerk, was engulfed by the space in which it was exhibited. But, like everything else on show, it was one facet of a greater story.

A screen with a picture on it under a stained glass arched window

Audio-Visual Installation by Anon Chaisansook, ‘Lands with no Volcanoes’

The curator of the most recent residence–the third in an annual series, following Venice in 2019 and Berlin in 2020 – was Kehkasha Sabah, who wanted to explore the idea of “decolonising the Anthropocene”, essentially taking the human race as a geological force, and establishing the idea of many worlds within one.

Read more: Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation: Bridging Global South And North

“We need to listen to the earth and help others to listen to what we hear,” explains Sabah. “We have shared histories of colonialism, dictatorship, crisis, emergencies, and recently, the pandemic. How can we think about the new world order and, as cultural practitioners, contribute to a better world? How can we use technology and at the same time save nature?”

A table with trinkets on it

Interactive installation by Moch Hasrul, ‘Prototypo #2’

Some of the artists used the church as a performance space, complementary to their installations. Giulia Deval created physical theatre with her ‘Phonotransparence’, transmitting sound from her garments as she walked around. Joydeb Roaza played a wind instrument made by members of the indigenous Mro community in Bangladesh as part of his installation ‘Poolang, the Melody of the Flute That Brings Unity’; and Satch Hoyt, who has lived a nomadic life from Jamaica to Berlin, played a composition linked to his topographic-style painting ‘Crossing Paths that lead to Cultural Amalgamations’. Hoyt has spent his career creating maps generated by sonic forces that encompass the African diaspora, with work ranging from installation to traditional vinyl.

An exhibition in a church

Sound Installation Pier Alfeo, ‘The Blind Age’

While the artists found their time in Eindhoven challenging –living on supermarket sandwiches and working in temperatures close to zero –the residency represented a unique opportunity to create work together at a time when international communion

was a difficulty and a privilege. Flicking on a constant loop on the half-domed ceiling above the old altar was a film by Jog Art Space, recording a performance by the Bangladesh-based Yuvraj Zahed A. Chowdhury: a figure moves rhythmically on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, representing the great priest Khoaib Khazi, overseeing the purification of all who gather at the bay. As Chowdhury said of the work: “Humans are fragile. Everyone seeks refuge through sharing pain, and sometimes that sharing makes us happy.” Land, water and borders have become a shared experience in ways that we may never have imagined. And the fragility of our place within them has never been of greater concern

Find out more: durjoybangladesh.org

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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Three grey and blue oriental style paintings side by side
A man sitting on a paint splatted chair

Durjoy Rahman, the founder of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Like many organisations, the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation saw its programming curtailed during the pandemic. In the first of this two part feature, Rebecca Anne Proctor reports on plans to make up for precious lost time in its mission to bridge different geographic and conceptual worlds of art

When the Nepalese artists and curators Hit Man Gurung and Sheelasha Rajbhandari staged ‘Garden of Six Seasons’, a group exhibition at Hong Kong’s Para Site (15 May – 15 November 2020), they couldn’t have imagined that just two years later a version of the show would be held in Berlin during the summer of 2022. Held at SAVVY Contemporary, an independent art, cultural and community space (from 10 June to 10 July), the exhibition, which is now titled ‘Garden of 10 Seasons’, brings the work of Gurung and Rajbhandari full circle: from the Far East to the West in the effort to promote art from the Global South and flip a Western-centric vision of the world.

Three grey and blue oriental style paintings side by side

Artworks by Joydeb Roaza. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and the artist

A precursor to the recent Kathmandu Triennale 2077 – that took place in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 11 February to 31March – the Hong Kong exhibition, which they presented with the artistic director Cosmin Costinas, displayed artworks showcasing various interpretations of the garden as a metaphor for mankind’s relentless efforts to control nature and reconstruct the world order. The show in Hong Kong, then Berlin, critically looks at diverse Indigenous knowledge as a source for decolonising power structures, marking, as its curators state: “a much-needed intervention in our understanding of what constitutes art.” The exhibition also brings together South Asian partnerships, sponsored by Bangladeshi entrepreneur, art patron and collector Durjoy Rahman and his Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF). His aims, like those of Gurung and Rajbhandari, are precisely to forge cross-cultural dialogue and exchange between the Global South and international art community.

metal parts in the clouds

Works by Shilpa Gupta. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and the artist

Since its founding in 2018, DBF has been on a mission. The foundation’s forthcoming roll-out of events depicts a desire to transcend the challenges of the past few years and set the world order straight – through art and creativity. “The post-Covid scenario will be looked at differently by everyone regardless of whether or not they are involved in art,” said Durjoy from Dhaka. “From curated exhibitions to awards and symposiums, our effort to connect, convene and sustain a global art ecosystem is now stronger than ever.” From the founding of the foundation, Durjoy states that its aim was to “highlight and support artists and creatives in diverse mediums from South Asia and foster cultural exchange with the West and beyond.” With more than 25 years as an art collector, he says that while he has seen the art landscape of South Asia progress and transform, he believes it has “seldom received due recognition”.

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Over the next few months, the foundation will stage and support the Asia Arts Game Changer Awards India as a benefactor of the DBF Asia Art Future Award, presented to Sri Lankan Jasmine Nilani Joseph. In December2022, the first edition of the DBF Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) Award (announced in April 2022 during the Venice Biennale) will recognise ground breaking contemporary visual artists or collectives, predominantly from the South Asian region.

