Top: Mute Grain (2019) by Phan Thảo Nguyên examines the little-discussed 1945 famine in French Indochina during the Japanese occupation (1940–1945), in which over two million people died of starvation, partly due to Japanese demands to grow jute over rice to support their war economy. This three-channel film poetically weaves together oral histories, folk tales, and lyrical chronicles to tell a story that history left behind in Vietnam, creating narratives that sit at the border of fantasy and reality. Beyond her research in Vietnam, Thao Nguyen Phan also consulted Bengali literature in creating the work, notably Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Anandamath (1882), set in the Bengal famine of 1770. Phan works with painting, video, installation, and what she calls ‘theatrical fields’, such as performance gesture and moving images. Utilising literature, philosophy, and open poetic spaces conducive to reflection, she highlights unconventional issues arising from history and tradition. This allows her to challenge received ideas and social conventions. In 2012, Phan co-founded the collective Art Labor. Image: From the website/with the permission of Phan Thảo Nguyên and the factory contemporary art centre, Ho Chi Minh City.
Bottom: 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. Abedin travelled extensively, depicting those suffering under oppression, often returning to his Famine sketches such as in his series on the people of Palestine. Photo: Randhir Singh
Art and Hunger
Connecting Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia (MAHASSA)
With support from the Getty Foundation’s 'Connecting Art Histories' initiative, The Dhaka Art Summit has launched MAHASSA in collaboration with the Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) at Cornell University, and the Asia Art Archive. 'Art and Hunger: Transnational Frames' is just one of many conversations that took place at the Dhaka Art Summit.