Art Mediation

3 months
First time visitors of Dhaka Art Summit, multigenerational engagement, interactive mediation
The Dhaka Art Summit 2018 launched the first edition of its art mediation programme with the generous support of Pro-Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council – New Delhi and the Hochschule Luzern, and the collaboration of the KochiMuziris Biennale and the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). Cognizant that the space of contemporary art is, for many members of our extremely diverse audience, often quite daunting- we set out to create strategies that might be able to open up our programme to different worldviews. We hoped to strengthen our commitment to curatorial labour as a practice of hospitality, which could accommodate many forms of thinking and provide spaces for them to flourish. The idea of mediation marked a shift in our pedagogical strategy, moving away from top-down, uni-directional model of art education, and towards creating spaces where different audiences are encouraged to engage with artworks on their own terms.   A key part of creating accessibility for us has been an emphasis on the vernacular. DAS 2018 became completely bilingual in English and Bangla, where all printed material was presented in both languages to foster ease of access to our Bangladeshi audience. The mediation programme produced and provided tools, found in the freely distributed Exhibition Guide, which viewers could use to navigate the many presentations that together formed DAS. We have included these tools as a downloadable PDF for your reference, and they continue to be used in future DAS editions.   The art mediation tools were developed over the course of workshops at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (Cochin), the Hochschule Luzern (Lucerne) and in Dhaka, through dialogues between the curatorial staff of DAS, Dr. Rachel Mader and Lena Eriksson of the Hochschule Luzern, and our team of Art Mediators who were primarily young Bangladeshi art enthusiasts coming from diverse backgrounds, and most were not art professionals.The art mediators were trained through a series of workshops in the two month lead-up to the exhibition, and were present throughout the installation process engaging with the show as it was built up. The mediation team was taken to numerous exhibitions and museums in Dhaka to practice with the tool-kits they developed before introducing these tools to the DAS. They also had the opportunity to work directly with artists and curators via meetings and lectures to better understand the works and exhibitions they would be engaging with. 
Some of these tools included:
  1. Fill Feel Walk – Using the map of the exhibition, the visitor could go around and try to feel and connect with the artworks without looking at the provided texts- freeing them from the didactics of the institution of DAS.  It is important to note that many first time visitors are not literate in the art world language and can often find it intimidating.
  2. Talk to Me – Visitors who were willing to learn more about the artworks and exhibitions or wanted to discuss with others, could carry a ‘Talk to Me’ placard (provided in the freely distributed exhibition guide book), so others or art mediators could approach them.
  3. Chatterbox – A playful folded origami-like mediation tool which is used to ask a series of questions to the visitors. For example: What does the artwork make you feel? What does the artwork remind you of?What question would you ask the artist?
  4. Feedback- Those who were interested could come and give their feedback on particular artwork or the exhibition itself to the art mediators after they explored the area on a dedicated wall visible to all visitors to DAS.
  5. Keywords- The guidebook carried a series of keywords for each section of the exhibitions to help the visitors better understand the underlying concepts building up DAS.
  6. Colin Maillard (Blind-Man’s-Bluff) – One blindfolded participant is guided through the exhibition with verbal descriptions of the art in front of them.
A team of 25 dedicated Art Mediators could be found throughout the exhibition space of DAS, easily identifiable by their ASK ME ABOUT ART tee-shirts. Our mediation team was trained through intensive workshops generously supported by Pro-Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council and the Hochschule Luzern, and were always eager to engage in conversations around the artworks (and also with the artists). The Mediators ran tours every day for the general public and on the weekdays for school groups.   Training and Workshop Prohelvetia initiated an art mediation workshop at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016, where ~20 art practitioners from India and Bangladesh were invited. Among them were two Samdani Art Foundation team members , Ruxmini Choudhury and Abhijan “Toto” Gupta. The participants engaged in a two week intensive workshop to develop and test mediation tools that would be relevant to South Asia. This included interacting with visitors of the Kochi Muziris biennale and demonstrating the tools they developed. After the workshop, a tool-book was published as a guideline for the art mediators, entitled ‘Space For Encounters’. This has now become a primary source for Art Mediators in the region to learn about the tools used in art mediation. Ruxmini and Abhijan were later invited to participate in a Research Residency developed by Prohelvetia at Lucerne University, Switzerland for further research on art mediation. During the residency they were exposed to the art mediation programmes running in museums such as Kunsthalle Basel and the work of researchers who had been developing various ways to create connection between art and the general public. Through these transcultural experiences – DAS began developing its mediation program in Bangladesh. Art Mediators were recruited through an open call and were provided three different training sessions. The first training session was conducted by Dr. Rachel Mader and Lena Eriksson along with Ruxmini Choudhury ran for 6 days in Dhaka. Here the participants were introduced with different types of tools and how to use them. The second training session went on for 2 weeks, conducted by Ruxmini where the teams were divided and trained to learn more about the DAS exhibitions and the artworks. The third training session went on for 1 week which included working directly with the artists and curators during the installation period, so they can engage more with the assigned exhibition spaces.