Francesca Carol Rolla: Dhaka, Bangladesh. February 2020. Here we are together to push forward current and future projects. Preema, I would like you to tell me more about what you feel being your responsibility – as an artist and as a human being, making art for your own development and as a contribution of the society you are part of.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I have been practicing art as my professional practice for more than 25 years, always aware that Bangladesh, as other parts of the South-East Asia, has been colonized for such a long time. We, Bangladeshi people, have been colonized for such a long time. This is the reason why, since the beginning of my artistic journey, I have been researching about identity. Not just my own identity, rather what our collective identity is, as Bangladeshi artists. Unfortunately, I found out that our identity took and still takes shape under the shadow of European, Western art. We grew up reading, studying, knowing about it, which is very important from an historical perspective, however it is a parameter to consider in order to understand the knowledge we have locally built. Bangladesh is independent since 1971, but it has a long, long history. So, the question is, from what I see, and even as for my own work – Are we a refection of the European, Western art? We have actually become such a not original, not authentic country if we look at contemporary art. Whatever we practice, from painting to installation, everything reveals and displays the influence Europe had on us. I think we need a crucial, significant strategy to make a country local and yet global, to finally achieve to identify and express our authentic identify, as Bangladeshi artists and as a nation.
Francesca Carol Rolla: You talk about colonization – colonized identities. What art has to do with that? I see you, in the arts and beyond, trying to go through a process of liberation beyond oppression, a process of empowerment of yourself and of other women. Actually, you and I connected by sharing a similar sense of responsibility, as women living in a patriarchal society. A society that does not see us and treat us with equal rights. In my experience, this deep understanding changed my perspective about my practice, curating performance art and performing the curatorial. As you know, I often talk about curatorial activism, specifically referencing to Maura Reilly, Curatorial Activism. Towards an Ethics of Curating (Thames & Hudson, 2018). I committed my life to the support of contemporary artists that, through their work, challenge power dynamics, provoke a critical debate, and express the need and the vision of a better world. Artists committed to rethink and embody a deep reflection about the contemporary time. Artists committed to respond to a very urgent state of individual and global crisis.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I think colonization/de-colonization as a historical process here is not the point. It is there and we cannot change history. However we need to acknowledge history in order to give ourselves a context, because within this context within we will be able – or not – to create and re-define our identity. That is very important to me. How do we create, together, a new language for a new sense of belonging to arise? Art is not created beyond borders; it is all within the border. So, I need to point out a humanistic way to approach the making of art, within and beyond borders. I really need to understand my local, authentic identity, to be able to blend into other cultures and into their influence. If we try to do so, we might have a possibility to reach that point where art has no boundaries. This is the reason why my process is to try to be very connected with the outside, as well as with the inside. I try to understand how we can generate a more global expression, without losing and actually finding our particular identity.
Francesca Carol Rolla: In your work, creativity manifests itself as a vision. A vision that takes shape through your paintings, the colors you use, your installations, your performances, the different languages you use. What is the vision about you try to put forward through your art?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: This is a critical question, thank you for that, Francesca. To identify the vision, you need a strategy. But to understand the strategy, you have to understand the vision. I would say that my process indicates the need to explore both the strategy and the vision I have taken. It also indicates that my research goes through both my vision and the strategy used to get towards this vision. I believe that it must be the whole society, and not just the artists, being active parts of this creative vision for a better world.
