The Arts Programme of Bengal Foundation supports the practice and understanding of visual arts in Bangladesh. Rooted in its local context, the Programme acts as a platform where artists, curators and researchers can exchange ideas and pursue their practice all year long, on a day-to-day basis.
The approach of the Arts Programme is comprehensive: it ambitions to foster an arts ecosystem within which critical discourse, curatorial practice and contemporary artistic creation mutually reinforce each other. Its actions are incremental: it mounts small or medium-sized projects of uncompromising quality, while always trying to maximise their impact on the local and regional arts scene. Its philosophy is non-commercial: all the events it proposes are entirely non-profit.
Active since the year 2000, the Arts Programme of Bengal Foundation has consistently expanded the range of its activities. It curates and produces exhibitions of art, which it documents through catalogues and books. It supports art and research projects through dedicated grants. It gives awards, either directly or in partnership with other trusts. It maintains a practice studio in Dhaka where it encourages mechanisms of peer-review and master-classes, and an Arts college in Narail. It arranges workshops, residencies or open talks. It publishes art books. It supports specific projects organised by other institutions. The aim at the core of the activities of the Visual Arts programme is to highlight the incredible creativity of the visual arts sector in Bangladesh and to make it thrive.
Because of its rich history, the Bengal Arts Programme cultivates a long-term perspective. With the ambition to preserve and spread knowledge about visual arts from Bangladesh and the greater region of Bengal, it has reserved a curated section of this website to a large spectrum of self-produced and other archived material. Centered on Bengali modern art but also taking in contemporary creation, the unique art collections of Bengal Foundation and of its Chairman, Mr. Abul Khair, are another key aspect of this long-term endeavour. The programme intends to foster a dynamic relationship between the masters of the past and new creation through the exhibition, documentation and contextualisation of the collections in various projects in Bangladesh and abroad.
After a succession of specific projects starting with the support to a landmark S.M. Sultan exhibition in Dhaka in 1987, Bengal Foundation formalised its engagement with visual arts in 2000.
That year it simultaneously set up a dedicated visual arts programme to design various non-profit activities in the field, and it opened the commercial Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts. The goal for a non-profit foundation to open a commercial operation was to contribute to the development of a local art market from which artists could draw revenue and support their practice. The decision was also made with the ambition that the production of exhibitions with the highest standards of quality and their contextualisation in dedicated publications would foster the understanding and appreciation of visual arts locally. The opening of a second commercial gallery, Bengal Art Lounge, in another area of Dhaka in 2011 was made to broaden the same aims. Over the years, both galleries produced dozens of exhibitions and participated to various international art fairs.
In parallel, the Arts programme multiplied non-profit initiatives such as the opening of practice spaces to encourage and facilitate the development of the arts, the organisation of workshops, residencies and art camps, the support to specific projects such as the first-ever participation of Bangladesh to the Venice Biennale in 2011 and the production of non-commercial exhibitions with an educational aim. In early 2016, with a small but robust art market solidly rooted in Bangladesh, Bengal Foundation decided to close its commercial operations and to expand the non-for-profit activities of its Arts programme.
Today the programme supports the visual arts ecosystem at large, including artists but also curators, researchers and critical writers. Under this holistic approach, it invites all actors in the field to engage on a day-to-day basis with the activities of uncompromising quality it quality it strives to develop.
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