When the winners of the World Bank’s "Imagining Our Future Together" art competition first met last fall, the atmosphere was very much like the first day of school: Everyone was new, excited to meet others, and optimistic about possibilities ahead. As the exhibition of their art comes to World Bank headquarters next week and the 25 young artists prepare for their third and final meeting, their collaboration has accomplished more than we organizers ever imagined.
When they first saw each other's art, the artists' initial reaction was amazement at the vastness of their own South Asian culture. When seen in a gallery setting, the artworks create a strong visual impact. Artists from the eight participating countries independently made common stylistic and aesthetic choices, expressing a common cultural tradition – a tradition with ancient yet healthy roots and strong branches flowering with some of the most stunning art created by young artists today.
Their second realization was that contemporary South Asian art and our knowledge of it are fragmented, sustained by artists and patrons who are not necessarily aware of their peers' efforts in neighboring countries. Brilliant young people that they are, our artists got together to come up with practical ways to work in synergy and showcase South Asian art in its full beauty and power.
As a first step, the artists created an online group, ”South Asian Artists United,” for artists and art enthusiasts with a vision for artistic collaborations within the region. This group is in its formative stages, but its activities in the past few months already are impressive. The group has brought to broader audiences the work of gifted young Afghan, Bhutanese, and Maldivian artists who did not have exposure beyond their home countries.
The group's plans for this year are no less ambitious. They include organizing an art student competition in Pakistan and curating an exhibition in India, featuring new work by the "Together" artists and others whom the group members have discovered.
South Asian Artists United has the potential to become an influential regional member organization, especially since no institution represents contemporary visual artists of South Asia today.
The "Together" artists continue to amaze me with their kindred spirit. Every day when I open Facebook, I see messages of support, encouragement, friendship, and mentorship that see no national borders. Bangladeshi photographer Mahfuzul Hasan Rana put it in simple words, "We are basically one family," and Indian artist Jignasha Ojha seconded him, "For me there are no countries – just people."
For the rest of us, these young people’s positive shared spirit is a good example when we think about regional integration in South Asia.
Beginning next week, the Wolfensohn Atrium in the Bank’s main headquarters building in Washington will put on festive colors to welcome the "Imagining Our Future Together" exhibition. Whether you are in Washington and can see it in person, or whether you view the stunning artworks online, do join the conversation about unconventional ways to remove barriers that prevent South Asia from having a happier, more prosperous future.
The exhibition will be on view from Jan. 22 through Feb. 13, 2013. To arrange a visit, please contact Elena Grant.