Francesca Carol Rolla: So, you believe that artists and society would have to mutually support – thinking together, acting accordingly, shaping the world together. In this regard, what do you mean by using the word ‘strategy’? What do you refer to?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: The individuals, the community and the society should mutually support and collaborate. However, I always see that this is not happening. I always find a missed link, and we are the gap. It is a political strategy to keep us one beat away from the whole beat. We need to understand this gap, to understand the dot that is missed. Every artist has the responsibility to search for that, to be able to frame the whole picture. For that, it is very important that artists become innovators and researchers. It is crucial that artists understand the political discourse, so to identify methodologies and strategies for this creative vision to be achieved.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Art as a transformative force that holds the potential to lead human beings to become better?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Art is the core tool. Culture is art. Heritage is art. It is a soft power, but it is a huge power. We have been largely discussed you and I, Francesca, about how these soft powers are key in the development of the society. We are aware that politics and power try to dismiss this awareness and ignore the art power. This is the dot we really need to strengthen.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Why do you think art is so powerful?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Art is such a power because it integrates and includes everything. Where the whole world says, “Art is art, nothing else”, I do not agree. In my opinion “Art is everything”. Science is art. Commerce is art. Business is art. Politics is art. It is interesting art includes and has everything within it, in one component.
Francesca Carol Rolla: What are principles and values you claim through your work?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: The thing that I miss, this I claim. The individual. The power of the voice, this is what it is missed. I miss the intellect of sensibility, not only the sensibility or the intellect, the intellect of sensibility, I repeat. And I definitely miss the authority of the right kind of leaders.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Please, tell me more about this.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I question leaders, who are actually leading the whole world, in their ability to lead. Why? Because we do not question, we just obey. We do not ask question, we do not use our critical thinking, but we want ourselves to become the leaders. Leaders should be open. Leaders should question themselves. Leaders should welcome a more holistic approach. They should connect with the human body, because the body means everything within the universe, in its connection with the universe.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Are you talking about a spiritual connection we should be more aware of between the body and the universe?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Why not? The spiritual has been also caught by the political. I am not trying to guide people to celebrate the body per se, but to deeply understand it in its different connections.
Francesca Carol Rolla: I believe that to understand the body is to understand its complexity. Your work seems to me very layered, stratified, complex. Immersed into your work, we witness human fragments. Pieces of bodies. Eggs. Daily objects. Eyes everywhere. Diversified stories. Women bodies. Words and statements. Installations and performative situations revealing a very active life. Your life, as a woman and as an artist. This is to me the center of your practice, you life as the source and inspiration of your making art. Actually, for this exhibition at the Bangladesh National Museum, you described your life as an infinity journey, that is also the title of this exhibit.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: When I do paintings, especially in this moment and in this time, I do not consider it as a painting, but as a performative body. I ask myself, what is it? I question myself, why my paintings are and look performative? Why? I believe that the process is very organic, very natural, but sometimes I do not exactly know what I do. A lot of people do and know exactly a lot of things. Sometimes I do not know precisely what I am doing but I have to do it, and I know it is right for me. I think it is the power of the body. You might not plan something, but you feel like doing it, and it then becomes your subject of research. So, when I see my painting, I see they are like performances. But again, what is performance? We do certain actions, we determine a space, we expose ourselves, we connect with texts or we create language. But all this within a performative action, this is how I create my paintings. People might not see it, but this is exactly the thing I invite the audience to understand and research on. Everything needs a deeper understanding.
Francesca Carol Rolla: As you said before, a deeper understanding about what we miss, what we do not understand, about what we still need to know. Performance art comes here in the picture as a language to investigate this thin line between art and life.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I would love to address this question to you. After long conversations about this gap, about the need to introduce more performance art as a language to this new generation of Bangladeshi artists, I invited you to join Dhaka. We have decided to launch an Open Call addressed to Bangladeshi performance artists from all generations, genders, level of experience, backgrounds. We organized a 3-day – free-admission – intensive performance art workshop, designed and led by you, Francesca. You called it ‘Performing Live’. We went together through the selection of 13 young Bangladeshi artists. The workshop took place at the Bangladesh National Museum, it just finished yesterday [February 5, 2020]. What did you experience? Bangladesh has little knowledge about performance art, so it is interesting for me to know if you found anything special or any remarkable element, concept, openness. As a performance art curator, how was this experience for you?
