INTELLECT: What inspired you to establish Samdani Art Foundation?
Nadia Samdani: Art has always been our passion. It was a long time plan to establish such a foundation. We have always wanted to promote Bangladeshi art at an international level. This has been the main reason behind Samdani Art Foundation as a non-profit art infrastructure organization.
Razeeb Samdani: We are mainly collectors. We attend art fairs, biennales and many other international art related events, but we rarely have observed the presence of Bangladeshi artists there. The international attention is now on Asia and this is very important for us. China is now one of the biggest art markets in the globe. India and Pakistan are showing progress too. A good number of artists are emerging from those countries. Bangladesh has a pool of talented artists too. We were wondering how to take these local talents to the global platform. Such an important issue, which should have already been addressed, has largely been ignored. So we felt to step up and tried to create a platform which could be used by the Bangladeshi emerging artists to escalate and showcase their work to the rest of the world.
INTELLECT: You were invited to participate in the OPEN 14 Exhibition 2011, in Venice, which was a first time for any Bangladeshi. How do you feel this has helped lifting the Bangladeshi image?
Razeeb Samdani: One exhibition itself is not enough to make a big change, nevertheless I must admit, it was a very important event. It was a sculpture exhibition in Venice, organized each year during the Venice Film Festival. About 32 artists from all over the world displayed their works in this exhibition. Visitors from all over the world attended the festival. Bangladesh’s presence in this exhibition next to some very prominent artists of the world was a surprise to many. They received us very positively. As a continuation of that success we organized the Dhaka Art Summit. Our participation in that exhibition helped convincing the renowned art personalities who attended the Dhaka Art Summit as panel discussants and jurists. I must also add, a few months before the OPEN 14 Exhibition, Bangladesh had its first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale too. Bangladeshi talents also surprised the participants at the Venice Biennale.
Nadia Samdani: Also, because of that event, Bangladesh saw the presence of Tate Modern, a renowned modern Art Gallery of the United Kingdom that responded to our invitation. Personalities like Frances Morris, Head of Collections (International Art), Jessica Morgan, The Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art of Tate Modern visited Bangladesh last December.
INTELLECT: What are the challenges that you have experienced in your endeavor?
Razeeb Samdani: Since we’ve worked towards bringing Bangladesh to the international attention, we needed to make a strong impression in the Asian art market, which is one of the strongest art markets in the world. Primarily our works needed to be recognized in our own region and then we set our target to go beyond. It would have been very easier if Bangladeshi galleries had the opportunity to participate in the regional events. It is a worldwide trend in Art business that galleries represent certain artists. They provide relevant support and invest in such artists. Then the artist only concentrates into his work and the galleries ensure the artists’ participation in global events. Nevertheless, in Bangladesh we have a different system in place. Artists have to look for their own support which makes it difficult for them to pursue their creativity, let alone going beyond borders. Our organizational structure is also very weak. The visiting Tate Modern observed the unavailability of ample information about our art culture on the Internet. We still do not have any good art publication in English which could have worked as the spokesperson for our art internationally. In addition, our collector base needs to be expanded too. The corporate sector needs to be attracted, since all over the world, art markets are kept abuzz by corporate involvement, not individuals. Having such a small art market is the biggest reason for our galleries not stepping forward.
INTELLECT: Can you give us a glimpse of Dhaka Art Summit?
Razeeb Samdani: The way we planned the summit this year, the whole city was in a festive mood from April 12 to 15. The main venue of this summit was Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
Nadia Samdani: All kinds of arts, i.e. painting, installation, sculpture, video art, performance art were presented in the exhibition. Through this we represented the evolution of our art from the pre-liberation era to the present thereby, portraying the history of our art. There were also a couple of awards for young artists.
Razeeb Samdani: Our main focus was to promote Bangladesh, so we didn’t want any foreign galleries to come. They were most welcome to come and see though. We kept discussion panels. I believe, in the history of Bangladesh, never has there been such strong discussion panels regarding art, comprising of so many international art experts. There was a Bangladeshi Masters Exhibition at Bangladesh National Museum. Other than that, each of the galleries organized exhibitions of their own on the occasion of the summit.
INTELLECT: What benefits did the winners of the awards receive?
Nadia Samdani: As mentioned before, there were two awards, one the ‘Samdani Young Development Award’ and the other ‘Samdani Young Talent Award’. Both awards included grants of taka one million and taka half a million respectively, including residency programs. Many artists in our country do not have a personal studio which deprives them of the opportunity of working comfortably and expressing their imagination and innovative ideas. So our awards included a residency program where they will be provided with adequate studio space and all materials required for their work followed by the opportunity of exhibiting in a solo and a group exhibition to be organized for the winners of the Samdani Young Development Award and the Samdani Young Talent Award. An international jury panel will judge the works.
INTELLECT: How do you think the initiative of Dhaka Art Summit have encouraged the local budding artists?
Razeeb Samdani: Prominent international Medias including CNN was at Dhaka to cover the event. Many international newspapers have written about us. We hired a Britain based PR agency specializing in Art to ensure our reach to the global audience. From next year Dhaka Art Summit will be open for showcasing international artists’ works too which shall give Bangladeshi artists the opportunity to compete in the international level. All of this undoubtedly helped our local artists get the attention of art lovers from all over the world.
INTELLECT: Where do you see the position of Bangladeshi art in the 5 years time?
Razeeb Samdani: In five years’ time we definitely want to see Bangladeshi artists having museum collections. It would be a major achievement if we can place Bangladeshi artists’ works in some of the important museums across the world as museums are a very important aspect of the world of art and culture. We are sure a lot of development will take place and Bangladeshi art will go a long way and will make its mark in the world of art.
The story was first published in INTELLECT Issue no.1, dated April 2012.