Venice - Interviews

Majhi International Art Residency in Venice: An Interview with Durjoy Rahman

2 months ago

For the occasion of the first edition of Majhi International Art Residency Programme, presented by Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) in Venice, we interviewed DBF founder Durjoy Rahman to tell us about his experience in Venice.
The residency takes place at Combo, the former Convento dei Crociferi. Here the artists live and work over the entire period of residency (July 20 – August 3) to produce an artwork for the final collective exhibition which runs at Combo from August 4 – 11, 2019 (opening August 3).

Mara Sartore: How did the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) come about?

Durjoy Rahman: I’ve been a collector for the past 20 years. In 2015 I started thinking about the idea of creating a platform to collaborate with artists and share their different voices both on a local and international level. So with this in mind by 2018 I had finally founded the foundation as Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) which was simultaneously established in two locations Bangladesh and Berlin.

The reason I chose the European city of Berlin, is for its connotations as a thriving art conscious city, representing a bridge between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia. So I thought the presence of a foundation from Bangladesh could encourage the promotion and understanding of South Asia and its appreciation within the European context. The foundation mainly supports artists from South Asia and from the global South.

Mara Sartore: What was your first main project as DBF? Where did the idea of a residency programme come from?

Durjoy Rahman: When DBF initially registered in both Bangladesh and Berlin, I first collaborated with a German museum, the Kunstmuseum Wolfburg and I donated a major installation by Mithu Sen (b. 1971 India) to the museum’s permanent collection. This was the first time a female contemporary artist from India had been collected by a major German institution and it proved a great breakthrough and pivotal point for the emancipation of South Asian female artists as well as for art from that region. After this very first project, we started supporting artists exhibiting at the Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, we then introduced the foundation at Art Basel Hong Kong. We gradually began figuring out ways of collaborating with artists internationally and that’s how we came up with the residency programme. We chose Venice because it is an important city for art and it’s currently hosting the 58th International Art Exhibition. I was impressed with the team behind the Venice Biennale and I thought I would like to work with a that kind of spirit which I found in the collaboration with Lightbox and the wonderful staff that manage Combo, the residency’s location.

Mara Sartore: Have you noticed any subtle, underlying or even obvious connections between Dhaka and Venice?

Durjoy Rahman: Of course Venice is the location of major art events considering both the Art and Architecture biennales and the Venice Film Festival, but when we chose Venice as location for the residency programme, we were mostly attracted by its power in terms of natural and geographical pattern because it has a specific common element with various cities in Bangladesh which is of course water. Venice is surrounded by water and canals in the same way that Bangladesh has lot of rivers: that’s why we named the residency “Majhi” which in Bengali means “boatman” who takes people from a destination to another, this is a common element between the two cities, as in Venice the boatman steers the gondola. 

Mara Sartore: So the artists are staying in Venice for 12 days at Combo. They have been meeting, creating and working together. We have 6 Bangladeshi, 4 Venetian and 1 Turkish-German artists on-board. What has been your overall impression so far?  Have you had any feedback from the Bangladeshi artists?

Durjoy Rahman: The purpose of any residency is to bring artists to a specific space so they can work together, share their experiences, cultures and backgrounds. The foundation wanted to bring artists from Bangladesh into the European context and invited artists from the global South or Diaspora to provide them with the opportunity to work alongside local artists.
I have spoken to many of the artists which some of them claim that they are overwhelmed by this experience, working in such an interesting space, exploring its creative side and blending themselves in with Venetian concepts and ways or working.
Venice has a big Bangladeshi migrant community so the artist are involving them in their projects whilst experiencing Venetian practices. In this migrant context they are all sharing their views and this way of working falls core to the art residency’s main endeavour.

Mara Sartore: What’s next for DBF?

Durjoy Rahman: My plan is to keep the residency happening every year and in 10 years I’d like to bring around 500 artists to the residency programme. Also, one important note is that this first edition will have a publication where artists and artworks are featured and documented as well as on the Majhi website which guarantees them all international visibility.
In November we will have a major exhibition and public symposium title “Homework” at the University of Cambridge, UK. The exhibition includes works by Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian artists and it will run from November 2019 until February 2020. We are currently supporting the production of work by a Pakistani artist who will exhibit in the UK for the first time. I believe that DBF is the only foundation consistently supporting such an initiative at a University in the UK.
In 2020 we will continue our public art programme in Cambridge and in June we want to bring the Majhi Residency back to Venice with a  larger and more structured format.

Mara Sartore

  • Durjoy Rahman, Founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation Durjoy Rahman, Founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva