The Latin phrase, 'annus horribilis' (horrible year), aptly sums up the story of 2020, the last year of this decade.
Yes, the Covid pandemic has not only adversely affected the daily lives of people but also subdued the enthusiasm of almost all cultural festivals and events across the globe. And Bangladesh is no exception -- from March, either the celebrations had to be scaled back or cancelled altogether in this country due to the pandemic.
In fact, before the imposition of lockdown in late March, Bangladesh was gearing up to celebrate the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, throughout the year. But Covid forced the government to defer the grand plans to the year-end.
However, at the same time, the pandemic opened up new opportunities for people around the world through virtual platforms, forcing them to embrace the new normal. In Bangladesh too, almost all events -- from press conferences to exhibitions and art camps to cultural performances -- moved online due to the outbreak of Covid.
Highlights of major art events and cultural programmes in 2020
Major events before lockdown:
The first major event was Bangladesh Cultural Festival, organised by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA), which took place at National Theatre Hall from January 3 to January 23, featuring artists from 64 districts and 64 upazilas.
The same month the 18th edition of Dhaka International Film Festival, which enthralled film enthusiasts from home and abroad, took place from January 11 to January 19.
In February, the country celebrated two major events -- Amar Ekushey Book Fair at Bangla Academy and Suhrawardy Uddyan, and the 5th edition of Dhaka Art Summit (DAS), South Asia’s biggest art and painting biennale exhibition at the National Art Gallery.
The 6th edition of Joy Bangla Concert also took place at Army Stadium on March 7, marking the day of the Father of the Nation's historic March 7 speech. BSA arranged a grand carnival marking the birth centenary of Bangabandhu, titled ‘Muktir Mohanayak’.
However, Covid forced organisers to shelve live recordings and then broadcast the same on all TV channels in Bangladesh on March 17 night.
The new normal:
As offline and crowd-based programmes had to be shelved since late-March, the entire world, including Bangladesh, opted for virtual arrangements throughout the remaining months of 2020 -- all thanks to online platforms such as Zoom and Streamyard, and social media networks like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
BSA arranged multiple virtual programmes throughout the lockdown months under its ‘Art Against Corona’ campaign, in which noted artists from home and rural areas to abroad, joined and performed for the live audiences on its Facebook page.
The country’s renowned cultural institution, Chhayanaut also catered to several virtual arrangements on its official Facebook page and YouTube channel throughout the year. From organising special programmes on Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam to celebrating occasions such as Pahela Baishakh, it embraced the new normal.
International institutions in Bangladesh, including the EMK Centre, Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) and German cultural organisation Goethe-Institut Bangladesh also arranged many virtual programmes throughout the year.
Amid Covid, Gallery Cosmos, the artistic wing of Bangladeshi conglomerate Cosmos Group, also continued its committed dedication towards arts as it organised the first-ever online live art camp on June 8, titled ’Brightening The Spirits With Art’, in association with 'Hidden Her Foundation' and Cosmos Foundation. Indeed, it was a noble effort to raise funds for the Covid victims and their families.
Gallery Cosmos also arranged ‘BRAVE HEART’ -- the first-ever virtual exhibition from August 14 to 31, reminiscing the founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, marking his birth centenary and National Mourning Day.
Several festivals also went online this year, most notably the 8th Annual Liberation DocFest Bangladesh-2020, organised by Liberation War Museum from June 16 till June 20.
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, was also associated with this year’s festival as the technology partner, while United News of Bangladesh (UNB), South Asia’s first fully wired digital news agency, was the media partner.
The 4th edition of Dhaka DocLab was also held virtually for the first time from August 23 till October 3.
From September, the government gave its nod for the reopening of several venues, based on the requests and demands of people in the arts and culture fraternity as their livelihoods mostly depends on the physical presence of the audience.
BSA reopened for audiences in September and the National Art Gallery also began organising several exhibitions again. Most notably, a month-long exhibition marking PM Sheikh Hasina's 74th birthday. The art exhibition reflecting the aftermath of Covid, titled 'Art Against Corona' was a special three-day art event organised by the Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC) and the High Commission of India in Dhaka, in collaboration with BSA.
After six months of closure, all museums and heritage sites under the Department of Archaeology also reopened on a limited scale from September 16. The National Museum also reopened around the same period.
Gallery Cosmos also organised an exclusive Art Camp, titled ‘Sheikh Hasina: On the Right Side of History’ on November 27, with 22 leading and promising painters of the country at Gallery Cosmos, Cosmos Centre (Studio, Books and Rooftop), Malibagh in the capital.
The camp, held in collaboration with Cosmos Atelier71 and supported by the Cosmos Foundation, led to an exclusive exhibition that was inaugurated on December 12 and will remain open till February 12, 2021.
Theatre arena after the reopening:
While 2019 was a great year for the theatre arena in the country, 2020 was pretty gloomy as the pandemic forced venues to shut their doors for some seven months from March 18.
According to several theatre artistes and activists, only 13 plays were premiered offline by eleven theatre troupes in 2020. Before that, theatre troupes and BSA started holding online shows, including rehearsals and staging of plays with scattered cast members from different places during the lockdown.
Theatre group Prachyanaut premiered three plays at its month-long theatre festival, titled 'Mahala Magan', which was held from September 4 to October 3 at its rehearsal room in Katabon, Dhaka, with a very limited number of audiences.
Known as the sacred ground of theatre in the country, Bangladesh Mahila Samity was reopened for theatre lovers on October 2, with the staging of Laal Jamin by theatre group Shunnon Repertory.
BSA reopened its National Theatre Hall, Experimental Theatre Hall and Studio Theatre Hall and also started welcoming performers and playgoers on Friday and Saturday, following the health directives on October 23. Theatre troupe Palakar staged its play 'Ujane Mrityu' and Jagarani Theatre staged 'Rajar Chithi' that weekend.
Dhaka Theatre also premiered its 49th production, 'Ekti Loukik Othoba Oloukik Steamer' at the National Theatre Hall on October 30; Theatre troupe Ethic premiered its new play 'Aynaghar' at the same venue on November 13, Anurag Theatre premiered 'Objection Overruled' on November 27, Padatik Natya Sangsad premiered 'Pake-Bipake' on December 8, and Spardha premiered '4.48 Mantras' on December 18, to name a few.
In the journey of togetherness under the reality of global lockdown, the cultural arena in Bangladesh has also seen how ‘things fall apart’ since the end of March, despite 2020 being the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation.
Some celebrations got shelved this year, including festivals like Pahela Baishakh and Victory Day, and several religious events. Major and international events such as Dhaka Lit Fest, Dhaka Folk Fest and Asian Art Biennale were also deferred due to Covid.
However, the creative minds are eagerly looking forward to an ‘annus mirabilis’ (wonderful year) in 2021, with new hopes and aspirations.