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Live coverage: Dhaka Art Summit Critical Writing Ensemble


As Paul B. Preciado is unable to attend due to health reasons, the first speaker of the day is Aunohita Mojumdar, Editor of the Himal Magazine in Kathmandu and whose lecture will discuss the responsibility of the writer in the theatre of war by bringing to light stories of everyday reality in territories of conflict and violence. Questioning what we read when we read about areas of conflict while analysing the challenges faced by war journalists in areas like Afghanistan where the situation is over reported but yet under narrated.

Perhaps the key question Aunohita asks the audience is how and where we make space to look at such issues with an Editorial neutrality?


Devika Singh’s paper Indian Printed Matter after Independence discusses how her research uses printed matter as a point of departure to discuss the moment when art reviews were a critical site of transaction in India between the public sphere and contemporary art currents. Concentrating on the publication Marg, Devika explains how the magazine navigated the public sphere and explained its influence on numerous influential figures.

Highlighting Marg’s importance as a time capsule or memory bank, the magazine’s role in the progressive writing movement is unquestioned but Marg is still being published. Although it was previously funded by the Tata Group, their involvement has dwindled in recent years opening up the question of how progressive publications like this both fund themselves and maintain their editorial agenda.


The final paper of the morning comes from Dorothee Richter who is the Editor of the independent international journal OnCurating and also Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at the University of the Arts in Switzerland. Discussing the political and the social within the critique of artwork today Dorothee addresses the subject through her experience of working and writing across online and offline platforms. Although platforms like OnCurating are an important contribution to art writing and criticism, where and how we fund such platforms to ensure diversity in the voices who communicate through them is an issue which feels to have been swept under the carpet slightly throughout this Ensemble. As money circulates within society, what does this do or mean for art?


Following on from lunch on the Shilpakala Academy’s roof terrace, Sharmini Pereira opens her paper Location, Location, Location which explains how her organisation, Raking Leaves, commissions and publishes artist books from South Asia. Presenting three projects Raking Leaves worked on recently, one by an artist from Sri Lanka the other two by artists from Pakistan, Sharmini explains how each project is inhabited by its own political issues, particularly around where the artists are from. For Raking Leaves, where the artists are from is not of critical importance but it does add context to the criticality of the work.


“The apostrophe is the stepchild of English orthography. It is neither fish nor fowl, typographer’s convenience, nor true punctuation… The progressive apostrophe is a grammatical anomaly, a vestigial case marker – appropriately shaped like the human appendix – in a noun system that has otherwise dispensed with cases. Historically the apostrophe has spent the majority of its existence on the periphery of respectability …”
Elizabeth S. Sklar, The Possesive Apostrophe: the Development and Decline of a Crooked Mark (1976)

As the programme of speakers draws near to the end, Mike Sperlinger, Professor of Theory and Writing at The Academy of Fine Art, KHiO (Oslo, Norway) briefly examines some of the practices, histories and institutional dilemmas concealed by the seemingly innocuous grammatical marks which have become a popular attribute to recent art writing terminologies. Delving into what kind of relationship such grammatical marks might imply between art and writing through his paper The Artist’s Apostrophe, he talks of art writing as a genre and not a tool.

Using Tracks: a journal of artists’ writings, a little-known publication edited by American sculptor Herbert George, Mike discusses how art writing should provide just enough information to maintain a critical difference without being too specific and questions how we achieve the perfect balance.


To close the four days of interesting and though-provoking papers, Mustafa Zaman closes the sessions with Art Writing from below: Transversality in the Country of Mistranslation which looks at the state of art criticism in Bangladesh while simultaneously examining some of the crucial reinforcement to the country’s burgeoning art scene. Providing of the magazine he conceived, Depart, fits within the current Bangladesh art scene and how it achieves its aim of giving critical reinforcement to the scene. Drawing on the complications of writing in English and Bangla, we are perhaps back at the perhaps also a reference back to the issue of being from a language raised previously by Nida Ghouse.

Bringing the issues around art writing back to the country in which the four days of Ensembles have taken place, Katya draws the sessions to a close by thanking all of the peers and the audience for their commitment and for taking the time to engage with and attend each of the days sessions and finally thanks the project’s partners Take on art magazine, the Dhaka Art Summit, the Office of Contemporary Art Norway and Pro Helvetica.


a riveting account of some interesting times , of seeing this kind of discussion repositioned so completely – a tiny disagreement with Chantal P, as one must have such a disagreement, I do think that one can only write for oneself. Writing for anyone else is a trap of lucidity as an objective in itself…