Bangladesh: Creative Density

Contemporary Artist from Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Creative Density: Contemporary Art of the Golden Bengal (2015) by Contemporary Artists from BangladeshImago Mundi

Does it Make any Difference? 

The 2013 exhibition L’eredità della mussola Bengalese a Roma (The Heritage of Bengali muslin in Rome) showcased the creations of artist Chandan Shafiqul Kabir, whose work and philosophy are based on an almost visceral relationship with this and other fabrics. His pictorial and material pieces are inspired by the ancient textile tradition, the techniques, the symbols and the colours of Bangladesh, which had trade relations with Rome precisely because of the muslin garments worn by women (and not only women, as Juvenal maliciously revealed) since the imperial era. 

Untitled, Abdullah Al Bashir, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Abdullah Al Bashir

Karl Marx also mentioned the weavers of Dhaka in his public speech On the Question of Free Trade, delivered on 9th January 1848 to the Democratic Association of Brussels, highlighting the progressive disappearance of hand woven fabrics, despite their world-wide reputation for beauty and resilience, as a result of competition from British steam-powered weaving looms, and the ensuing dramatic consequences for entire social classes in the East Indies.

A window with a view, Shameem Subrana, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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A window with a view (2015) by Shameem Subrana

Today in Bangladesh, the growth of the textile industry, which began in the mid-Eighties, is providing an important opportunity for economic development and a reduction in poverty, even if the state of the infrastructure is failing to keep pace with ambitions for growth. Over the last twenty years, the country has seen the indiscriminate proliferation of small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in the production of textile products (especially ready-made garments), which represent Bangladesh’s biggest export commodity, destined, in particular, for European and US markets.

Effect of globalization, Mamud al-Hossain Shaon, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Effect of globalization (2015)
by Mamud al-Hossain Shaon

Reliable social research shows a positive impact of the development of the textile industry, especially on employment and women’s wages, as well as on rates of education. In response to better employment prospects, in fact, families are investing more in the education of their daughters, to the extent that Bangladesh is on track to achieve 100 per cent schooling at the primary level, one of the Millennium Goals set by the United Nations.

My towel, Joti Biswas, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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My towel (2015)
by Joti Biswas

Located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated States in the world (the most densely populated if we exclude the highly urbanized city-states like Monaco, Singapore and Hong Kong), with more than 156 million inhabitants in an area of 144 thousand square kilometres. In practice, it is as if northern Italy and Tuscany were home to almost the entire populations of Italy, France and Spain.

Ambiguity, Ruhul Karim Rumee, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Ambiguity (2015)
by Ruhul Karim Rumee

The capital Dhaka, whose metropolitan area has more than 14 million inhabitants, is one of the most populous cities in the world and could add another 8.4 million people to its urban fabric by 2030. In other centres – Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi – the situation is similar; the urban population is growing at double the rate of the overall population as a result of the constant influx of people migrating from rural areas.

Slave, Al-Monjur Elahi, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Slave (2015) by Al-Monjur Elahi

One of the youngest countries in the world, with an average age of just over 25 and a quota of under 15s that accounts for over 30 per cent of the population, Bangladesh is also a young State. Previously under the rule of British India, when Pakistan gained independence (in 1947), Bangladesh became one of its provinces, first under the name of East Bengal then East Pakistan. After years of autonomist struggles arising from geographical and ethnic-cultural tensions, combined with a sense of estrangement from central government policies, Bangladesh finally achieved independence on 16th December 1971.

Untitled, Razib Datta, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Razib Datta

Since then, the situation in the country has continued to be complex and it has failed, in over 40 years, to pacify tensions between the different ethnic and religious groups living within its borders. Today, there are forces pushing for the radical Islamisation of Bangladesh with demands that include the segregation of men and women, the teaching of Islamic doctrine in schools and “stopping infiltration of all ‘alien-culture’, including shamelessness in the name of individual’s freedom of expression”.

