Curatorial Note: Ephemeral/Perennial

“Ephemeral/Perennial” is an attempt at exploring the medium of performance in the context of today’s Bangladesh. This inquiry was urgent: the growing numbers of local practitioners and their commitment to redefine the conventional understanding of the medium have triggered the development of various, specific languages and practices. In the wake of this boundless activity, the exhibition ambitions to give perspective on parameters such as fragility, absence, abstraction or narration in relation to the performer’s body.

“Ephemeral/Perennial” builds on a double conundrum: what to show, and how to show it? Few archived material subsists when it comes to performance art in Bangladesh, and the content of the exhibition came through the organisation of a “Performance Art Week” during which 20 artists held various performances across three venues. While the artists performed for a live audience, they also collaborated with photographers and videographers to imagine how traces of their works could be kept. This led to a second questioning: how to acknowledge the inherent fragility of performance and make justice to its complexity in the display of a gallery setting?

Bangladeshi performance is characterized by the interdisciplinary exchanges it has always generated – originally with fields of politics, theatre or literature but today more and more with photography or video. Conceived as a forum for experimentation and built through a unique learning process involving artists and curators, “Ephemeral/Perennial” points at the idiosyncrasy of performance art in this part of the world.

Contemporary performance art of Bangladesh traces its origins to multiple backgrounds and agendas. Some artists practice the medium as an antithesis to theatre; others borrow from the theatrical tradition. From the 1990’s, performance art has been functioning as a supplemental event in an array of platforms in the region but it is only now emerging as an independent field of art. There was not much in the archives for us to identify a well-developed language. The performer’s body and its relation to fragility, absence, abstraction or narration demanded an inquiry.

This exhibition is an ambitious attempt to test the medium in our context. We wanted to touch on the ephemerality of the medium from different angles. We held Performance Art Week, for which 20 artists demonstrated performances across three venues. The artists performed for a live audience but also collaborated with photographers and videographers. These interdisciplinary exchanges are what sets this region apart, and echoes the fluxes movement, building robust communities and forums for experimentation.

The exhibition “ephemeral: perennial” brings the works of Performance Art Week, where we held critical discussions to understand the complexities of the medium, into a gallery setting.

Tanzim Wahab
Chief Curator
Bengal Foundation

Performance art is a time-based medium, which always faces challenges with longevity. Photography, video and installation stay as the only reference material when a performance ends. In this process of conversion, different aesthetic values and processes are added to the original work.

A work of performance may turn into video art, where one moment shifts to another in a very different space. The presence of a different medium changes the attitude of the artist also. The artist remains conscious of the cameras. This interdependency creates a third language. This show is an attempt to visualize the end product of this complex process.

Mahbubur Rahman
Guest Curator

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