Nadia Samdani, Co-founder and President of the Samdani Art Foundation (SAF), and Director of Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), talks about her art collection and contribution to the art scene of Bangladesh.
Excerpts from the interview with Nadia Samdani:
T+L India: How did you get interested in collecting art?
Nadia Samdani: Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs and collectors, I became interested in art early on. When my husband Rajeeb and I started collecting art together 15 years ago, we focused on acquiring works by modern South Asian modernists such as Zainul Abedin, Mohammad Kibria, FN Souza, and MF Hussain. But over time, our tastes evolved and we began exploring contemporary art by artists from Bangladesh and around the world, and attended biennales and art fairs to discover new works.
T+L India: What do you keep in mind while collecting art?
Nadia Samdani: Collecting art has no rules. I need to feel a reaction towards the artwork. One crucial facet of my art collecting is the ability to support emerging artists at early stages of their careers. Witnessing their growth and following their artistic journey is incredibly rewarding and enriching for me as a collector.
T+L India: Tell us more about the Samdani Art Foundation.
Nadia Samdani: Rajeeb and I founded SAF in 2011 with a mission to promote the work of contemporary artists and architects in Bangladesh. We wanted to create opportunities to support their careers and also put the Bangladeshi art scene on the map.
T+L India: How has the art scene of Bangladesh evolved over time?
Nadia Samdani: When we founded SAF, there were no established platforms or foundations to support arts in our region. So, we took it upon ourselves to create one. Since then, it’s evolved to include opportunities such as production grants, residencies, education programmes, and exhibitions, as well as the Dhaka Art Summit – now a globally recognised art and architecture platform.
Today, the summit is one of the most visited art events in the world. This year we created a personal record with 5,72,000 attendees in nine days! It’s been exciting to witness Bangladesh’s art scene flourish and [seeing] the increasing interest in our region’s art and culture.
T+L India: Any piece that is precious to you?
Nadia Samdani: Collecting works by Ayesha Sultana, who received the Samdani Art Award at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2014, holds a special place in my art collection journey. I have been able to support her career from its initial stages. Her artwork has gained widespread recognition, and prestigious institutions such as Tate in London, SFMOMA, and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art have acquired her works.
T+L India: What was the theme of this year’s Art Summit?
Nadia Samdani: Given that climate is a big part of the history, identity and culture of Bangladesh, the theme of this year’s edition was Bonna, the word for ‘flood’ and a girl’s name in Bengali. It opens up different and more nuanced ways of thinking about what the climate means to people in Bangladesh.
T+L India: How has travel influenced your collection?
Nadia Samdani: Travel has always inspired me, and I make it a point to visit museums wherever I go to gain a deeper understanding of the local culture. I also travel specifically for art events such as the Venice Biennale or Documenta in Kassel, Germany to discover and meet artists. With exposure comes discovery, and that’s how I grow my collection.
T+L India: A place you’ve visited whose art and culture scene has blown you away?
Nadia Samdani: Besides Bangladesh, one place that truly stands out for me is London. London has a long and storied history as a hub for artistic and creative expression, and to this day it remains one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in the world when it comes to art and culture. A highlight in my dairy is always the annually commissioned Serpentine Pavilion in the middle of Hyde Park where architects are invited to design and create their first built structure in the UK.
T+L India: What opportunities and challenges do the Bangladeshi and South Asian art communities face? How does the Samdani Art foundation address this?
Nadia Samdani: I started this foundation with the aim of providing Bangladeshi artists with a platform to showcase their work. Over a decade later, we have expanded to offer numerous opportunities for them to grow and showcase their work. Many past DAS commissions have gone on to be acquired by prestigious institutions such as Centre Pompidou, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Queensland Art Gallery. This has brought much-deserved attention to Bangladeshi artists, and we’re proud to have played a role in their recognition. In fact, Yasmin Jahan Nupur became the first Bangladeshi artist to be featured in Tate’s permanent collection in 2022, with a work that was developed as part of the 2020 edition of the Dhaka Art Summit.
T+L India: Who is your favourite artist and why?
Nadia Samdani: It’s difficult to pick one artist. I’m interested in living artists and what they are saying today.
T+L India: How do you keep up with the trends and shifts in the art world?
Nadia Samdani: There are many ways one can stay informed. Personally, I read lots of art publications and use social channels including Twitter and Instagram to follow what artists, curators and museum directors are engaging with.
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