Untitled, Tushikur Rahman, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Tushikur Rahman

But there are also active members of society who, recalling the historic tradition of a moderate Islam that has lived alongside Hinduism here for centuries, draw on social media and on open ideas of culture and integration to interpret this vertiginous phase of transition as an opportunity for growth that is not only economic but also democratic and social.

Untitled, Shahanoor Mamun, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Shahanoor Mamun

By the same token, the expression of the culture and customs of Bangladesh should be interpreted within the wider Bengali tradition. The prevalence of Islam has not completely overshadowed the ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, which have a greater presence in the large urban centres and in some regions. This is symbolically substantiated, for example, by UNESCO’s decision in 1985 to designate as World Heritage Sites both the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat, founded in the fifteenth century at the meeting point of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, and the ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur, evidence of the presence of an important cultural centre.

Moonlit Perfumes, Abdullah Al-Ahmed, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Moonlit Perfumes (2015)
by Abdullah Al-Ahmed

Taslima Nasrin, a Bengalese doctor, writer and poet, living in exile following death threats and a fatwa issued by fundamentalist authorities, wrote in the preface to her 1993 novel Lajja: Shame, dedicated to all the peoples of the Indian subcontinent: “the only way the fundamentalist forces can be stopped is if all of us who are secular and humanistic join together and fight their malignant influence. I, for one, will not be silenced”.

Untitled, Farah Naz Moon, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Farah Naz Moon

A strong message of freedom of expression and integration that the dynamic world of art reaffirmed in 2011 with the Parables/Parabole project at Bangladesh’s first National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Five artists represented the lively local art scene, Promotesh Das Pulak, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty, Imran Hossain Piplu, Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi, each of whom presented a specifically created installation exploring universal and contemporary interests, whose starting point each time was the roots and the personal story of each of the artists. ‘Parables’ as symbolic narratives and, at the same time, geometric figures to create links between different cultural reflections: paths that become bridges to illuminate and distinguish distinct conceptual positions.

Dark City, Najma Akhter, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Dark City (2015)
by Najma Akhter

Prior to this, Bangladeshi artists had already shown a special social sensitivity. A good example is the case of Zainul Abedin, a painter from Mymensingh who, despite his international fame in the Forties – as Dhaka born novelist Monica Ali relates in her book Brick Lane – “did not paint vases full of flowers or high-society portraits. His subject was the common people of Bangladesh. He showed life as it was.”

Untitled, Emdadul Hoque Topu, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Emdadul Hoque Topu

This commitment continues, and today
– Diana Campbell Betancourt notes in her introduction to this catalogue – “are still taking risks and maintaining the secular spirit from which Bangladesh was born: a country born largely from a desire to speak their own language. For artists, this also translates to a desire to express their own visual language, free from censorship”.

Untitled, Anisuzzaman, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Anisuzzaman

The Imago Mundi collection dedicated to Bangladesh – 224 works in the 10x12 cm format – bears witness to both the vitality and rich cultural heritage, and to the hypertension verging on frenzy, of the eighth most populous country in the world. With solid roots in the ethnos of the Bay of One of the youngest countries in the Bengal, the artists of Bangladesh, established names and emerging talents, women and men, the young and not so young, engage with the chaotic and creative complexity of their country and, simultaneously, with the exploration of international contemporary art. They weave a symbolic muslin fabric, entwined with strands of religious faith and secular aspirations for the future, the struggle for freedom and aesthetic truth.

Untitled, Manir Mrittik, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Manir Mrittik

This is a collection of great expressive force that unifies, beyond the diversities, the barriers or the castes. Open and universal, like the verses of a poem by Lalon, one of the greatest mystic-songwriters of the Indian subcontinent and a radical voice during British colonial rule:

People ask, what is Lalon’s caste? Lalon says, my eyes fail to detect the signs of caste. Don’t you see that some wear garlands, some rosaries around the neck? But does it make any difference, brother?

Luciano Benetton

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