Over the last five years, the Dhaka Art Summit has brought together a diverse range of art and artists from across South Asia to present their works in a series of exhibitions, talks, performances and public events.
Now on its fourth edition, the Dhaka Art Summit, which is still ticketless and free to the public, will see guest curators from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Artspace in Sydney, and Dr. Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, work together with chief curator Diana Campbell Betancourt to ensure the event remains a true hub for art, architecture and culture in the capital of Bangladesh.
Behind this internationally acclaimed art event is the collector-duo Nadia & Rajeeb Samdani, Directors of the Summit and Co-Founders of the Samdani Art Foundation – the couple’s own private collection of local and international artists.
Opened in 2011 to help promote local art via exhibitions, film screenings, the collection is spread over six floors of their private home and boasts work by internationally acclaimed artists such as Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Philippe Parreno and Tony Oursler to name just a few
To celebrate the upcoming fourth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit, we caught up with Nadia and Rajeeb to talk about their motivation for raising awareness to South Asian art and why pushing the boundaries is important to them as collectors.
You originally come from a collecting family and you started your own collection in your early twenties How did coming from such a strong collecting background initially influence you and your collection?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
My love for art came from a very young age, and I think growing up around art played a large part in this. As I grew older I realized that I was fond of art beyond the Bangladeshi modern art from my parents’ collection and that I wanted to start collecting art on my own with perspectives that were relevant to me.
Both Rajeeb and I started collecting Modern Art and a few renaissance etchings to begin with, but quickly shifted to contemporary art as we love watching artists’ journeys develop over time rather than connecting with them in retrospect.
For the last ten years you have been collecting together with Rajeeb, but have you ever stumbled upon any differences when it comes to the art you want to purchase? Or do you have similar tastes in contemporary art?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
We have similar tastes, and as of today we have not had any differences in opinion. We tend to choose artworks independently and then decide together.
What do you enjoy most about collecting?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
We enjoy the journey of discovering, researching, history and the endless good memories.
What role does collecting play in your day-to-day life? Do you live with the art that you collect?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
We live with most of the artworks in our home and workplace. We go through a collection rehang every eighteen months, so this is a wonderful way we can rotate and enjoy all of the artworks in the collection. We have artworks all over the house including all the children’s bedrooms, powder rooms and even the driveway.
You have two collections – the South Asian Collection and your private collection. Could you tell us about what we can expect to see in each collection?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Both the collections have works from Modern to Contemporary Art and they influence each other.
Why was the decision made to manage the collections separately and how do you continue to develop both collections equally?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Our international collection is our journey as collectors: what we have seen around the world and felt connected to. But our international collection is often influenced by our South Asian art collection and we draw parallels between the two collections. This is something that will be more apparent once we open our permanent art space in Sylhet, Bangladesh, this year.
Our South Asian collection is the Samdani Art Foundation’s collection that is developed with a lot of research led by the Foundation’s artistic director Diana Campbell Betancourt. The South Asian collection spans from Modern to contemporary art and also includes artists from the South Asian diaspora such as Anish Kapoor, Rasheed Araeen, Chitra Ganesh, and many others.
Although both collections are different, we decide to display both collections based on thematic value rather than where the artist comes from.
How do you select which artists to add to your growing collections?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
We always have a long wish list for our collection, and some of these works are a long shot when it comes to Modern Art as many of the works are rare and hard to find. Therefore, when works on the wish list from this period become available they get priority as we are trying to tell the history of Modern South Asian Art from within the region.
We also always have a wish list from our Foundation’s team as we are committed to building a South Asian collection, not only for us but the future generation as well.
South Asia had a vibrant shared culture for nearly 5 000 years which was split apart by the partition of India in 1947. We collect art from across the region to bring these shared histories to light.
For our international art collection quite often the decisions are spontaneous. Both Rajeeb and I always like to discover new artists from other parts of the world, especially when we find a connection between their work and a work from our South Asian collection.
How important to you and Rajeeb is educating the public about contemporary art? Is this something that you try to do with the two collections and Foundation?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Education is a very important part to our Foundation. Throughout the year we have programs within our Foundation that we call the “Samdani Seminars”, where we invite a number of artists with different practices from around the world to give workshops to local young artists. Our collection is also open to the public by appointment and we often have local schools visit the collection for guided tours.
Another example of where the importance of education is shown is the Education Pavilion of our upcoming Dhaka Art Summit where there will be twenty-seven workshops in nine days.
You have previously said that you like to collect works that push boundaries – what is it about this type of work that interests you so much?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Our Foundation was born with the target of pushing boundaries, and the Dhaka Art Summit is an example of this. It is the single largest platform for South Asian Art where people from all over the world can come to discover new artists and its vibrant art scene. We feel that our collection resembles that too.
Currently, we are building a sculpture park and the first phase of the park is due to open by the end of 2019. In this space we are commissioning several projects that were on the wish list of different artists but were never realized due to specific complicacies. For example, one of our artists is sculpting a bamboo forest in collaboration with a forestry department at Chittagong University, Bangladesh, sculpting the saplings into a form where the forest will play like a flute when the wind blows through it. This project will take five years to complete. We have several interesting and challenging projects coming at our sculpture park, led and curated by our Artistic Director, Diana Campbell Betancourt.
Let’s talk about the Samdani Art Foundation that was opened in 2011. What role does the Foundation play in both the Bangladesh and global art scene?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Samdani Art Foundation’s event Dhaka Art Summit is the single largest platform for South Asian Art, and the Foundation is committed to help build a network and cultural exchange within the region and promote South Asian art to the rest of the world.
What are the focus points of the Foundation?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
The Samdani Art Foundation is a solely non-commercial entity, which is unique to both Bangladeshi and a rarity across the South Asian region. The main motivation behind the Foundation was that we wanted to support South Asian art and to create a platform for South Asian artists – filling a void that we saw in the region and the rest of the world.
This year marks the fourth edition Dhaka Art Summit, can you tell us what we can expect to see this February?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
Expanding on the success of past editions, the Dhaka’s Art Summit 2018 program will widen its focus to create new connections between South, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean belt, exhibiting artists from Thailand, Malaysia, Madagascar, the Philippines, and several other countries, highlighting the dynamic evolution of art in contemporary South Asia and reviving historical inter-Asian modes of exchange. Over three hundred artists will exhibit across ten curated exhibitions, and over one hundred and twenty speakers from all over the world will participate in sixteen panel discussions, with two symposiums that strive to ground future developments of art in South Asia within the region’s rich, yet lesser-known, past.
Where do you hope to see the Foundation and Dhaka Art Summit in the future?NADIA & RAJEEB SAMDANI
The Samdani Art Foundation will keep working towards researching, supporting and promoting South Asian Art to the global audience. The Samdani Art Foundation’s journey over the last six years has been amazing, but this is only the beginning!