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Live coverage: Dhaka Art Summit Critical Writing Ensemble


e-flux conversations is pleased to present live coverage of the [Dhaka Art Summit’s Critical Writing Ensemble][1] (CWE), a four-day conference on art writing occurring the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th of February. CWE convenes internationally recognized art writers from across the globe, specifically focusing on South Asia, to share writing histories and produce new critical strategies for art writing.

Initiated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, Artistic Director of the Dhaka Art Summit, together with Katya García-Antón, Director and Curator of OCA, Office of Contemporary Art Norway, and Chandrika Grover, Head of Liaison Office India of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, the CWE will become a central part of this year’s Dhaka Art Summit 2016.

CWE was curated by Katya García-Antón in collaboration with Antonio Cataldo, Senior Programmer of OCA to maintain a keen focus on the processes and structures that could help to empower writers today. The program takes a cross-regional approach and has been developed in collaboration with Bhavna Kakar, Director of Take on art Magazine in India, who in addition to convening with the peers in Dhaka, developed Critical Writing Ensembles: The Baroda Chapter, at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India in December 2015.

Coming live from the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on each day of the Ensembles, Art Critic Emma Sumner (@emma_sumner) will once again take the liveblog helm on behalf of Take on art.

:arrow_right: CWE SCHEDULE 2016

Session I: Al Fresco – Writing within and against the Art School

3 February

10.30 Welcome by Diana Campbell Betancourt; Remarks by Marianne Burki and Chandrika Grover; Words by Bhavna Kakar; Presentation of the Ensembles by Katya García-Antó; Introduction of the peers
12.00 Anshuman Das Gupta
12.30 Chus Martínez
14.00 Shukla Sawant
14.30 Filipa Ramos
15.00 Yin Ker
15.30 Discussion moderated by Katya García-Antón and Antonio Cataldo

Session II: Staging Words and Flowing Letters

4 February

10.30 Rabindranath Tagore’s songs being sang by
Masuma Begum Lipi; Bhavna Kakar introduces the peers
11.00 Belinder Dhanoa; To be read by Sabih Ahmed in Belinder’s absence
11.30 Quinn Latimer
12.30 Salima Hashmi
14.00 Nida Ghouse
14.30 Rosalyn D´Mello
15.00 Chantal Pontbriand
15.30 Discussion moderated by Katya García-Antón and Antonio Cataldo

Session III: The Political Unconsciousness of Art Writing

7 February

10.30 Bhavna Kakar introduces the peers
11.00 Geeta Kapur
11.30 Mariam Ghani
12.00 Övül Durmusoglu
14.00 Nabil Ahmed
14.30 Maria Lind
15.00 Rosa Martinez
15.30 Discussion moderated by Katya García-Antón and Antonio Cataldo

Session IV: Entangling and Disentangling Printed Matter

8 February

10.30 Katya García-Antón and Diana Campbell Betancourt welcome peers to the closing session; Bhavna Kakar introduces the peers
11.00 Paul B. Preciado
11.30 Aunohita Mojumdar
12.00 Devika Singh
12.30 Dorothee Richter
14.00 Sharmini Pereira
14.30 Mike Sperlinger
15.00 Mustafa Zaman
15.30 Discussion moderated by Katya García-Antón and Antonio Cataldo

*Image above: Haroon Mirza, ‘The National Apavilion of Then and Now’


On a warm day in Bangladesh’s chaotic capital Dhaka the Critical Writing Ensemble kicks off this year’s Dhaka Art Summit’s activities in the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s Dance School Auditorium. Opening with a welcome from the Director of the Dhaka Art Summit’s (DAS) Artistic Director Diana Campbell Beatancourt who welcomed everyone who had battled through the traffic – hence the very late start at 2.45pm - and to come to listen and to take part. Talking about the Dhaka Art Summit, its programme and taking a little time to explain this year’s offer while reminding everyone that the Summit’s main offer will open this coming Friday 5 February before leaving swiftly to continue with DAS’s exhibition install.


The Critical Writing Ensemble (CWE) is very much a collaboration between the DAS and other organisations who have a developed and maintained a deep commitment to fostering art writing practices. Following Diana’s introduction is Bhavna Kakar (pictured above), the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of TAKE on art magazine, a publication whose continued efforts to establish a space for art writers both emerging and established through writers’ awards, workshops, panel discussions and seminars and most recently Take on Writing | Critical Writing Ensemble’s Baroda Chapter, held at MS University of Baroda in December 2015.

