An 'Aesthetic Spring' in Dhaka
Marek Bartelik's seminars on art and exhibition making
Internationally acclaimed art critic, President of AICA (International Association of Art Critics), Dr Marek Bartelik, was in Dhaka on a two-week visit. The three consecutive lectures that Marek presented at three separate venues, in the context of the enthusiasm it injected into the already keyed up art scene, can only be summed up as an 'aesthetic spring' – a quiet revolution in the midst of all the mishaps that left Dhaka bruised and battered by dint of the ongoing political violence.
Dr Marek arrived on 26th December 2014 to engage with the Dhaka audience on issues pertaining to art and art criticism as well as exhibition making. The discernable thesis that emerged from his three lectures, in a nutshell, gave salience to a rhizomic frame to reevaluate contemporary art practices, which he felt, needed to have a local character with its eye set on the changed circumstances of the world. While Marek spoke about the mode of staging in relation to the biennales in Asia, at the National Art Gallery auditorium, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, on 27th December, he issued forth a critique of the Enlightenment, pointing out the fact that the model co-opted by the Biennales across Asia was enmeshed in the narrative of enlightenment – one which looked at 'progress' through a 'positivist lens'.
In his second lecture, at the Goethe Institute, on 6th January, 2015, Marek coursed the audience through works he encountered in exhibitions covered in the last twenty or so years for 'Artforum', the internationally reputed art magazine. Sharing his experience of writing for the magazine from over 25 countries in five continents, he went over the early years of some of today's stalwarts providing food for thought. These were the highpoints of his extensive survey which piqued the young minds given to interactive practices.
To measure the success of any new formal vocabulary of art Marek prefers to place it on a wider frame where artists, aesthetic trends and tendencies and specific regions are taken into consideration. Advancing on the same premise of the necessity to have a localized practice, he also voiced his concern about the asymmetric share of the limelight in the global stage by a few renowned biggies.
Finally, on January 7th, in collaboration with the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, the third lecture was staged at Sufia Kamal Auditorium of Bangladesh National Museum. The topic of the third lecture was once again the state of the Biennales in Asia, where Marek also reflected, at length, on Bangladesh's own Asian biennale. Criticizing the 19th century French Salon Model adopted by Asian Art Biennale – where works of art are displayed without showing much sensitivity to the theme and the form of the artworks, he suggested a way out through the introduction of curators. Curation, or its necessity in exhibition making, has been the most contentious issue in the Dhaka art world since the new millennium; and to this day the organizers are in two minds about making this crucial step forward by introducing curating in all national and international exhibitions. Marek, in his usual cautionary mode, once again reemphasized the need for a workable model that works in this region. And with Marek the localized can never be equated with the insular, as he referred to the last dOCUMENTA, 'for it provided encounters where all the senses are made to engage.' So, in a localized scene where diverse praxes are possible, artists and critics can never really turn a blind eye to the developments in other regions of the world.
Marek's lectures were part of an ongoing series of seminars Depart conceived with the aim of expanding the disciplinary knowledge in the context of today's global art practices. Under 'The Visiting Art Critic Talk Programme' of Depart, the globetrotting critic was invited to Dhaka chiefly to reinforce the need for critical practices and initiate a reevaluation of our own position(s) and praxes.
Though this was Marek's first ever visit to Bangladesh, he is familiar with the region. He has been in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2013, as part of the organizing team and a critic presenting a paper during the international AICA seminar on art and gender representation. He has written about Bhupen Khakhar, the famous Indian artist who was once at the apex of the modern art movement in the region. Marek is now all bucked up to know more about South Asian art and culture. He has written extensively for CAA Art Journal, Art Forum, Art in America, Brooklyn Rail and many other international art and literary magazines.
Thanks to AICA President Dr Marek, who has set in motion the process of an AICA chapter in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi art writers are now set to organize a local chapter of this UNESCO affiliated global organization which has chapters in 72 countries. Nilofur Farrukh, Vice President AICA Int, and President of the Pakistan chapter, is assisting in making the Bangladesh chapter a reality.