It was a pleasant surprise to come across a mysterious house having eight rooms and nine doors at 505/1 Kathaltola Road, Dakshinkhan, Dhaka while watching a contemporary architectural performance titled "Faydabad To-Let" on last Saturday (December 19).
The simple yet sophisticated designs of the two-storied open house is evocative of the spiritual nuances that mystic bard Fakir Lalon Shah depicted in one of his songs.
The porosity created by the layers of bricks allows natural ventilation into the space as well as ornates the façade, illustrating the essence of the rich legacy of terracotta architecture presented in a contemporary context.
This house was designed by Marina Tabassum, the winner of Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2016, and the principal architect of Marina Tabassum Architects.
Supported by Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, "Faydabad To-Let" presented a new work commissioned by "Ke ba kahara", from Bangladeshi-Australian artist-filmmaker Omar Chowdhury whose first solo exhibition in Bangladesh was supported by Bengal Foundation in 2016.
The show presented a work of conceptual performance that explored the phenomenology of modernist ideas as activated in society and architecture in the Bangladesh context.
Omar Chowdhury, who is now in Brussels for completing an art residency programme, has written and directed the performance.
He was supposed to be present during the performance; but, because of the pandemic, he was unable to come.
The show has been curated by a curatorial collective called 'Ke ba kahara'," said Sadia Rahman, one of the members of the collective.
The entire performance was fictional and had five characters. "Farah", who was an architect, was showing the house to a potential tenant on behalf of the owners, her elderly relatives.
According to the script, the character also designed the house and was performed by Kazi Roksana Ruma.
"Khaled", a businessman and designer, was the potential tenant for the house and was acted by Tuku Mozniul.
The conversation between these two main characters unearthed many unknown, mesmeric and phantomic aspects of the house.
Three other characters of the performance were "Lata" (performed by Tania), a person who resided on the premises and looked after it, an unnamed photographer friend (performed by Rasel Chowdhury) of "Khaled" and an unnamed videographer (performed by Russell Parvez).
"Ke ba kahara" (person or persons unknown in English) is a diverse, self-organised, and globally distributed collective of volunteer-researchers that was formed in Bangladesh in 2019.
Formed and shaped by individual disciplines – filmmaking, print, architecture, anthropology, and photography-- the group has coalesced into a collective practice of reading, discussion, and curatorial inquiry that centres on art, culture and ideas from the perspective of present day Bangladesh.
A self-organised curatorial collective, the members of "Ke ba kahara" collaborate as equals. There is no formalised hierarchy, or intention to institutionalise.
The group's research topics are constantly inspired by the work of artists, authors and cultural practitioners from Bangladesh.
Current research streams include modernity, modernism and the body, postcolonial bio-politics, models and histories of exhibition practice in Bangladesh and the history of typography in eastern Bengal.
It engages with contemporary and modern arts practices in Bangladesh through the lens of these specific streams of research, which the group pursues collectively.
The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia via their regional liaison office in New Delhi invited applications from artists and organisations in South Asia and the near region through an open call in June 2020.
This open call, titled "Now On", invited creative responses to the current crisis and how it impacted the promotion of arts and international arts exchange.
Of the 100 applications received, eight were selected for the grant. The names and projects of the successful applicants were announced in August 2020.
Six grantees are based in India, one grantee is based in Sri Lanka, and "Ke ba kahara" is from Bangladesh, winning with a proposal titled "Curatorial collaboration as method".
"We were lucky to receive the grant," mentioned Sadia elaborating on the concept behind their proposal. "The grant is giving us the opportunity to set off two initiatives. The first is a publication series committed to documenting unique practices of collaboration among artists and cultural groups. The second one is helping us to start an ongoing programme of non-profit exhibitions, presentations and performances of artists' works".
It is a community-based working model based on relations between people and on social creativity rather than on self-expression and it is characterised by cooperation.
"As soon as the publication series and the exhibition programme are launched, we will have a great deal of work already waiting for us for the next stages of each of these initiatives," concluded Sadia.