Echoing solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustices, much-anticipated art exhibition “The Black Story,” was launched virtually by Gallery Cosmos on Thursday. Curated by Nahar Khan, Executive Director of Gallery Cosmos, the special exhibition is shedding the spotlight on the recent wave of protests against racial injustices perpetrated against the Black community in America, which inspired people of all colours across continents to proclaim “Black Lives Matter”, in solidarity with the movement.
Featuring a powerful combination of artistic expression from five prominent Bangladeshi visual artists: Alakesh Ghosh, Kanak Chanpa Chakma, Afrozaa Jamil Konka, Bishwajit Goswami and Sourav Chowdhury, and a series of intellectual interventions with global art-enthusiasts and specialists – the exhibition is aiming to explore the intolerable injustices and generational trauma experienced by black communities.
This interactive exhibition delves into the interactions between the historic Black and South Asian communities, harmonizing the motif to examine, expose, and embrace the historical and ancestral ties of people in this region, the organizers emphasized at the inauguration of this month-long exhibition.
Hosted by Nabila Rahman, the inauguration was also joined by eminent Bangladeshi social activist, feminist, and environmentalist Khushi Kabir, and Nigerian American visual artist Osi Audu.
Nahar Khan, in her capacity as curator, mentioned that the exhibition has been profoundly transformative for her on a personal and professional level.
Shedding light on the history, Nahar Khan said, “The two communities (Black and South Asian) in the West share a longstanding history of being allies and enjoyed a sense of camaraderie born out of their shared struggles to build solidarity. These connections are best embodied by the ‘mixed’ lives of Black Bengalis. Vivek Bald’s ‘Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America’, reveals how multiple waves of Bengali Muslim migrants became part of iconic American cities like New York, New Orleans, and Detroit.”
Nahar Khan pointed out how their men were known for inter-marrying with African American, Creole, and Puerto Rican women, building new lives in the American working-class communities of colour between the 1880s and early 1900s.”
“The ties between Black and South Asian communities are not just limited to the diaspora that exists in the West,” she continued. “Black-South Asia is an important and mostly unexplored segment of the Global African Diaspora which is present across the region: such as the African descended communities of Gujrat and Karnataka’s Sidis, Hyderabad’s Chaush, Pakistan’s Seedis, and Sri Lanka’s Kaffirs.”
“The body of work presented here is a collective commentary on the experience of systemic oppression, racism, and discrimination faced by the Black community; and examines how our own communities have institutionalized anti-black sentiments. Through this month-long virtual exhibition, we hope to engage Bangladeshi and global audiences on a journey to discover how our communities are intertwined. The Black Story comprises works encompassing painting, video, sound, poetry, film, and photography. Concurrently, a series of webinars and interviews will be held to create meaningful dialogue around issues of race, identity, and power (or lack thereof). Through multi-disciplinary art and intellectual discourse, The Black Story will explore our past, examine our present, and imagine our future in the context of institutionalized racism experienced by minority communities,” Nahar Khan added, explaining the event details.
Congratulating the organizers for initiating this special exhibition, Khushi Kabir said, “Art is such a positive form of trying to bring out the nuances that exist in society. I really want to congratulate Gallery Cosmos and Nahar Khan for organizing ‘The Black Story’, and we need to work to have a world that does not exploit nature, people and everything that is beautiful. I believe art is the best way to bring this issue to the forefront.”
“The Black Lives Matter movement became as big as it is today with the murder of George Floyd which brought global attention towards the issue regarding the black lives, though it was always there. If we look at the history of the USA right from the very beginning, we see that there has always been racial injustice but it also has had its existence in our (South Asian) communities as well,” Khushi Kabir, the lead convenor of Nijera Kori Foundation, added.
“I think it is the time to start looking at ourselves, as we also have tinctures of racism within us as we are part of such globalisation consisting the problematic epitome of beauty and certain skin tones-looks-features, and do not try to realise that each of us has different characteristics by nature. Being aware of and respecting all human beings, and not having preconceived notions and ideas of what constitutes what a person is or should be and should not be, is something that we have to start breaking from,” Khushi Kabir suggested.
Acclaimed Nigerian American visual artist Osi Audu said, “I am deeply honoured to be on this platform as a visual artist and a Black artist, and my experience of facing racism actually began when I moved to London and then moved to the US; as the western world deliberately tried to demotivate me from my passion to the abstract art. The reality which I found later that abstraction was not originally a western phenomenon. The abstraction and abstract thought, in terms of art and aesthetics, came into the West through Picasso when he actually interacted with some figurative works from Congo, which resulted in the production of these abstract works. Prior to then, ‘realism’ was the main form of art that started way back in the Renaissance period, made very popular by Leonardo (Da Vinci).”
“So that was one of the ways that I kicked against some of the silent racist thoughts about what the Africans are, what their imaginations should be engaged in because one of the insidious things about racism and generally the prevalent anti-black sentiment is that it wants to hijack and give your imagination a different narrative,” he shared his side of fighting back and forth with the struggles.
“I intentionally went against all odds and did not allow my imagination to strive with struggles, enslavement, and sadness. I dared and still continue to dare to look at the full extents of black lives. Look at our (black artists) subject matters: love, happiness, fantasy, and all types of ideas which was the reason that the Black Panther movie became highly successful. I am really inspired by the stories of people who strived to live their life to the fullest of their imagination and potential, looking at modern-day examples like former president Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and more,” Audu said at the event.
Focusing on the peaceful harmony against racism, he added that the protests that swept through America in response to George Floyd’s killing, were joined by people of all colours in demanding racial equality. “Not all white people are racist. In fact, a lot of them had died during the civil war in America against slavery – and my own personal story has been determined by that. At the core of our being, we have a lot of common – more than what separates us.”
Apart from the evocative artworks from the five participating and renowned Bangladeshi visual artists, there will be interesting segments showcased in the exhibition alongside webinars, photography, poetry, film, and various audio and visual multimedia pieces through its dedicated and interactive virtual gallery.
“The exhibition entitled The Black Story will stand as proof that many of the debates around race, violence, injustice and discrimination centring the Black Movement have been left unconfronted for far too long. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the opening of the exhibition, its cross-disciplinary approach that encompasses the art, sound, sculpture, video, photography, live talk shows, performances, poetry and music will make this event a unique initiative by Gallery Cosmos, conceived and curated by Nahar Khan. Cosmos Foundation is delighted to support The Black Story,” Enayetullah Khan, chairman of the Cosmos Foundation stated regarding the exhibition.
In partnership with Cosmos-Atelier71, The Black Story is supported by Cosmos Foundation while UNB is the media partner (full disclosure: Cosmos Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, UNB’s owning company). Proceeds from The Black Story will go towards the Black & Indigenous People of Colour Creative Association (BIPOC-CA).
The month-long virtual exhibition is inviting people from all walks of lives from February 25 to March 25, 2021, on the official website of the exhibition at www.theblackstory.com, as well as through the social media pages of the Gallery and UNB.