A square made up of small orange and red and blue rectangles

Works by Rana Begum. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and the artist

On 6 March, DBF-supported Indian artist Pallavi Paul’s first solo exhibition in Berlin, newly commissioned by SAVVY Contemporary and shown in the framework of the Berlinale’s Forum Expanded 2022. Additionally, DBF will help stage ‘Garden of 10 Seasons’ in the summer at SAVVY Contemporary. The fourth edition of the foundation’s Majhi International Art Residency will also take place from the end of September to early October this year, with the location still to be decided.

“Our aim is to create epistemological diversity by organising exhibitions, symposia, performances – the body as a site of discourse– radio programmes, discussions, poetry and literature events,” says Elena Agudio, the artistic co-director of SAVVY Contemporary, founded in 2009, that engages with the ideologies, politics and daily practices of oppression by deconstructing the history and continuity of Western hegemony, and by reconnecting with forms of co-existence and togetherness.

chefs working in a kitchen placing food on a plate

Culinary art by the ‘MasterChef Australia’ finalist Kishwar Chowdhury. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

‘Garden of 10 Seasons’ will be co-curated by the artists Gurung and Rajbhandari, and explores the meaning of gardens and their impact on culture. “Since 2009 we have been trying to undo Western systemic violence through creative means; we are trying to understand the world through multiple perspectives,” added Agudio. The show at SAVVY Contemporary will depart from the themes presented in Kathmandu. “At its core are image- and object-making lineages that transversed or unfolded in parallel to what the West has deemed as modernity,” said Rajbhandari and Gurung. In effect, the exhibition attempts to build frameworks of understanding and bridge together multiple aesthetic and cosmological conceptualisations.

six arches drawn on rectangles in purple, blue, red, green and brown

Works by Hamra Abbas. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and the artist

Many practices, such as Paubha painting in Nepal, ink wash in East Asia, and bark cloth in the Pacific, have been side-lined within Eurocentric discourse, added the curators. Most recently, DBF sponsored a symposium titled ‘Coming to Know’ on occasion of the opening of ‘A Slightly Curved Place’. Curated by Nida Ghouse and Brooke Holmes, the exhibition presented the first ambisonic, or three-dimensional, surround-sound installation staged by the UAE’s Alserkal Arts Foundation at Concrete, in Dubai, and based on the practice of the acoustic archaeologist and sound technician Umashankar Manthravadi.

Read more: Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation: Layers of Meaning

The exhibition offers new ways of thinking about curatorial practice, thus pushing the boundaries of what an art exhibition can offer– while also remaining open to the critical debate revolving around the importance and expansion of new technologies. “As an art foundation, our endeavours cannot be confined within the exhibition of our collection,” says Durjoy. “We wanted to fulfil our social purpose of building a greater awareness for South Asian artists in the global arena.”

A renaissance style painting of a family sitting together

Works by Rashid Rana. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and the artist

The symposium, in line with DBF’s greater aims of forging inter-cultural dialogue and exchange, was jointly staged by Alserkal Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Classics at Princeton University, in the US. Through discussions led by art and culture experts from the Arab world, South Asia and internationally, it gathered the public together through critical discourse relating specially to the realm of new technologies, culture, and art from the Global South. Creative expressions from South Asia deserve acknowledgment, DBF believes. The foundation thus aims to help bridge the cultural gap and represent such creatives to an international audience through programmes and events. These are intended to engage artists, communities, academics, and critics working in the creative space, as well as support them and advance the connection between art-making and important social and cultural issues in the region.

Durjoy Rahman at a DBF-hosted classic car event

Durjoy, always a man on a mission, with boundless energy and ideas, ultimately hopes to change the world through art, elevate artists from global areas that have been, until now, largely left out from the international art scene. “The idea of changing perspectives through art practice is something the DBF stands for,” explains Durjoy. “Our dynamic calendar of art events, exhibitions, residency programs, awards and symposiums works towards the mission of empowering artists and to rekindle our hope for a better future. We will continue to support art practitioners and their creations as we work to push forward the ideals of an open society.”

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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Abe Odedina, They’re Playing Our Song, 2021. Courtesy of the Artist, Diane Rosenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

In our ongoing online monthly series, LUX’s editors, contributors, and friends pick their must-see exhibitions from around the globe

Jumoke Sanwo, Artist & Curator, Founder of Revolving Art Incubator & Co-Founder of NFT Africa

Top of my list for this month is Under the Influence, Nigerian-British artist Abe Odedina’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. It’s presented as a special project room installation by Diane Rosenstein Gallery and opened during Frieze LA but runs until 12th of March 2022. The show includes a collection of eight still life and portrait paintings on plywood board – the artist’s nod to the street signage found in many African cities, especially on the streets of Ibadan and Lagos, from where he received his earliest influences.

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I am personally drawn to his work because it engages the charged relations between mythological and contemporary Afro experiences, delving into the magic realism of Yoruba mythologies and folk. He has a glossary of symbolisms of the everyday, alongside relatable characters and similar to some of his earlier influences such as the late Nigerian magician Professor Peller, he transports the viewer through bold imagery into a world of magical realism.

Shahrzad Ghaffari, Artist

While I’m in London working on Oneness, my commissioned artwork for Leighton House, I’m looking forward to seeing Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child at the Hayward Gallery (open until 15 March). Louise is one of my favourite artists — I love how vulnerable and expressive she is through her art. She works across a variety of mediums, such as painting, sculpture, and drawing. Her work explores traumatic events from her childhood with a beautiful sense of boldness.

art installation

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child at Hayward Gallery, 2022. © The Easton Foundation/DACS, London and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Mark Blower/© The Hayward Gallery

Durjoy Rahman, Art Collector & Patron, Founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

There’s so much great art to see this month, but I’m most excited about Desert X AlUla 2022, a recurring, site-responsive, international free admission art exhibition taking place in AlUla, Saudi Arabia (on until 30 March). The show features newly commissioned works by 15 artists from across the globe.

Read more: All-access rundown of Ozwald Boateng’s return to London Fashion Week

Stand-out pieces include Ghanaian artist Serge Attakwei Clottey’s Gold Falls, a vibrant yellow tapestry-like work made from square parts of yellow water jerry cans found throughout Africa that the artist has long used to discuss issues related to water scarcity and migration in Africa and also AFROGALLONISM, an artistic concept that comments on consumption within modern Africa. Jerrycans, imported to Ghana from Europe and Asia carrying cooking oil, are used to store water pumped from the soil in regions of short water supply. This situation contributes to plastic waste and fails to present a sustainable alternative. Addressing this situation, Clottey creates tapestries out of plastic pieces with the help of his community studio. These sculptural installations poignantly draw attention to the economic and social situation being faced by many people on this planet.

installation artwork

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Gold Falls at Desert X AlUla 2022. Photo by Lance Gerber

Tae Kim, Artist

Korean artist Park Grim’s solo exhibition entitled Horo, Becoming a Tiger is currently on show at Studio Concrete in Seoul (until 27 March 2022) and it’s definitely a must-see. A deep concern with self-image coupled with a lack of confidence has a tight grip on the Korean population, who have grown up in the age of the internet and the queer population, especially, still faces discrimination largely due to lack of understanding. In this latest exhibition, Grim uses his art to overcome the social stigma and self-hatred that he faces as a queer artist. Using the narrative of the shimudo, a story revolving around growth and enlightenment in Buddhist teachings, he illustrates his own journey towards self-confidence (towards, metaphorically, “becoming a tiger”) while diverse symbolism, quotes on contemporary Korean culture and references to the queer scene add a sense of depth and immediacy to the works.

Korean artwork

般若虎 반야호 The Tiger of Perfect Wisdom (Interracial), 2022, 비단에 담채

The LUX Editorial Team

This month, we’re spotlighting a few artists and organisations who are raising much need funds for Ukraine through the sale of artist prints, NFTs, and other creative initiatives.

According to artnet, the UkraineDAO (a decentralised autonomous organisation) co-created by Russian Pussy Riot founder and artist Nadya Tolokonnikova, has so far raised more than $4.6 million USD worth of ETH with the funds being donated to Come Back Alive, a crowdfunding organisation that funds members of the Ukrainian military and their families. The group’s NFT – a single edition of the Ukrainian flag –  is being released alongside a PartyBid, a tool that allows people to collectively bid, and, in case they win, own a fractionalised piece of the artwork. Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn is also selling 100 NFT called “Support Ukraine, Stop the war” on SuperRare for 0,24 ETH (~$690) with profits going to Ukrainian charities that support civilians.

Earlier this week, London-based creative space Have a Butchers launched a charity print sale in association with Hempstead May & May Print. The sale runs until 11th March with all prints sold at £50 and proceeds donated to the British Red Cross, Ukraine Crisis Appeal. New York-based photographer Dom Marker has also put together his own website (accessible here) selling photographic prints for 100USD each, with all profits going to Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund . Current work includes Marker’s own photographs alongside three images by Jack Davison, available as 8×10 C-prints. Meanwhile, Idris Khan revealed a new artwork on his Instagram that will be available for purchase as a print via the charitable organisation Migrate Art which helps displaced communities (a release date is yet to be announced, but keep an eye on their site for updates).

Over in the US, the producers behind Immersive Van Gogh and Immersive Frida Kahlo are bringing a new art show to Chicago that pays tribute to the Ukrainian artist, writer and political activist Taras Shevchenko. Entitled Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine, the exhibition will debut in select cities throughout the United States and Canada on March 15 with 100 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales to the event being donated to the Red Cross and National Bank of Ukraine Fund.

 

 

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Durjoy Rahman with Kiefer’s Cell (Diptych) (1999) by Atul Dodiya. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Bangladeshi entrepreneur and art collector Durjoy Rahman is on a mission to make the world a better place through artistic dialogue and cultural collaborations between artists from the Global North and South. Rebecca Anne Proctor reports

It was mid March 2021 and the world was slowing waking up from a long sleep after the global lockdowns and travel restrictions that had been enforced to curb the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Dubai, the megalopolis Gulf city, was already open and it was kicking off with Art Dubai, one of the first in-person art fairs the art world experienced in the past year. As big art-world personalities flocked to the United Arab Emirates, so too did a rising star from Dhaka, Bangladesh – Durjoy Rahman. The art collector and textile and garment entrepreneur used the occasion of Art Dubai to present one of his latest art initiatives that uses contemporary art to champion social issues. The Dubai Design District featured a large-scale installation of elephants by Bangladeshi artist Kamruzzaman Shadhin and Rohingya craftspeople from the Kutupalong refugee camp. Titled Elephant in the Room, it made its international debut in Dubai. The work, unmissable by those visiting the futuristic Dubai Design District, originated in the desire to forge a dialogue about human and environmental displacement. The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state thought to number around one million people who remain unrecognised as citizens or as one of the country’s 135 recognised ethnic groups by the country’s ruling party. By exhibiting a work with the involvement of Rohingya people, Durjoy hoped to draw attention to their cause.

