• Ideas
  • Feb 24, 2017

Everything Starts from Need: Asian Curatorial Forum, Dhaka

Tiny steel cages, often decorated with hand-painted scripts or embroidered floral arrangements, are attached to an engine and three wheels to ferry clients from origin to destination in Dhaka. Sheet metal skin of buses stretch over tough frames, paint scratched off due to years of scrapes, collisions and hard driving on unforgiving roads. Here, vehicular navigation is a combination of wrenching, inching forward, stalling (for those with manual transmission) and waiting. Even at midnight, it can take over an hour to travel a couple hundred meters. It’s draining for both passenger and driver, but inter-vehicle gazes can meet through layers of glass—and, if you’re lucky, a bright smile shines through.

For fresh visitors, like this one, gridlock defined the Bangladeshi capital. A university student told me that many residents spend four or five hours in cars or buses each day, waiting to get from home to school or work, then back. The daily commute becomes a time for social interaction, in person or via smartphones, so privacy and personal space are luxuries. The ever-present obstacle of flesh, exhaust and scrap metal has not stopped foreign money from flooding into the South Asian nation—the Chinese state-owned munitions, firearms and military vehicle manufacturer Norinco is developing office buildings, hotels and convention centers, kicking up even more dust to transform Dhaka’s skyline.