Finally, to make sure everyone attending is fully welcomed, Katya García-Antón, Director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), takes the stage. The curator of the Dhaka Art Summit’s CWE, Katya takes the time to remind the audience of what we are all here to discuss and start minds thinking by making some pertinent points ahead of today’s sessions.


After some technical difficulties at the start of yesterday’s session, live blogging was postponed until we could resume normal services today so here’s a quick catch up on yesterday’s conversations which I feel will also help set the scene ahead of the second day of talks today. Yesterday’s topic - Al Fresco – Writing Within and Against the Art School – focused on the relationship between textural practice and pedagogical histories.
Starting with Anshuman Das Gupta’s Towards 2019: The futurity of a location, during which most of the technical hitches took place, but I plan to catch up with Gupta later on in the programme to give you a better idea of what he had to say so stayed tuned for updates.
Next up, Chus Martinez takes the stage. The Head of the Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, for the last two years but admitting that she still doesn’t feel she knows exactly what it is. As a faculty member of the school, Chus’s main concern is how often she is confronted by students who don’t read which has sparked an interested in ignorance; hinting that perhaps this lack of desire within art students to read being part of the issue with the current state of art writing.
Siting an article she wrote for e-flux in 2014 titled Octopus in Love, Chus explains her thoughts, provoked by the work of artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, around placing a rainforest at the centre of the institution. A living breathing organ of art that has been developed in assistant with us, to gain skills or perfection. Change can only happen through absorption, reading and writing – we should allow ourselves to be absorbed by that organ we call art.


Dislocating Authority in a Colonial Art School: critical interventions of a ‘native’ insider is the next topic to be chewed over as Shukla Sawant takes the stage. Sawant’s talk takes autobiographical, periodical columns and official reports written by Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar, an arts educator and administrator from Bombay. In an archaeological approach to her subject matter, Sawant displays clippings, sections of reports and images of other source material to bring together the argument to her conversation which certainly got the audience thinking about how art history is approached outside the west.

Following on, Filipa Ramos takes the stage to talk about her recent project of reviewing exhibitions that she has never seen in person to test the possibilities of the review. Taking the speculative and the seen archival evidence Ramos is debating the possibility to see the unseen? Can critical judgements be elaborated? Can a retrospective review bring certain features to light that need distance to emerge? Is there a need to give time and allow the narrative to mature perhaps? Is this a new mode of reviewing which is a tribute to all of the projects she never had time to see?


Filipa’s relationship to these exhibitions is purely through photographic and documented evidence and past reviews. The images were a way to be in the place again and transforming her relationship to spaces of the past and by comparing them to exhibitions she has seen, it is perhaps most interesting that it is the work of her peers, who wrote about their experience and opinion of the exhibition which helps her to imagine herself within the space, drawing the imagined and the experienced into one.


The last speaker of the day Yin Ker takes the stage who politely thanks the Dhaka Art Summit and the Critical Writing Ensemble for asking her to contribute. Yin takes the grounding of her talk from her research into Bagyi Aung who was Burma’s most important exponent of modernist practice. An artist whose work doesn’t fit into the terms of Western modernism, Yin explained the challenge for her as an Art Historian in translating Aung’s work using her own DIY framework. A thought which is very pertinent to many of the art critics with us today in Dhaka as Bhavna Kakar invites everyone on stage for the closing discussion.

As Katya opens, describing today’s conversations as sizzling, she tries to identify a thread to all of the conversations. Commenting on the practice happening at the centre of the art school and if it is the perfect platform to examine the current changes happening within the context of art and how we must view the institutionalisation of education through new methods within a shared climate of democracy.

Sometimes we have to let our body remember and not our mind. We need to find new ways to work with others and create new knowledge and push the boundaries of what we already know. Chus reinstates her idea of the rainforest as a massive organ at the centre of the art school as a new type of organ central to all of the ones we already have which doesn’t yet identify with the ones we already have. Perhaps a metaphor for the new methods of critique which are being called for?


Marianne Burki welcomes everyone for the day’s events by questioning where the platform is now for this thing called Art Criticism which we are talking about today. Having been a freelance journalist for many years, Marianne recently took up the role of Head of Visual Arts department at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, an independent foundation mandated by the Swiss Confederation to promote artistic creation in Switzerland, to contribute to cultural exchange at home. Given her past career, Marianne speaks with experience when she asks the audience to consider the issues of where writing should be put to be read? How should we organise knowledge today when we have so much knowledge available to us and finally if this calls for a need to re-write history?

Before the day’s speaker’s start, Katya announces a slight change to the programme which will involve a space for questions after each speakers talk.


Due to ill health, Belinder Dhanoa’s piece was read by Sabih Ahmed from the Asia Art Archive, due to her inability to attend due to ill health. Titled Notes on Process: Writing a Life Sabih starts by explaining his thoughts and comments on Belinder’s text. Formulated of exerts from the script she wrote for artist Vivan Sundaeam’s exhibition-as-play 409 Ramkinkars which opened in Delhi in the spring of 2015. A performance which paid homage to one of India’s most charismatic artists Ramkinkar Baij, it took hold of the age-old question, what is fiction and what is non-fiction?

A performance which merges the fictional and the unchangeable autobiography, it questions what’s real and what’s fictional in a way that perhaps the art critic’s analysis of an artist’s work or of the latest exhibition to the art historian’s reading and writing about the documentation left from artists past.

After closing, Kataya asks for Vivan Sundaeam, who is part of the audience today, for his comments on the performance and how he found working with the collective who performed the work. Vivan’s additional comments about working with Belinda on the text and working with the collective to help the audience understand how the performance was articulated.

Next up, Quinn Latimer is an American poet, critic, and editor based in Basel and Athens. Explaining how she still feels a need to find a form for herself between poetry and criticism, Quinn read excerpts from books she had written and which she is still working on which seem to define what she means when she talks about finding her forum. Quinn’s reading of her poem, Like a Woman, repeats the clichéd line to embrace the other while reclaiming the space and recreating it in a different time. Quinn’s rummaging for a new space between poetry and criticism takes liberties with language twisting reality into a new form which smashes the format ridden reviews critics can often get stuck within. Perhaps leaving everyone here to question what format criticism should take.


Lastly for the morning session, Salima Hashmi enters stage left to read directly from a series of letters by her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in a presentation titled Letter – ‘The long awaiting morn’. As Salmia read’s, her father’s letters, it feels that these letters were perhaps performative spaces for him. An influential left-wing intellectual and one of the most highly-regarded poets of the Urdu language, the words within the letters address the power of the epistolary form as a critical tool for resistance.

An opponent of the Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s government in the Rawalpindi conspiracy case, for which Faiz was detained for four years and penned these letter from the confines of his cell. Originally only destined for his wife, these private letters have now been published, you can read some of his letters here, although I don’t know if this is an official platform. The blurring of private and public writing within Faiz’s letters poses the question of how we write when we know who we are writing for?


Follow on from lunch, Nida Ghouse takes the stage waking anyone who might be flagging after a heavy lunch with her vigorous reading of sections from her series of powerful essays about the multi-lingual Afro-Asian magazine Lotus which was a Soviet-funded forum for short stories. The project was a fascination around the idea of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s time in Beirut when he worked with Lotus (then called Afro-Asian Writings). Looking closely at the depravation and loneliness Faiz experienced during his time in the city, Nida’s research closely questions what it means to be from a language and how this might effect a writer (or poets) interaction with their audience.

Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter who we heard from prior to lunch thanked Nida for her research stating how much of a great interest there will be as these years of her father’s life are the least documented.

Next up Rosalyn D’Mello pulls the chair to the front of the stage ensuring that everyone is fully focused on the subject to hand. Reading the biography of the late art critic, poet, writer and painter Richard Bartholomew from the collection of his essays titled The Art Critic which she edited, her lecture appears to also be part performance.

Addressing particular aspects of Bartholomew’s legacy which, given the performative feel of the lecture, seem to have a personal significance to Rosalyn it’s a chance for the audience to see how this critics work documented modern Indian Art history. Closing with a private yet public letter to Bartholomew, it’s as if D’Mello is paying homage to a man whose legacy means so much to her career.