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From the Indian subcontinent, the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF), founded in 2018 in Berlin and Dhaka, is one of a handful of collector-led foundations in South Asia working to support creatives, the majority of which have been set up during the past decade. There’s the Bengal Foundation, founded in 1986 and based in Dhaka, which acts as a non-profit and charitable organisation; the Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group conglomerate; the HerStory Foundation, a not-for-profit that supports gender equality through storytelling, illustration, design, and dialogue; and the Samdani Art Foundation (SAF), a private arts trust based in Dhaka, founded in 2011 by collector couple Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani. In neighbouring India, several collector-led foundations have sought individually and collectively to foster India’s rich art scene. These include the Gujral Foundation, founded by Mohit and Feroze Gujral; Kiran Nadar Museum, founded by collector Kiran Nadar; and the Devi Art Foundation, founded in 2008 by Anupam Poddar and his mother, Lekha Poddar. In Pakistan, the Lahore Biennale Foundation and the Como Museum of Art, the country’s first private museum of contemporary art that opened in 2019, are notable.

elephant sculptures

Elephant in the Room (2018) by Kamruzzaman Shadin and Rohingya craftspeople from the Kutupalong refugee camp, installed at the Dubai Design District in 2021. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Despite the region’s fast-growing economies, major gaps between rich and poor still exist, as does a lack of infrastructure and funding for arts and culture. Art foundations such as the DBF have been pivotal in supporting artistic research and practice. What defines these foundations, which are critical to the expansion of modern and contemporary South Asian discourse, is their ability to take risks and to experiment. For a world increasingly defined by borders, this approach is crucial and one that Durjoy has not taken lightly over the past several years. Cultural awareness and collaboration has been key to his vision for the DBF’s mission.

His support for the exhibition ‘Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan’, which opened at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge in 2019, is a case in point. Through sculpture, painting, performance, film and photography, the exhibition told the stories of migration and resettlement in South Asia and internationally, engaging with the painful memories of displacement and the challenging notion of ‘home’ following the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

hanging textile artwork

Gbor Tsui (2019) by Serge Attukwei Clottey. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Passionate and energetic, Durjoy never stops, not even during a global pandemic. In a year when many art collectors, galleries and institutions had to do business at a slower pace, Durjoy was busier than ever in Dhaka. The textile entrepreneur, who runs the Bangladeshi garment and textile-sourcing business Winners Creations Ltd, was actively staging new exhibitions, online and live, to support his foundation. Its mission is to promote art from South Asia and beyond, part of the so-called Global South, to forge a critical dialogue within an international context.

Cultural exchange, particularly between artist and arts practitioners from South Asia and beyond, is paramount to the DBF’s vision. Its recent projects, such as ‘No Place Like Home’, a Rohingya art exhibit consisting of Shadhin’s Elephant in the Room and pieces created by Rohingya refugees living in the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, aim to raise awareness of the plight of displaced communities, is just one of many that Durjoy and his foundation have initiated over the past three years.

Read more: In the Studio with Idris Khan

“Art creation can keep the conversation going on important issues,” said Durjoy from his office in Dhaka. “The Rohingya crisis is an example. When it first took place, the news was everywhere. Now, three years on and it doesn’t make the headlines. Through exhibition art made by Rohingya we can keep the conversation alive and hopefully it will result in some change.”

Durjoy, who since 1997 has been collecting art with a strong focus on supporting artists from Bangladesh and South Asia, has long believed that artists from the sub-continent haven’t been given the recognition they deserve on the global stage. The first work he bought was by Bangladesh Modernist Rafiqun Nabi, a famous cartoonist and visual artist known for his creation of the character Tokai, a street urchin. “He produced this character to show the everyday struggle in Bangladeshi society,” explains Durjoy. “He used Tokai to express his visions about what was happening around him. I have been a big fan of his ever since I was young.”

sculptures on a table

art collection

Works in Durjoy Rahman’s collection include Le Baron Fou (2009) and La Baleine (2014) by Novera Ahmed (top), (below, on the wall) Gasp (2013) by Charles Pachter and (sewing machine) 100 Years Old (2018) by Tayeba Begum Lipi. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Durjoy now has more than 70 works by Nabi in his collection of 1,000 or more works of South Asian and international art by the likes of David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Bangladeshi modernists such as Safiuddin Ahmed, as well as South Asian antiques including Ghandharan art and works from the Pala Dynasty dating from the 9th to 11th centuries in Bengal. His collection exemplifies his worldly interests, his love of art and other cultures, and his desire to bring artists from around the world together in unison and creative dialogue. Since his first purchase of Nabi’s work, he has sought to support and collect works by emerging and established Bangladeshi artists in particular, which has become the prime objective of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.

Over the years, Durjoy noticed a shift in attention from the global art community towards what was taking place in South Asia. “The heightened curiosity towards the East and what is taking place has influenced many artists from the sub-continent to produce works that are more socially charged, that illuminate post-colonial thought and impressions and the continual struggle with notions of identity and statehood,” Durjoy explains. In 2018 he finally took the plunge and established his own foundation with the mission to further the visibility of artists from the Global South – those, as he says, who are often disadvantaged, who don’t come from areas with much art education or infrastructure. Durjoy staged projects, art residencies and exhibitions that support his cause and, importantly, foster creative and cultural dialogue between the artists of South Asia and other areas in the Global South with those elsewhere in the world.

Read more: Helga Piaget on educating the next generation

“I sensed that there needed to be a platform that could represent artists from South Asia as I felt they had not yet been recognised internationally in the way that they should have been,” he says. He admits that at first it was challenging, given his hybrid role of collector and director of a foundation. “It might have looked in the beginning like I was trying to promote the artists in my collection, but then I realised that I could work with artists who were not already in my collection and whose practice and work I appreciated. I truly believe we need to play a more important role in shaping the art system originating from the sub-continent and making a bridge between South Asia and Europe.”

Durjoy first set up a base for the foundation in Berlin in 2018. He was advised on the decision by well-known art advisor Marta Gnyp, known for her work with contemporary African artists. “I admire Durjoy’s curiosity, open-mindedness and his ability to learn extremely fast,” said Gnyp. “This, in combination with the ambitious, focused and very well structured programme of his Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, makes him one of the forces that will shape the future of the South Asian art world.” Later that year Durjoy set up the office in Dhaka where he now has a team of 10 people working for the foundation. He launched his initiative with the unveiling of his donation of Indian artist Mithu Sen’s powerful and nostalgic installation MOU (Museum of Unbelongings) (2011–18) to the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany as part of their permanent collection. “This was how we made the announcement of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, by having Sen’s installation mark one of the first times that a work by a South Asian artist who happens to be female is in the permanent collection of a European institution,” he adds.

installation artwork

MOU (Museum of Unbelongings) (2011-18) by Mithu Sen. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

This gift to the Kunstmuseum followed a serendipitous meeting between Durjoy and Dr Holger Broeker, head of the collection and senior curator there. Earlier that year, the museum had staged ‘Facing India’, a show marking the first museum exhibition in Germany to present works by women artists from India. The works included in the exhibition, by Vibha Galhotra, Bharti Kher, Prajakta Potnis, Reena Saini Kallat, Mithu Sen and Tejal Shah, questioned the idea of borders of all kinds, whether political, territorial, ecological, religious, social, personal or gender-based. Broeker and Durjoy met by chance one evening in Berlin at GNYP Gallery. “When I asked him about the focus of his collection,” remembers Broeker, “he told me about his project to promote art from the Bangladeshi region and India in Europe and America, and that he himself had already exhibited Western art in Bangladesh in return. He wanted to intensify this idea of cultural exchange within the framework of foundation. An extraordinarily intensive and fruitful communication developed between us and Durjoy donated Sen’s magnificent work to us for our collection.”

Sen’s powerful installation forms the beginning of the Kunstmuseum’s Indian art collection, which now includes works by Tejal Shah, Gauri Gill and Prajakta Potnis. Uta Ruhkamp, the museum’s curator, said, “Mithu Sen finds an international but unconventional visual language that reaches beyond markers like nationality, religion, wealth, skin colour, caste, family, education and language that people use to distinguish themselves from others in both ways, whether feeling superior or inferior. Sen’s installation contains a personal collection of objects and artworks from all over the world. She curated it her way, creating ‘joint’ artworks by combining objects, narrating stories, and suggesting a colourful world free of hierarchies. No label, no categories. It is a global statement, the vision of a world that does not yet exist.”

man speaking into microphone

Artist Serge Attukwei Clottey with his work Gbor Tsui during the exhibition ‘Stormy Weather’ at Arnhem Museum. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Durjoy, an entrepreneur, lets nothing get in the way of his goals. The number of projects, exhibitions and residencies his foundation has staged in just over three years is startling and impressive. One is example is DBF’s support of Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey in the production of a large artwork featured in the 2019 exhibition ‘Stormy Weather’ at the Arnhem Museum in the Netherlands on the theme of climate change and social justice. After the show, Clottey’s work entered the museum’s collection.

Testament to Durjoy’s desire to support artists in need are two initiatives he launched during the pandemic. One is called Bhumi, which was a collaboration with the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts aiming to help rural communities that make crafts, art and land art. The other programme is Future of Hope, for which Durjoy asked nine artists to create work in response to present global challenges. The works were displayed at the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation last October 2020. “The crux of Durjoy’s mission is to raise awareness of the Global South and supporting and promoting emerging and established artists from that region, but to do so in dialogue with artists from other places around the world,” said Iftikhar Dadi, artist and a professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University in New York. “I love his energy, dynamism and openness.”

light artwork

Shapla from the series ‘Efflorescence’ (2013-19) by Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

One example of Durjoy’s mission to raise awareness of such artists is the 10-year Majhi International Art Residency Program. ‘Majhi’ in Bengali means boatman or the leader or guide. He is the one, explains Durjoy, who steers people on the boat on a certain course. “My vision is to take artists from South Asia and the Global South to Europe every year to work with artists there so that they can exchange thoughts and ideas.” The first edition of the Majhi International Art Residency took place in Venice in 2019 and the 11 artists selected included Dilara Begum Jolly, Dhali Al-Mamoon, Rajaul Islam (Lovelu), Noor Ahmed Gelal, Uttam Kumar Karmaker, Kamruzzaman Shadhin, Umut Yasat, Chiara Tubia, Cosima Montavoci, Andrea Morucchio and David Dalla Venezia. They are from different regions of the world: six were born in Bangladesh, one is of mixed Turkish and German heritage, and four are Venetians. During their stay, the artists were invited to reflect upon the question: “Does life in these uncertain times of crisis and turmoil make art more interesting?” The question was a response to the title of Ralph Rugoff ’s 58th Venice Biennale that year, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’. The first residency resulted in a dialogue of works that achieved exactly the aims of the foundation, with the artists choosing the title of the final exhibition.

The residency continued in Dhaka as part of the annual 15th Contemporary Art Day organised by the Association of the Italian Museums of Contemporary Art and supported by DBF. ‘The Scent of Time’ exhibition was hosted at Edge, The Foundation and featured work by the residency’s artists.

artist drawing in front of canvas

artist at work

The Mahji International Art Residency in Venice, 2019, with artists David Dalla Venezia (top) and Umut Yasat. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Durjoy recently acquired a second work by Morucchio for his collection, a digital print on aluminium titled Merlyn. Durjoy says he was attracted to the artist’s work that drew attention to the dangerous effects of mass tourism in Venice, the subject of Morucchio’s project ‘Venezia Anno Zero’ documenting the serenity of the city during lockdown.

“Majhi, the boatman, travels from one destination to another – just like the artist going to the residency, he does not stop in one fixed place,” explains Durjoy. While 2020 posed numerous challenges, Durjoy made sure the Majhi residency continued. “When 2020 closed the world, we didn’t stop,” he says. “Because we already have a strong presence in Berlin, we decided to stage to residency there as part of Berlin Art Week.” The residencies, like Durjoy’s multifaceted vision, always involve numerous factors. For the Berlin exhibition, he invited a food and music collective to enliven the venue.

Read more: Gaggenau’s Jörg Neuner on embodying the traditional avant-garde

The foundation is now gearing up for its next location, Eindhoven in the Netherlands in October 2021. The theme is ‘Land, Water and Borders’. While Durjoy admits it is a challenging topic, it is ultimately one that reflects the present post-colonial struggles the world continues to experience. He says that, like the residency in Berlin, they will incorporate sound and acoustics into the residency that will take place during the Dutch Design Week. “It’s important that we make everything current,” he adds.

Durjoy’s cross-cultural efforts to elevate artists from South Asia are also apparent in his foundation’s recent partnership with the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, where international artists join a residency programme with an emphasis on experiment and critical engagement. “The objective of this partnership is to promote the exchange between artists from South Asia and the international artists’ network of the Rijksakademie and the strengthening of the position and visibility of artist from South Asia,” explains Susan Gloudemans, the Rijksakademie’s director of strategy and development. The first Fellowship is for Rajyashri Goody from India, who started her residency in September 2021. Rajyashri has been selected from 1,600 artists from 115 countries for one of the 23 residency positions available. The Fellowship covers the living expenses of the artist and is a direct way of contributing to the professional development and breakthrough of a promising artist. “The importance of DBF’s support of the Fellowship programme goes beyond the individual artist,” Gloudemans adds. “We know from experience that this line of support will increase the participation of other artists from the region in the Rijksakademie programme and that the local art scene in Bangladesh and South Asia will be able to benefit from the exchanges and collaborations that result from it.”

group of people standing underneath arch

Durjoy Rahman with the artists and curators from the residency’s 2019 edition. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Durjoy’s passion and endless enthusiasm for his foundation’s mission is contagious. A silent artistic revolution seems to be taking place in Dhaka and Berlin, one that is urging artists and arts practitioners to become more open-minded in their approach and vision through artistic and creative dialogue. These are results, as Durjoy knows, that can only come about when people from various cultures and nations are brought together to speak, work and learn from each other. In March 2021, the DBF hosted ‘From Here to Eternity’, a one-day online symposium looking at topics such as gender, sexuality and race in relation to art and photography; the transnational consciousness in cities of the UK, North America and India; and artistic responses to social and political change. Along these same themes was DBF’s support for renowned Indian photographer Sunil Gupta’s show ‘From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta. A Retrospective’ at The Photographer’s Gallery (TPG) in London in 2020–21. “Given the scarcity of cultural organisations promoting the work of visual artists from the Global South, the Durjoy Foundation is filling an important vacuum within cultural relations,” says Francesca Pinto, the director of business development at TPG.

The North-South divide is a present reality reflecting centuries of colonialism, tensions and political feuds. If trauma is inter-generational, then to heal the resulting pain means looking at its origins, and Durjoy’s work through DBF attempts to make past wounds less painful through an understanding and recognition of the other through art. It starts, as he is demonstrating so passionately, by raising awareness about challenging socio-political and economic subjects. As he puts it: “When the headlines no longer carry these stories, then art can continue the narrative.”

black and white street photographs

portrait of man by fence

Images from Sunil Gupta’s series ‘Christopher Street’ (1976) from Durjoy Rahman’s collection. Images courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery. Copyright Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACs 2021. Courtesy of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

How to define the Global South?

There is still much discussion over how to define the ‘the Global South’, a term coined in the late 1960s but being increasingly used today. The concept of the Global North and Global South (or North-South divide) describes a grouping of countries according to socio-economic and political characteristics. The Global South usually denotes lower-income countries, once referred to as Third World countries, while the Global North is often equated with developed or First World countries. However, this distinction can be misleading. Nations in the Gulf of Arabia, for example, are in the Global South but can be characterised as Global North countries. “During the Cold War we had the Third World model, which referred to the first world, second world and third world,” explains Ifkhtiar Dadi, a professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University. “Since the 1990s, the Global South has emerged as a working definition to look at the realities of these regions over the past 30 years since the end of the Cold War. I feel it is the most neutral and effective term today but the critique against it is that it evacuates the politics of an unequal world.”

As borders continue to be disputed despite an increasingly globalised world, the ideas of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ continue to be questioned. Dr Devika Singh, a curator of International Art at Tate Modern who specialises in art from South Asia, illuminates the paradigm in the book Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK. “The notion of homeland belongs to the realm of the imagination and to seemingly distant, yet constantly revisited, pasts,” she writes.

“It also belongs to our present times of suffering and anxiety often spawned by national borders. The imposition and safeguarding of borders disrupt not only the long histories of human movements and exchanges, but also shared pasts, languages, and cultures. Displacement, whether forced exile or voluntary expatriation, and the notions of home and nation, therefore, appear intrinsically connected.”

Find out more: durjoybangladesh.org

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue.

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Man standing in front of painting

Durjoy Rahman is an art patron and collector, and the founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

Art collector and patron Durjoy Rahman founded the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation in 2018 to promote South Asian art and artists to global audiences by hosting exhibitions, commissioning new works and facilitating cross-cultural residencies. As part of our ongoing philanthropy series, he discusses the business of art philanthropy and why artistic narratives play an essential role in documenting history

LUX: How does giving fit with your beliefs?
Durjoy Rahman: Giving has been engrained in me since childhood. My parents instilled the importance of money management by giving me an allowance from a very early age. I was always told to save, use and give from that amount. It’s something I teach my children. The gift of knowledge is often held in high esteem in Asian culture more so over monetary ones. Due to limited availability of wealth to majority of the people and the long history of colonialism, the patronage of the arts and culture was very scarce and I wanted to contribute in a meaningful way. I feel privileged to be able to promote artistic endeavours from southeast Asia.

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LUX: Why were you compelled to collect art as opposed to another valuable asset type?
Durjoy Rahman: I started collecting by chance not by a scheduled plan. We received a beautiful painting as a wedding present from a prominent artist. I wanted a few more paintings for my walls, so I started to visit galleries to find things I liked. Then I started reading more about the artists whose works spoke to me. I collected pieces that were notable and told stories about their artistic journey. Most pieces were passion buys just because I loved them. The inherent value of art lies in the pleasure of acquiring it and holding on to it. If one goes in with the mindset of building assets, the fun of collecting evaporates in entirely. Of course, the collection is valuable not because of its market value but because many were done by artists who introduced new techniques in Bangladesh and played an integral part of our art history. Many works were destroyed due to lack of preservation so not many notable works remain.

LUX: What triggered your decision to advocate for South East Asian artists?
Durjoy Rahman: South Asia has a rich cultural heritage. Art, music, and dance are a part of our daily life, but because of the long history of colonialism, artistic patronage was scarce. After independence, more and more art institutes were established and art movements were started. Now, the world is becoming more connected and the traditional hubs of art in Europe are also encouraging more diversity. This has made the global art scene very interesting and not limited to only European schools. The South Asian art scene is becoming more established with the growing number of art events and institutions, but still the artists need a lot of support to be able to establish themselves internationally. Patronage is essential for art to thrive and survive. Our artists are very talented and I hope that the individual like myself can contribute to introducing these artists to an international audience.

collage artwork

Joydeb Roaja, The Right to Relief, 2020 – one of the artworks included in Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation’s 2020 online exhibition Future of Hope

LUX: Western narrative discourse about South East Asia is dominated by tragedy, conflict, schism, floods, famine, genocide. What is the relevance of art in crisis?
Durjoy Rahman: South Asia was under colonial domination for centuries. The postcolonial period has been plagued by border and religious conflicts. Conflict, famine, tragedy has happened in every country in the world; the Great Depression in the United States, Europe after World War I and II. Every country has experienced suffering but the Western narrative about our region was most remembered because of globally televised news that emerged in the 60s and 70s that established these stereotypes for South Asia. All crises always inspired the creative community. It’s their narrative that makes us understand human suffering better. Otherwise, it’s just historical information. The birth of Bangladesh in the 70s was followed by a famine. Many artists depicted horror with their artworks. I think these artworks depicted suffering for generations to come and understand what the country went through. Only humans can create beautiful things out of a painful experience. The narrative creates history.

Read more: Jewellery designer Tessa Packard on charity & creative thinking 

LUX: Where will the voice of truth and art tell the history in these dark times in Myanmar?
Durjoy Rahman: It is said the history is often written by victors but it is little relevant now due to global access of information to everyone. Every narrative is available and it is up to reader to draw their own conclusions. Documentation and witnesses about Rohingya plight made the world change their views. The sufferings are established fact result from the autocratic activity by the ruling regime. The quarter that caused these past miseries have solidify their position with the new situation that recently unfolded in Myanmar.

Artworks and tapestries created by Rohingya women and children depicting the horrors they endured will always be a part of history; they have cast aside the “official” narrative .

painting of a boat

Mong Mong Sho, Songs Of Covid 19, 2020 from the Future of Hope exhibition

LUX: Why did you headquarter DB Foundation in Dhaka and Berlin?
Durjoy Rahman: Berlin and Dhaka are both thriving art cities filled with many talented artists. DB Foundation aims to be a conduit for art and artists across Europe and South Asia. Berlin is an international city for art and design and a perfect place to build greater awareness for South Asian artists on the global stage while Dhaka remains DBF’s epic centre for activity.

LUX: Your focus is ‘to promote art from South East Asia and beyond in a critical, international art context.’ Which countries particularly?
Durjoy Rahman: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

LUX: Are there examples from this rich art heritage you are excited to have introduced to the West?
Durjoy Rahman: Bengal has thousands of years of heritage in art and craft. Textiles were one of the wonders from this region and played a dominant role in our glorious past. Historically, the intricate weaving in Muslin fabric from Bengal received an appreciation from the West and also became a sign of superior craftsmanship in many European royal courts.

Through the DBF’s outreach program and artist residency program, we aim to show the world once again the skill and creativity of Bengal. I have the privilege of donating a work by Mithu Sen from West Bengal, India to the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany. Her work is based on a collection of memorabilia that people normally collect as souvenirs. It was a great accomplishment to help bring Mithu’s work to the western audience according to the Museum press release the first work of a female contemporary artist collected by a major public institution in Germany.

Currently, we are working on a project that will tell the story of displaced elephants due to the Rohinga crisis where the artist used sustainable material like bamboo and quilt making skills to tell a story about this plight of humans and animals caused by conflict. The work will be displayed internationally with the support and initiative from DBF.

LUX: Your archive of artists, past and present is acclaimed and you mentor emerging artists. What was the game-changer for DB Foundation in a critical sense?
Durjoy Rahman: The real challenge for us has been to find a niche in the global art events and to make a meaningful contribution to the artist community. We adopted the model of a residency program centred around an idea or a burning issue. Artists from different parts of the world interpret the central theme. For two weeks the artists live and work together. For artists in southeast Asia, it’s a unique opportunity. For artists from Europe, this is also an experience to work with the brilliant artists from Asia and understand their perspective. So I would say our Majhi Art Residency program is a game-changer for DBF foundation which we have been hosting since 2019 and plan to continue for the next ten years.

public sculpture work

Sujan Chowdhury, Wings of Hope, 2020 from the Future of Hope exhibition

LUX: How did the pandemic affect upcoming exhibitions, commissions and residencies?
Durjoy Rahman: We have ventured alternate art space to exhibit art on a limited scale while major public exhibition spaces were closed. We continued our International Art Residency in Berlin during Berlin Art Week 2020 despite pandemic and to maintain consistency of the continuation of our supported projects internationally. However, the pandemic has really brought forward the need to use technology in every aspect of our lives and the focus has shifted to connecting virtually. We too are focusing on remote initiatives and found the many ways one can connect to a greater audience. We still tried to engage artists and marginalised artisans during the pandemic while observing safety protocols. Last year, at the peak of the pandemic, many craftsmen and their families in Bangladesh were greatly affected due to the economic downturn and low tourism activity. We created an initiative to support traditional craftsmen and their families by offering practical and financial support so that they can continue the creative process.

Read more: Alia Al-Senussi on art as a catalyst for change

LUX: Circularity could be said to future-proof giving. How can business support art philanthropy at the level of helping people help themselves as opposed to funding them top down?
Durjoy Rahman: The business of art philanthropy has been historically top-down going back to how art and crafts were supported by royal and affluent patrons in the Europe, Americas and Asia. I think that to create a more sustainable and self-sufficient model, the public needs to get involved and be motivated. While I think that the top-down approach will always be a critical part of art philanthropy, businesses can create public demand by creating programs for the public (especially virtual events) meant to keep the public engaged and inspired. As long as this demand exists and businesses are meeting it, they will become partially self-sustained in funding channels.

LUX: 2020 was Covid-dominated, hopeless, until the point of vaccines’ licensing, as will be seen when lexicographers list the vocabulary we used most. What can art philanthropy offer in a wider sense to humankind?
Durjoy Rahman: The Covid pandemic has really focused the public on the importance of one’s mental health. Creativity, art, and culture are the ultimate mind healers, and art philanthropy supports that. Being a cultural foundation DBF were probably the first organisation in Bangladesh got involved with front line workers to equip them for better safety and serve people more confidently.

woman weaving in a village

Here & above: Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation launched its philanthropic project “Bhumi” in 2020 to support rural creative communities in Bangladesh. Courtesy Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation and Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Art

LUX: Your passion to connect extends to activism through your support of satirists and the rights of minorities. What do you feel was particularly relevant to defend in 2020?
Durjoy Rahman: Migration, displacement, and supporting minorities. We focused our activities with minorities in 2020 through one of our major initiatives “Bhumi”, where we worked with artists and craftsmen from a marginalised ethnic group. We are currently working with Rohingya refugees and the environmental consequences of this mass migration. We are trying to build awareness among the international community about the plight of this ethnic group and its impact on the fragile hills of our border and the already dwindling elephant herd which inhabit that area.

LUX: Where has DB Foundation facilitated public discourse and created the climate for political change?
Durjoy Rahman: Diversity has been at the centre of the creative field, especially now. We have done several initiatives across Europe and Asia aimed towards actively facilitating our activity in the arts and culture from South Asia. Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation wants to bring representation to these artists, give them the recognition they deserve, and bring their voices into the art conversation, so they are heard. Our initiative “Future of Hope” has also highlighted a key word “hope” during the early break of pandemic. Now, “hope” has become a global slogan.

LUX: What one piece of advice should an art philanthropist share with the next generation?
Durjoy Rahman: Be generous when thinking of art and culture – a small contribution can make a significant impact on the art and artist.

Find out more: durjoybangladesh.org

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