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14 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Marek Bartelik

By Bipul K Debnath
Marek Bartelik

Marek Bartelik, art critic, art historian and poet, visited Dhaka recently as an observer at the 18th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh, which is going on at the National Art Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in the capital. Bartelik was born on October 13, 1956 in Poland. In 1981, he moved to France. He has been living in New York, USA since 1984. This week, in an interview with The Weekend Independent, the former president of International Association of Art Critics (AICA) talks about the contemporary art scene in Bangladesh and global arts in general.

Please tell us your views on the present art scene in Bangladesh.

I am going to say this from my limited experience; I would like to ask an artist to tell me more about Bangladeshi arts. I think Bangladesh has rich arts. I personally appreciate that the country has a lot of young people who are interested in making art. If we look at the presentations at this biennial art festival, we can see that a number of young people are participating. So, it's fantastic.

Nowadays, contemporary art is international, it has a universal language. Young people are eager to see what is happening in the outside world thanks to social media. There are huge opportunities to understand the arts through the Internet.

What should be the outlook of artists?

Artists do not have a national identity. Artists are kind of independent and part of a global community. It depends how you look at the picture. There is room for everything. Every artist has many options to make comments in different voices. So, an artist has to relax and let others  judge.

I do not want to be someone who gives advice and solutions. The main reason why I have come here is to learn from the artists. So, the goal is not to disperse some kind of wisdom.

What about your own work?

My work is very simple. I had a long career as a teacher. I am a poet and I like to write poetry. Besides, I am more interested in fiction. My published books are ‘Early Polish Modern Art: Unity in Multiplicity’ (2005), ‘To Invent a Garden: The Life and Art of Adja Yunkers’ (2000), and ‘Mark Rothko: Paintings from the National Gallery of Art in Washington’ (2013). I have a pappy (pet dog). I wrote a book on it, but the book is philosophical.

What do you think about the Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka?

It is always good to try. Through trying, we will discover something which we do not know. So, it would be interesting to find out. The young section of the exhibition is well curated. Another one is the historical section, from which I understand Bangladesh does not have any art museum.

There are many Bangladeshi artworks at this Biennale that I like very much. But it is really difficult for me to judge Bangladeshi art. When I go back to the United States, I will be able to understand them more.

How can things be improved?

One has to see the artworks carefully. What you can see is an object. Even the photo of a picture is not the same as the picture itself. Understanding paintings is difficult, because what's happening in the paintings needs time to get the message through. In this regard, an art festival is important. I am glad the 18th edition of the Biennale is going on here in Bangladesh. I think something new happens each time. This year, 68 countries are participating. At the last event (in 2016), the number was 55. So that's good.

Is this Biennale well known among artists around the world?

There are many art biennales _ in China, South Korea and Japan _ but those are more recent. But the Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh is an old event. The reason why it is not so known is complex. I think that Bangladeshi culture is not that well-known in the West.

This Biennale (in Dhaka) has become a meeting place for people, I have met artists from Palestine, China, Bhutan, Nepal and other countries here. The question is what you get from this meeting.

Is it a meeting to sell paintings and find out solutions to expand business only? That’s not a biennale. The real objective of the festival should be addressed. The biennale has to be a conversational event. Let the visitors say what they feel. Try to figure out how to make people comfortable with artworks.

I would like to bring more critics from 64 AICA member countries. They will talk about the arts; we need to communicate more with each other. So, we have to work together. And of course, when I go back to New York, I will discuss this Biennale with my friends.

Tell us something about your association.

AICA (International Association of Art Critics) was founded by UNESCO in 1949 and counts as its members nearly 5,000 art critics from over 70 countries. The goal of the association is to promote independent art critics. It was a pioneer association of art critics in the 20th century.

I was the 15th president of AICA (based in Paris, France)  and I have just finished my term. The new president (Lisbeth Rebollo Gonçalves) is from Brazil. My goal was to establish more sections over the world. So, I am very pleased that we are going to establish a section in Bangladesh.  It is in progress. I hope the current president will be able to do it. n

Photos: Salahuddin Ahmed, File




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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