Francesca Carol Rolla: I conceived and designed the performance art workshop ’Performing Life’ (Bangladesh National Museum, Feb, 3/5 2020) on the need to share with a selected group of young Bangladeshi artists the potential of performance art. Considering the world stage, where economic and social systems move deeply into relations of capital and oppression, the aim of the workshop was to arise into the participants a better awareness about their urgencies as human beings and not just as artists. Performance art is a very interesting and powerful site of enquiry – a site of research, reflection, action, embodiment and commitment. Why? Because performance art prioritizes the body and its issues, and because performance art displays questions, rather than exposing any singular, specific answer. During the workshop, I have shared proposals and practical exercises. I used performance art as a tool and as a language to invite the artists to think deeply. I designed the proposal to empower their skills and their critical thinking. Actually, the proposed exercises became powerful experiences of critical enquiry. I have been working with the group for three intense days within and outside the walls of the Bangladesh National Museum. We have talked a lot about values such as care, support, empowerment and commitment. We have experienced ourselves as individual bodies and as a collective body.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: What about the title you choose for the workshop?
Francesca Carol Rolla: The workshop title has been specifically chosen to blur the line between performance art and life. We have worked on individual narratives and collective stories – voices, actions, texts, generative gestures, actions and performances. The individual stories of the artists became the primal source from which to draw original and authentic material and inspiration for the solo performances each of them unfolded and presented the last day of the workshop, when we opened the doors and publicly performed. About the practical exercises I proposed, some of them were new and specifically created for this workshop, some of them were inspired by different methodologies of key performance artists I had the chance to meet in my learning life process (Preach R Sun, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Marilyn Arsem, VestAndPage, La Pocha Nostra). During these three days together, we went through writing sessions, private moments of reflection, shared conversations, collective rituals, moments of confrontation about the meaning and potential of performance art to address inequality and challenge systems of oppression. We also referred to the history of performance art, mentioning, quoting and honoring pioneers and contemporary peers, having used performance art as a political tool and/or as a tool to explore and reveal contradictions about their own identity, such as Preach R Sun, Ana Mendieta, René Francisco, Guillermo Gómez-Pena, between many others.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Could you tell us more about the purpose of the workshop?
Francesca Carol Rolla: The aim of this learning path was to empower this group of young performance artists to explore and develop their individual praxis, while stimulating and strengthening their creative skills and intellectual freedom. Before arriving in Bangladesh, I confronted myself with some performance artists that last year have been invited in Dhaka to perform, Preach R Sun and Marisa Garreffa. I shared with them some ideas about the workshop, listening to their previous experience. It was clear for me that the main purpose of the project was to create an horizontal space of full presence, trust and respect, where artists could express themselves and be free to share, open themselves, confront and express their questions, doubts, issues related to art and to their life in general. During the workshop, we asked ourselves the reasons why we use performance art as a language, what is our responsibility within the society in creating new rituals, new images, different actions that speak about alternative realities that stimulate humans to change their perspective. We discussed a lot about key words, such as commitment, resistance, endurance, survival, co-existence. The workshop space allowed our respective practices to expand into a very interesting critical performative territory.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: How did the selected artists respond to the workshop?
Francesca Carol Rolla: First thing I would like to report about this experience, the artists expressed the need to get access and participate to more of this kind of educational experiences. For many reasons. To have more possibilities to train and form themselves, to share and challenge their artistic practice, to confront their experience with other artists, to get inspired by other peers, to exchange and continue to create through the language of performance art. But I also need to mention that, as Preach R Sun said, this is larger than art. This sentence really accompanies me, whatever I do, whatever project I curate. With that, I mean that artists participating in ‘Performing Life’ were asked to understand the need to expand the idea they have about art. To consider their practice within a larger context, which is life. From what I shared with them, and researching the history of this country, Bangladesh is still a very oppressive place, not encouraging development, empowerment and freedom of human beings within the society. Because of that, our responsibility is to approach, give voice, critically think and transform our life matter.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: From the experience you had, would you wish to come back in Bangladesh and continue this educational project?
