5 South Asian Women Shaking Up The Art World

Diana Campbell Betancourt curates for The Dhaka Art Summit, Art Around the Table, The Samdania Art Foundation and Mumbai Art Room. Our passionate and trusted friend, schools us on five women shaking up the art world. Their breakthroughs in form, hybrid expressions and intentional use of space bring to the elite art world, a grounded perspective and a powerful voice to erased peoples and histories, proving that the role of art has always been to dissent in the face of injustice. 

Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Bangladesh

 Threads: Weaving Humanity

Yasmin Jahan Nupur is a disruptor. Her compelling performance art, and elaborate installations are so beautiful and strange, it's impossible to turn away. Her work has always sought to give voice to erased communities and peoples. She understands the irony of showing her work in White countries, where her cultural perspective holds attention, when in her own country, traditional craft and heritage is fast disappearing under the oppressive systems of western capitalism. In her exhibit, Threads: Weaving Humanity, Nupur studies the craft of weaving and says "weavers don't want to weave anymore, they prefer to do something that'll make them money faster." The installation features inspired paintings and woven installations, demonstrating a careful documentation of a dying craft. 

Madiha Sikandar, Pakistan

'Majmua' Image Courtesy: The Dhaka Art Summit

Madiha Sikander comes from a family of doctors and surgeons. Art and writing is her chosen medium to reconcile with a personal and political history of trauma. She works with found objects, reminding us that what may appear as accidental has been engineered by history. In her installation, Majmua, Urdu for 'assemblage', she weaves cloves, beads and microfilaments into a transparent curtain, invoking the scents that drove the imperial slave trade. 'Naked capitalism and internationalism, sometimes masked under the guise of religion and development aid, continue to drive networks of power controlling the globe', she says, and this is something we can never forget. 

Soma Surovi Jannat, Bangladesh

The Overarching Chain of Connection

Soma Surovi Jannat works exclusively in open space, literally using nature as her canvas and seat of inspiration. Her tethered yet fluid process reflects in her work. Her work is expansive and overflows, unrestrained through space. She has worked with tribes and painted on mud huts in Bengal, bringing an entire community together through art, she has placed drawings on tree bark, used dead logs as a canvas, and created worlds with fragments, defiantly sending a single message of connection and harmony from a primal space, that city life and the 'civilized' world has consistently tried and failed to tame. 

Himali Singh Soin, India

Himali Singh Soin "is a visual artist, poet and explorer...exploring urgent questions about environment, history and myth",says Diana. In an ongoing series titled 'we are opposite like that', Himali imagines a future where the polar caps have melted, and tells stories 'from a non-human perspective of an elder that has witnessed deep time: the ice'. The dynamic, young artist tells stories across mediums, effortlessly taking her audience to different realms, across time and space. What are the histories we've been fed, what is the future we want but will never get, how far does the colonization of the British go? These are just some of the questions she examines in her expansive works. 

Dilara Begum Jolly, Bangladesh

The War That Never Ends, Image Courtesy: The Samdani Art Foundation

Dilara Begum Jolly is from Chittagong in Bangladesh. Jolly's career has spanned three-decades and in the 80's her beginnings as an artist responded to a Bangladesh that was moving away from secularisation and towards censorship. Her work responds directly to social injustice, gender inequality and labour inequality. In her 2016-17 series, titled "The War that Never Went Away", Jolly revisits the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation, piercing black and white photographs, documenting torture sites like the Physical Training College of Dhaka where freedom fighters were killed by the Pakistani Army. She calls this "the haunting history of the present". The piercing technique, on stark white, almost lets light in, lending an ashy, snowy quality to a dark landscape, reminding us to sit with our trauma, to name the shadows that follow us to the dinner table and say yes. It's here, we're here, and we may never heal but in time, some light will find its way through.