MAHASSA participants at the Mausoleum of three leaders in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 2020. Image courtesy of John Tain.
Image of MAHASSA participants at the Mausoleum of three leaders in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 2020.


Reflections on Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia

June 25, 2020
Online Via Zoom

The Dhaka Art SummitInstitute for Comparative Modernities(ICM) at Cornell University, and Asia Art Archive, with support from the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative in 2019 launched  a new research project entitled Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia (MAHASSA). The project brought together leading international faculty and emerging scholars to investigate parallel and intersecting developments in the cultural histories of modern Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

In the first of a series of conversations, this panel gathered four of the MAHASSA faculty members, Dr. Iftikhar DadiDiana Campbell BetancourtDr. Elizabeth W Giorgis, and John Tain, who provided a brief overview and shared their thoughts on the impetus behind and outcome so far of this evolving project.

Iftikhar Dadi is associate professor in Cornell University’s Department of History of Art and director the South Asia Program. He teaches and researches modern and contemporary art from a global and transnational perspective, with emphasis on questions of methodology and intellectual history. His writings have focused on modernism and contemporary practice of Asia, the Middle East and their diasporas. Another research interest examines the film, media, and popular cultures of South Asia, seeking to understand how emergent publics forge new avenues for civic participation. Publications include Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (2010), the edited monograph Anwar Jalal Shemza (2015), the co-edited catalog Lines of Control (2012), and the co-edited reader Unpacking Europe (2001). His essays have appeared in numerous journals, edited volumes, and online platforms. Dadi currently serves on the editorial and advisory boards of Archives of Asian Art and Bio-Scope: South Asian Screen Studies, and was member of the editorial board of Art Journal (2007-11). He is an advisor to Asia Art Archive.

Diana Campbell Betancourt is a Princeton educated American curator who has been working in and building art institutions in South and Southeast Asia since 2010, primarily in India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Since 2013, she has served as the Founding Artistic Director of Dhaka-based Samdani Art Foundation, Bangladesh and Chief Curator of the Dhaka Art Summit, leading the critically acclaimed 2014-2020 editions. Campbell has developed the Dhaka Art Summit into a leading research and exhibitions platform for art from South Asia, bringing together artists, architects, curators, and writers from across South Asia through a largely commission based model. In addition to her exhibitions making practice, Campbell is responsible for developing the Samdani Art Foundation collection and drives its international collaborations ahead of opening the foundation’s permanent home, Srihatta, the Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park in Sylhet, Bangladesh. She served as the Founding Artistic Director of Bellas Artes Projects in the Philippines from 2016-2018 and the curator of Frieze Projects for the 2018 and 2019 editions of Frieze London and Chairs the Board of the Mumbai Art Room in India.

Elizabeth W. Giorgis is Associate Professor of Art History, Criticism and Theory in the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Center for African and Asian Studies at Addis Ababa University. She is also the Director of the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center at Addis Ababa University. She served as the Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Art and as Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University. She is the editor and author of several publications. She has curated several exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center and has also participated in several international conferences and public lectures, more recently at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna. She also served as convener for the first African Humanities Initiative called Africa as Concept: Decolonization, Emancipation and Freedom that was organized by the Consortium of the Humanities, Centers and Institutes. Her book, Modernist Art in Ethiopia, that is published by Ohio University Press was released in February 2019.  It is the first comprehensive monographic study of Ethiopian visual modernism within a broader social and intellectual history and is recently shortlisted for the African Studies Association UK Fage and Oliver Prize for original and outstanding scholarship on Africa.

John Tain is Head of Research at Asia Art Archive, where he leads a team of researchers based in Hong Kong, New Delhi, and Shanghai, with projects spanning all of Asia. In addition to exhibitions at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa (2018) and Art Basel Hong Kong (2018, 2019), he co-organized a symposium on art periodicals that took place during the Sharjah Art Foundation’s Focal Point art book fair (2018).  His writings on Rirkrit Tiravanija, Wu Tsang, Charles Gaines and Kara Walker, among others, have appeared in Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail, Flash Art, Art Review Asia, and in various exhibition catalogues, and he is an editor of the Afterall Exhibition Histories series. He was previously a curator for modern and contemporary collections at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

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This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.