Ongoing legacies of colonialism establish and maintain conditions of exploitation throughout the global majority world (the world outside of Europe and North America which hosts most of the human population on the planet). Naked capitalism and internationalism, sometimes masked under the guise of religion and development aid, continues to drive networks of power controlling the globe. Revealed through its ex tractive actions of planting and uprooting indigenous goods and people, colonialism still extends deep into the furthest reaches of the Earth through the seeds of commodities. Artists across generations have made works that reflect how histories of land are intimately entangled / embedded with narratives of hunger, dispossession and ultimately erasure. Colonisation is inscribed in the physical and cultural DNA of the worlds we inhabit, and the artists working across these spheres help us navigate through complex webs of greed and addiction to imagine solidarities for alternative and autonomous futures.
Above: An installation made from cast natural rubber embellished with food-colouring and batik-inspired patterns carries Rossella Biscotti’s interpretations of the powerful female characters in the Buru Quartet (1980–88), a series of novels by the late Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer while he was in prison. On a material level, the first rubber seeds were brought to Indonesia from the Belgian Congo, and batik techniques were exported to Africa via Europe as African Wax Cloth, speaking to the global scale of colonialism. Pramodeya’s novels tell the story of nationhood narrated on the bodies of women, whose only inheritable possessions were batik fabric and jewellery. Among the characters is a woman called Surati who deliberately infects herself with smallpox to avoid colonial subjugation as a concubine on a sugar plantation and Princess of Kasiruta who dresses as a man to fight for freedom by night. Biscotti was inspired by the journeys and survival strategies employed by these women to resist the patriarchal colonial regimes they were born into, and imagines their characters in design motifs cast into these seductive floor-based forms. Image: Randhir Singh.
Zainul Abedin is considered by many to be the founding father of modern art in Bangladesh. In response to the Great Famine of Bengal (1943) under the British rule of India, he made hundreds of sketches depicting starving victims, serving as a form of visual testimony. His sketches spoke to the atrocities experienced by victims under what was a man-made famine and fuelled the public’s will for independence. Throughout his artistic career, Abedin remained true to the representation of the struggles of those most vulnerable in society, notably the rural peasantry. He was actively involved in the Language Movement of 1952 and the Liberation War in 1971. Having witnessed the Bhola Cyclone devastation, he ex pressed solidarity through his scroll painting Monpura ’70, drawing parallels between the struggle of the victims of the cyclone and that of the people
of Bangladesh. Abedin travelled extensively, depicting those suffering under oppression, often returning to his Famine sketches such as in his series on the people of Palestine.
In addition to being one of the most important artists of his generation, Abedin was also an academic and bureaucrat who helped establish the first art college in Dhaka in 1947, after the partition of British India. He was given the title Shilpacharya (‘great teacher of arts’) for his contribution towards art education in Bangladesh. Abedin also established the Folk Art Museum and a folk village in Sonargaon in 1975.
Drawing loaned to the Dhaka Art Summit by Rokeya Quader