Francesca Carol Rolla: I am already thinking about how and when to come back. I had a very deep connection with the artists, I really enjoyed working with them. I would love to have more time with them, in order to continue to listen to them and to empower them. I would need more time to share more tools about how to transform their life stories in what we call performance art. I would love to be there for them again, in support when they struggle to find their inner voice. Because this voice, this deeper sensitiveness, is what will later direct not just their performative actions, but their life in general.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Did you find any difficulty during the workshop?
Francesca Carol Rolla: Difficulties, no. I just remarked that at the beginning artists were scared or worried to express their stories, to speak about themselves, to share their doubts, hopes and desires. Regarding the society, regarding the art system, regarding their life in general. They were skeptics in opening themselves. The system does not listen to them. The system does not take account of their stories. A simple exercise such as claiming your identity and pronouncing your name, ‘I am Dina’, ‘I am Noon’, ‘I am nobody’, ‘I am Preema’, ‘I am Francesca’, became a key exercise in their process of empowerment. What an experience I had, Preema, I deeply thank you for that! You opened this possibility to me, to get to know such powerful, humble, young Bangladeshi artists.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I do my possible best to put forward this kind of initiatives. Even in my work, I try to represent the image of my country, which reached some sort of independency but still is thriving for freedom.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Just a last question, what do you want to achieve in your life?
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: I just want to give people the voice they have lost in the name of civilization.
Francesca Carol Rolla: Thank you Preema. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your work and for what you push forward.
Nazia Andaleeb Preema: Thank you, Francesca.
Francesca Carol Rolla (Venice IT, 1986) is a performance art curator, writer, and PhD candidate in Visual Arts at the Doctoral School of Humanities of the University of Strasbourg (FR) with the thesis Letters to a Radical Performance Art Curator. Performing Urgencies through the Curatorial Praxis. Aligning the curatorial practice with a performative mode of research, and with the aims to set foundations for radical interaction and new terms of exchange, Rolla explores new contemporary approaches, formats, methodologies and displays to the artistic creation and reflection. There, the meaning and value for a more ethical, responsible and independent co-authorship involves both artists and curators in co- creative processes, and the curatorial is needed to re-think its potential, when using performativity as a strategy to act beyond its limits and stimulate a change in the current society. In 2013, Rolla has co-curated “Personal Structures: Time Space Existence exhibition”, Collateral Event of the 55th Venice Art Biennale, and organized several national participations and collateral events within the Biennale program. In 2015 Rolla co-curated “Personal Structures: Crossing Borders” exhibition at the European Cultural Center, Venice (IT). Increasingly interested in performance art, since 2015, Rolla is an Associate Curator of the VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK and coordinator of its Educational Learning Program, realized in collaboration with Live Arts Cultures and other international partner organizations. Among others, Rolla has worked and collaborated with artists, such as Bill Viola, Marilyn Arsem, VestAndPage, Marcel.lí Antúnez Roca, Tania Bruguera, Antonio Manuel, Franko B, Preach R Sun, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Andrigo&Aliprandi, Nazia Preema Andaleeb, and ORLAN. Since 2017, she is an honorary member of La Pocha Nostra. In 2017, Rolla has conceived and co-curated with VestAndPage CO-CREATION LIVE FACTORY Prologue 1, the new project of the Venice International Performance Art Week, founded on the principles of artistic collaboration, cooperation and temporary artistic community. Since 2018, in Formentera (Balearic Islands, ES), Rolla conceived and curates COLLECTIVE SIGNATURES, now in its upcoming forth edition, a performance artists-residency project conceived as a critical hub of radical performative actions and conversations, to enquire about the role and responsibility of the curatorial practice within performance art, to explore radical ideas and productions within both these fields, to inquire into how bodies perform as communicant vessels of past, present and future individual and collective narratives within a specific environment. Since 2019, Francesca Carol Rolla is on the board of LOÏE. Magazine as Director of the “Performance Archive” section. Rolla’s writing have appeared in several journals and publications, and she has frequently been invited to speak and teach about her praxis at national and international art projects, academic forums and art events.