From May 27, Alliance Francis de Dhaka has inaugurated an extraordinary exhibition on the urban issues confronting Dhaka. The exhibition on ‘Urban Issues of Dhaka: An Artistic Gaze’ will run until June 7, 2022. This unique juxtaposition of art and urban research is an outcome of a year-long creative engagement with ten artists and 30 school children that teases out Dhaka’s unorthodox yet crucial urban struggles. The exhibition aims to provoke thinking regarding sustainable Dhaka.

The exhibition showcases works of the young artists like 'Rough Sleeper' by Sunanda Rani Borman and 'Eviction and Shelter' by Mahamudul Hasan in the background

The year-long impact activity and the exhibition are conducted by the Khulna University, Bangladesh, one of eight partners of the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). SHLC is an international research consortium studying urbanisation, health, and education challenges of 14 cities in Asia and Africa including Dhaka and Khulna. SHLC is exploring new pathways to ensure cities and communities are sustainable, and those living in urban environments have good health and well-being and access to quality education.

Visitors at the exhibition gallery
The show features Reconsidering Map, the work of an eminent artist Dhali Al Mamoon

Eminent and young artists bring more than 19 outstanding paintings, sculptures, and installations to light in this exhibition. At the same time, 30 artworks from school children from deprived communities of Dhaka city are jewels of this event. Dr Kazi Ghiyasuddin, Shahid Kabir, Dhali Al Mamoon, Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman are the participating eminent artists. The exhibition also includes five young artists: Sunanda Rani Borman, Mahamudul Hasan, Md. Mojahidur Rahman Sarker, Kuntal Barai and S.M. Shaha Anisuzzaman Faroque. Architect Salauddin Ahmed curates the show.

'Waif' by Md Mojahidur Rahman Sarker
'Topion' by Mahbubur Rahman is exhibited in the show

The works of the artists capture interesting and critical urban problems including rough sleepers, shelter and health vulnerability of the poor, lost neighbourhood life, (in) security, the life of non-human agents in cities, urban tranquillity, thrown togetherness, and hopes of urbanites.

While introducing the exhibition, the concept designer of the impact activity that resulted in the exhibition, Professor Tanjil Sowgat says, “We designed the exhibition following a storyline that starts from individual issues and ends by questioning philosophical standpoints. The exhibition curator Architect Salaudddin Ahmed adds ‘‘The interesting space design will surprise the audience as it will remind them of the challenges and the negotiations people confront in Dhaka. You will surely see a different Alliance Francis de Dhaka”.

Book opening ceremony

SHLC Co-Investigator and the event organiser, Dr Shilpi Roy, an associate professor at Khulna University, is optimistic that the event will provoke new thinking regarding the rhizomatic nature of problems in Dhaka. She adds, “we aim to reach out to the policymakers, citizens and scholars through this event so that they start thinking about and respond to the complex issues around sustainable Dhaka.”

Shilpi Roy and Tanjil Sowgat have documented the year-long research work and findings from the interviews with the artists in a book. The book shares SHLC findings on Dhaka to date, the method followed to conduct the engagement activity, narratives on the artworks, a curatorial note, and the unorthodox yet critical reflections regarding Dhaka revealed from this impact activity. While talking about the book, Dr Roy says, “the book showcases how cross-disciplinary work can benefit urban research and the fascinating outcome of our journey.”