A festival without fanfare
Recent Biennales have begun to assume a more ‘global’ approach, that is to say, an approach that plays down regional considerations in search of more authentic artistic engagements with our time and the experiences of living in an increasingly polarized and violent world

It started in 1981-and unlike many things Bangladeshi, has been taking place with reassuring regularity. Essentially a month-long art exhibition, Asian Art Biennale has, over the years, hugely overgrown its initial aim and scope. Begun simply as a reflection of the country’s wish to look beyond its borders for ‘wider communication’ with contemporary art traditions of neighboring countries’ the exhibition now brings together countries as un Asian as Ghana and Algeria and as unneighboring as Turkey and Madagascar. The exhibition is no longer to be viewed from this ‘wider communication’ point of view, or seen as a wishful communication’ point of view, or seen as a wishful inquiry into what constitutes quintessential ‘Asianness,’ if there is any such thing. Recent Biennales have begun to assume a more ‘global’ approach, that is to say an approach that plays down regional considerations in search of more authentic artistic engagements with our time and the experiences of living in an increasingly polarized and violent world. How do artists anywhere, and not simply in Asia, react to the phenomenon called globalization? To the anxiety of being marginalized in a ruthlessly single-minded corporate culture? What do artists in roughly similar social, political or economic settings across the globe do in the face of a visual culture disseminated mostly from American airwaves and threatening to submerge their own cultural productions/identities? And what is the artists’ reaction to the proliferation of ‘fusion’ art, in other words, one that combines and blends properties of several art forms? When photography intrudes into the territory of painting, for example-not so much in the manner of pop-art mutation, but as a more straightforward cross-genre invasion-how are both these genres affected? These questions have arisen, but have not necessarily been answered in the current Biennale, as artists from Australia to Uganda reflect on the alienation, anxiety, and sense of displacement created by a material culture gaining momentum in the wake of globalization.
These and similar other problematic were no doubt expected to come to the surface when young artists were asked to send work ‘done in the last two tears, ‘Remember, the Biennale is an exhibition where mostly young artists compete for grand prizes, and are free to choose their subjects. The exhibition format does not provide for any curatorial role in planning a country’s entry. Only a few countries send curators. In the absence of an overarching theme, what do these artists do when they are asked to send entries for an exhibition which is Asian by description, but global for all intents and purposes? Well, they send just what they would send to any other exhibition held at home or abroad….
…. One area that the Bangladeshi artists represented have not been explored more vigorously, perhaps because facilities are not in place-or in the case of the Biennale, because entry rules do not encourage works in this area-is the interface between photography and painting. Videography as art object also remains an outside involvement. In the 11th Biennale though, two of the three grand prizes have been claimed by entries in these two fields, showing how actively many artists are exploring these new areas. Iran’s Simin Keramati got one of the grand prizes with her video Rising or falling while another went to an Australian artists Michael Riley, whose cloud 2000, a sequence of ten large inkjet prints on banner paper, grows out of a clash between the artist’s indigenous roots and an ‘imposed Christian upbringing,’ and the process of assimilation it initiated. In her video, Keramati is also making a similar statement of adjusting to a world dominated by men with tunnel vision, whether in the family, community or the nation at large. The video describes a woman’s predicament in a male dominated world that pushes her down a well each time she surfaces. A third grand prize was won by Bangladesh’s Tayeba Begum Lipi for her My Childhood2, done in oil. ….

SYED MANZOORUL ISLAM
February, 2004
Jamini / pages 98, 99, 100 and 101



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