Given that Pablo, Bartholomew’s son is in the audience, Katya asks for his comments about his father’s working methods. Pablo explains that his father’s ability with language, understanding art and his friendship with the artists made him a part of the politics and art scene at that time. He was a pivotal figure who wrote about everything from printing, photography, painting and also politics.

Does having more of a relationship with an artist make your critique different? When asked what she has taken from working with the archive of Bartholomew’s writing, Rosalyn sites the spirit of friendship he had with the artists he wrote about as something which has become central to her own writing process. Perhaps that personal touch and deeper knowledge of an artist’s work is what makes an exhibition critique more worthy of becoming a future document?


To close the day’s talks, Chantal Pontbriand, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto took to the stage with A Letter From the People. Discussing how writing, editing, publishing and curating words as well as works is a continuous process for her which she uses as a way to try and see in-between what words and reality have to offer. Interest in new knowledge and forms is for Chantal is art writings primary function. Art is the unknown and so the critic’s task is to search what lies in-between.

Chantal succinctly describes writing as a way of transferring emotions and knowledge from one person to another and reminding the audience that you cannot only write for yourself as it won’t work for you or for your audience while reiterating that writing is a gesture that reaches out to others.

Having over run and with exhibition openings and dinners to attend this evening, Katya sums up the day. A day of talks which have concentrated on the need to find your own form avoiding the common thread and avoiding writing in any liner form. Writing needs to provoke time and space either through personal spaces or by writing through the body.


Although the number of questions posed by the speakers today was mostly towards the end of their talk and in response to the examples of their work they had chosen to read it’s important to remember that today’s programme was titled Staging Words and Flowing Letters. Today was more of an effort to showcase and examine examples of writing which pushed the formats of the art critique and instead demonstrates a pushing of the boundaries and routing out new formats of writing.
Discussing their experiences and frustrations with their roles within the art world, at the end of day two of the Ensembles, it feels right to sum up the key points which have been raised by the speakers we have heard from so far:

Marianne Burki:
“… when we have so much knowledge available to us where should writing be put to be read?”

Salima Hashmi:
“ … the blurring of private and public writing within Faiz’s letters pose the question of how we write when we know who we are writing for?”

Chantal Pontriand:
“Writing needs to provoke time and space either through personal spaces or by writing through the body.”

Rosalyn D’Mello:
“Does having more of a relationship with an artist make your critique different?”

Filipa Ramos:
“Can critical judgements be elaborated? Can a retrospective review bring certain features to light that need distance to emerge? Is there a need to give time and allow the narrative to mature perhaps?”

Chus Martinez:
“Change can only happen through absorption - reading and writing – we should allow ourselves to be absorbed by that organ we call art.”


During the last two days since the first two instalments for chapter two of the Critical Writing Ensemble, parties have taken place, speeches have been made and numerous visitors, from gallery Directors to local school children have come to ogle this year’s exhibition. The third edition of the Dhaka Art Summit has now opened which has brought new faces to join us as we are crammed into a small seminar room gathered around a large round table with others tentatively perched on plastic garden furniture chairs.

Introduced by Bhavna Kakar, Art Historian, curator, critic and an inimitable expert on contemporary art, Geeta Kapur begins to read from her paper - Forms of Address: Personal testimony, public engagement - which focuses on the importance of texts and documentation in the work of Rummana Hussain and Jitish Kallant to the historical, political and ethical dilemmas of our time.

Discussing the central role that witness testimony has in twentieth century politics, Geeta talks of how Rummana’s work discusses and addresses political and religious issues within a feminist paradigm, closing by reading a series of questions from one of her performance scripts “… did her father permit her … are her beliefs an escape … has she heard her description of her … is she you …”. Going on to discuss artist Jitish Kallat’s public notice projects and other works related to it, Geeta uses his work as an example of how public address can be used as a rhetorical mediation inserted into the discourse of an artist’s address.

Opening for questions, it’s the afterlife of words which Katya quizzes Geeta, a matter seen as being dependent on the original words purpose; are they for the moment or are they words designed to resonate? Perhaps also a very relevant thought in the way we consider our own words as art writers.


Over the past two days while we have been away seeing art and engaging in other conversations, the launch of Take on art’s 16th Edition Take Photography: Materialise/Dematerialise held its launch yesterday as part of the Summit. In celebration, a conversation between Delhi based Off-Set Artist, Dayanita Singh and the Co-Director of the Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist took place. The conversation was recorded by the Sofina Radio Project, who are in residency during the Summit, and is available to listen to using the link below:


Next up Mariam Ghani started her performative, part-text based presentation of a selection of audio-visual pulled from her ongoing project What we left unfinished. Part of Mariam’s long-term research, film and dialogue project it comprises of five unfinished Afghan feature films shot, but never edited, between 1978 and 1992. A kind of aestheticisation of politics, the project uses documentary as an art practice.

Although each of the films are fictional, they include documentary footage blurring the distinction between making political art and art that is political. A project which has developed from archival practice, it adds another layer of discussion on the archival material in perhaps a way that Filipa Ramos’s reviews of unseen exhibitions did.


As Turkish curator and writer Ovul O. Durmusoglu pull up a chair at the head of the table, she passes comment on how the Dhaka Art Summit is a rich process which makes us think about the way we make exhibitions and display artwork. Ovul’s paper, Rebranding Mesopotamia: The Inextinguishable Fire, discusses the flow of information which forces us to address the reality of war in our everyday lives. Discussing the issues of ‘resistance chic’ Ovul’s slide show compares images of female guerrilla fighters and the fashion which was influenced by the media’s images of them.

An analogy of how art becomes part of a branding, Ovul’s image slides take us to a moment before the artistic thinking happens, when the curator/artist formed their position or thinking. Highlighting the issues of Western media and ideology and how images are circulated, Ovul warns of the trap for the artist or curator who wishes to deal with such issues and use creative means to unpick the picture and rebrand the issues as their own.


Following on from lunch, the crowd expands further until the room is almost at the point of bursting as Nabil Ahmed opens his paper, Earth Poison: Environmental Writing as Militant Research, in which he talks about how he combines video, performance and sound art to address the writing of the world as an accumulation of catastrophic events. Using Bangladesh’s issues with arsenic contamination of groundwater as an example, he delves into his ongoing research with the Forensic Architecture research project team at Goldsmiths University London.

With time running out due to lunch overrunning, Katya queries Nabil on how his current research is earthbound and what might happen if we look into the effects of such issues on the atmosphere; to invert the landscape to one of clouds perhaps. As Nabil comments on his thoughts of the atmosphere as a part of the landscape, it brings to light the issue of how critical writing can sometimes hone in on one issue inadvertently dismissing the connected issues surrounding its topic of discussion.


As the next speaker, Maria Lind, the Director of the Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm swaps places with Nabil, with no time for questions (due to the overrun on time) the crowd exchange thoughts with one another. After an introduction from Bhavna Kakar, Maria dons her extra-large round eyeglasses to read from her paper, Metabolistic Writing which analyses how the past few decades of abstraction has been dealt with by art as a subject matter mirroring the economic, social and political condition of the world around us.

Reading from Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, an example of what Maria describes as ‘metabolistic writing’, a performative and generative way of producing text, she explains how she nearly gave up on art writing feeling that it was time to move on from art writing and do something else. What Maria later realised what that coming to a subject from the perspective of different fields, such as architecture or design can bring a very different perspective to the way you approach your subject siting the artist who works across multiple fields as an example. Is it possible that obscurity can sometimes bring clarity to a subject in the way that expertise cannot?

To conclude the day’s papers, Rosa Martinez explains her reasoning behind her paper about the exhibition she curated titled Fear Nothing, She Says: When Art Reveals Mystic Truths which is also the paper’s title. Clearly passionate about the subject, Rosa embraces the audience with her wit as she explains how the exhibition is an invitation to overcome obstacles and fears by opening up new developments of global ethical and aesthetic awareness and how she used her role as the curator to critically analyse the changes produced over the course of time by understanding how images can condense fears, hopes and beliefs.

Closing with the thought ‘Art is a kind of knowledge, a form of wisdom and an exercise of power. In art we must seek the presence and the meaning that transcends the visual’.

Despite the overrunning of time and the room being needed by a group of school children waiting in the wings to take over our seats, Katya and Antonio quickly sum up the days discussions. The main thought for the day, what does it mean to be a citizen and what does it take to be one?


As we start the fourth and final day of chapter two of the Ensemble and we wait for people to gather, it feels pertinent to recap on where we started with a recording that the Safina Radio Project took of the session’s introduction, accessible via the link below: