Above is an aerial view of Dhaka. Bangladesh’s capital is sprawling, and on most days navigating traffic, whether by car or cycle rickshaw, is a two-hour affair no matter where you are headed.
Shilpakala Academy, a state-sponsored institution, was the venue of the recent Dhaka Art Summit as well as the Asian Art Biennale. According to local artists and architects, the building has been “under construction” for the last decade. The red modern sculpture is by Hamiduzzaman Khan, professor and chairman of the sculpture department at the University of Dhaka.
Dhaka Art Summit offered three floors of art that ranged from traditional nationalist-themed paintings to experimental sound installations. The largest section was a group exhibition of artists—old and young—of Bengali origins, followed by a small gallery booth section and more experimental art on the top floor
Visitors are enjoying the art.
Nonprofit Drik Gallery, which also runs a media school, was invited to the Dhaka Art Summit to curate a small group show of photography by recent students. Many of the works were documentary-style.
Many summit visitors enjoyed taking photos with the sculpture Undesired Reality by 22-year old artist Mohammad Mojahidur Rahman Sarker Musa.
Small children were attracted to the installation Alfa Man by emerging artist Zahid Hossain.
On one floor, a small corner was dedicated to 18 galleries and nonprofit art spaces. A highlight was Drik Gallery, whose booth offered work by its legendary founder Shahidul Alam.
Kalighat-style paintings were popular among guests.
Athena Gallery hung historic Bengali masters including a painting by Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin.
The large rattan sculpture looks like a hybrid between a bird and a woman in a ball gown.
Lifestyle by Mohammad Hasanur Rahman was constructed of thousands of remote controls.
The Bangladesh National Museum, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013, held a special show of 27 Bengali masters for the Dhaka Art Summit.
Among the works was a large magnificent wall tapestry by Rashid Chowdhury.
An early watercolor entitled Clenched Hand & Muscle by SM Sultan, noted for his oil paintings of big beefy farmers in the countryside.
The National Museum also had many fine examples of work by Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, considered the father of modern Bengali art. His “Famine” series, which documented the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, was painted with ink or drawn with magic marker on old brown paper bags, and led to his being a national treasure.
Abedin’s sketch of a soldier in Palestine (1972).
A portrait of Abedin in the modern galleries.
The Bangladesh National Museum is also an encyclopedic museum, with beautiful Pala stone sculptures, as well as a history section dedicated to Mukti Bahini, or “Freedom Fighters,” who fought against the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War (1971). The section also includes portraits of the main Mukti Bahini.
Although Dhaka’s urban sprawl resembles that of many other fast-growing Asian cities, there are small efforts by individuals and local businesses to be more eco-minded, such as those responsible for these repurposed container buildings surrounded by freshly planted flowers and other green vegetables.
The two-year old nonprofit Dhaka Art Center also held a special group exhibition, “Quest for Identity,” during the summit.
Dhaka Art Center houses the Kibria Printmaking Studio, named after modern master Mohammed Kibria. A portrait of Kibria serves to inspire young printmakers.
The studio recently produced a portfolio of prints dedicated to the Bengali polymath and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941).
Another room contained breathtaking architectural models and drawings by Dhaka-based architect Saif Ul Haque. Many of these buildings, which integrated Bengali vernacular elements, have been realized, although outside the capital city.
A photograph shows Ul Haque’s teacher and mentor Raziul Ahsan (1954-1997), together with fellow architects Ul Haque, Kazi Khaleed Ashraf and Jalal Ashmed.
Dhaka Art Center has a small library, which it proudly declares has been sponsored by HSBC bank.
“Only God Can Judge Me” (“OGCJM”) was an exciting curated show by young artist Rafiqul Shuvo. The event included local cricketers, writers, philosophers, fashion photographers, and rap stars, as well as established and emerging artists from Bangladesh.
A large mural painting depicts a fantasy world by Rini Swarnaly Mitra.
These small figure paintings are by philosopher Kaisar Selim.
This is the handwritten correspondence between singer, poet and social activist Arup Rahee and his mother.
A multilayered installation by Mustafa Zaman demanded more time for contemplation.
“OGCJM” was held for four days in an abandoned government factory and was dedicated to the writer, critic and social intellectual Ahmed Sofa (1943-2001) and Azam Khan (1950-2011), the pioneer of Bengali rock music.
Artist-run initiative Britto Arts Trust celebrated its tenth anniversary by opening a new space in a commercial building occupied by many dental offices and cybercafes.
Britto inaugurated the location with the group exhibition, “Space,” curated by co-founders Mahbubdur Rahman and Ayesha Sultana. The exhibition included many members’ work. Co-founder Tayeba Begum Lipi’s installation, Bizarre and Beautiful 2, shows women’s bras made out of razor blades, which was similar to her work shown in Bangladesh’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale, in 2011.
All the Britto artists gather for a group shot.
This is the view after stepping outside Britto into the heart of the city.
Above is the facade of Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, one of the oldest commercial galleries, which also goes by the name Bengal Art Foundation. The gallery tends to promote traditional oil paintings.
The portrait is of the founder of Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, Abul Khair Litu.
Gallery Chitrak focuses on printmaking by historic and established Bengali printmakers.
Here is a small print by Abedin.
The jewel of Dhaka is Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building, also referred to as “Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.” This iconic building took over 20 years to complete. In 1963, the Pakistan government initially commissioned Kahn to design the capital in what was then East Pakistan. Construction ground to a halt in 1971 when Bangladesh declared independence, but building soon resumed. It was finally completed in 1982, 12 years after Kahn’s death in 1974.
These are columns of the National Assembly Building’s prayer hall, which Kahn designed as a “cube of light.” The columns provide structure and natural light wells for the entire building, not just the mosque.
At times the modern building appears ancient, almost other worldly.
These concentric circles are near the Northern Garden Entrance.
A view ascending a stairwell.
The imposing entrance is captivating, but not intimidating.
The National Assembly Building is surrounded by housing for guests and members of parliament. However, most of the residence apartments have since been converted into offices for parliamentary officials.
A view from the Northern Garden Entrance.
Pathshala, the South Asian Media Academy, was founded by Shahidul Alam. The school is built around a beautiful, old mango tree.
Pathshala offers courses related to media, including photo journalism, television broadcasting and multimedia. This box and the sign that states “Please leave excuses in this box before entering the classroom” illustrates the progressive, organic and experimental nature of the school.
Pathshala is also rich in graffiti; here is a simple portrait of students and teachers.