Critical Writing Ensemble: Day one at the Dhaka Art Summit

On a warm day in Bangladesh’s chaotic capital city, Dhaka, the second chapter of the Critical Writing Ensemble (CWE) begins ahead of this year’s Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) in the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s Auditorium. Many of you will already be familiar with the CWE through its first chapter held in Baroda during December 2015, but for those of you who are not, a short explanation feels needed ahead of the forthcoming four days of activity which will form the second chapter.

The Critical Writing Ensemble was initiated by Take on art’s Editor-in-Chief Bhavna Kakar in collaboration with Diana Campbell Beatancourt, Artistic Director of the Dhaka Art Summit and Katya García-Antón, Director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA). Bringing together their experience and concerns about the current state of art writing in the South Asia region and across the globe, CWE creates new working constellations in which to share writing histories and knowledge, creating a space to experiment together and produce new critical impulses regarding art writing.

Opening with a short welcome from Diana, who thanked everyone who had braved the traffic to join today’s Ensemble, before quickly exiting to continue with DAS exhibition installation. As the CWE is a collaborative project, further introductions were made by Bhavna and finally, to make sure everyone feels fully welcomed, Katya. As the curator of CWE Katya uses the opportunity to make a series of pertinent points which help set the audience’s minds thinking ahead of the day’s scheduled talks.

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Concentrating on the topic Al Fresco – Writing Within and Against the Art School – the day’s talks focused on the relationship between textural practice and academic histories which Anshuman Das Gupta (pictured above) from the school of Art History in Kalabhavan, Śāntiniketan (Visva Bharati University) started with an analytical talk around Rabindranath Tagore’s vision for the school when he founded it.

When Chus Martinez, Head of the Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, took the stage, as a member of the school’s faculty she explained her concern at how often she is confronted by students who don’t read. This issue has sparked an interest in ignorance for Chus; hinting perhaps that this lack of desire within art students to read is part of the issue with the current state of art writing. Siting an article she wrote for e-flux in 2014 titled Octopus in Love, Chus explains her thoughts around art being a living breathing organ which can only be changed through absorption, or reading and writing, and calls for us all to allow ourselves to be absorbed by the organ we call art.

Dislocating Authority in a Colonial Art School: critical interventions of a ‘native’ insider is the topic to be chewed over as Shukla Sawant takes the stage. Taking an almost archeological approach to analysing the archives of columns and official reports written by Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar, an arts educator and administrator from Bombay, displaying images of clippings, sections of reports and other source material, Sawant makes a strong argument about how art history is approached outside the Western model.

 

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Just before the break, Editor of Art Agenda Filipa Ramos (pictured above), clambers on stage to talk about her recent project of reviewing exhibitions past. Taking only speculative and archival evidence Filipa’s reviews question if critical judgements can be elaborated and if retrospective review can bring to light certain features which needed distance to emerge? Perhaps most interesting of all is that Filipa uses the work of her peers, who wrote reviews of the exhibition from firsthand experience to help her imagine the space, drawing the imagined and the experienced into one.

The last speaker of the day is Educator and Researcher Yin Ker who politely thanks the Critical Writing Ensemble for asking her to contribute before exploring the legacy of Śāntiniketan education in the work of Burma’s most important modernist painter Bagyi Aung Soe. An artist whose work doesn’t fit into the terms of Western modernism, Yin explained the challenge for her as an Art Historian in translating Aung’s work using her own DIY framework. An issue of great relevance to many of the critics South Asian based critics gathered in the audience.

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As the day’s session draws to a close, Katya describes today’s conversations as sizzling and seeks to identify a thread with which to knit all of the day’s talks together. Highlighting that perhaps the art school is the perfect platform to examine the current changes happening within the contexts of art due to its shared climate of democracy, she reinstates the need to find alternative frameworks of working and create new knowledge that pushes through our current boundaries.

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