‘A Utopian Stage’

In February, AOTFD exhibited the excavated archives of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis for the first time in Asia at the Dhaka Art Summit ’18 as part of A Utopian Stage, an ongoing and multifaceted curatorial project, actively engaging in the process of global ‘reorientation’ that was the original ambition of the Festival.

In A Utopian Stage, the recovered archive of the Festival of Arts serves as a  departure point and a lens through which to consider the social and artistic  fabrics of today, yesterday, and tomorrow. The project exceeds the common conceptions of an archival exhibition, moving beyond a solely historical context. Materials and histories are re-contextualised, reimagined and re-considered in order to engage with and fully embody the themes embedded in the Festival’s archive, often from alternative and more culturally immediate perspectives.

In addition to showing the archive in this way, A Utopian Stage has invited contemporary responses from artists, performers, filmmakers and writers, to engage with issues and themes pertaining to power, radical democracy, conflict, activism, and social/political commitment.

Materiality and contemporary presence plays a pivotal role in presenting an eclectic and, at times, chaotic mediation by which one can begin to authentically assess the original Festival of Arts, its cultural intentions, and its legacy. In doing so, we examine through the lens of the Festival the wider implications, ambitions and failures of high modernist aspirations at the historical moment of the rise of the Global South. 

A Utopian Stage remains faithful to the original, materials that have been excavated and retrieved, and aims to allow for the epic, raw, eclectic, experimental drives at play both then and now.

A Utopian Stage
at Dhaka Art Summit ’18

Taking A Utopian Stage to Dhaka presented a potent context for the project’s themes, particularly in relation to South-South dialogues, and the debts of much of the European and American avant-gardes to Eastern thought and philosophy. Each of these strands was brought to life with specific reference to South Asia, including a specially commissioned historical timeline tracing the influence of the Bengali thinkers who were vital and unique inspirations upon the genealogies of modernist thinking, or a performance programme geared specifically to address South-South dialogues.

‘Like Water on Hot Rocks’ performence by Goshka Macuga and Vali Mahlouji as part of ‘below the levels…’ at Dhaka Art Summit 2018

below the levels where differences appear 
Performance Programme

below the levels… is the first iteration of an ongoing transnationally roving amphitheatre as part of A Utopian Stage. Artists, performers and filmmakers are inclusively incorporated within a collective arena of experimentation echoing the progressive pitch of the Festival of Arts, and the highs and lows of universalist utopian ideals. Amidst resurgent forces of cultural and political reactionism around the world, below the levels… proclaims a radical site of collective exchange.

In Dhaka, below the levels… drew upon the music, theatre, dance and politics that informed the utopian aspirations and contradictions of the original festival, with contributions by Hassan KhanGoshka Macuga and Vali Mahlouji, Silas Riener (Merce Cunningham Trust), Reetu SattarYasmin Jahan Nupur with Santal performers, and Lalon Baul singers.

Harano Sur (Lost Tune), 2017-2018
Performance with 35 musicians and 30 harmoniums, Duration: 1 hour
Reetu Sattar, Co-commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and the Liverpool Biennial in association with the New North New South and the Archaeology of the Final Decade. Photo: Pranabesh das

beyond the bounds on the other side
A Historical Timeline

In this new installation for Dhaka, a fragmented history of the long twentieth century is conjured through the ambitions and contradictions of countless utopian universalist episodes and ideals: transcendental internationalisms, radical liberations, emancipating solidarities.

By the middle of the last century, the demise of the old European empires revealed a new horizon of opportunities and encounters for people and cultures across the world. This timeline serves as an evocation of the constantly evolving dreams and possibilities that emerged and dissolved during the period.

beyond the bounds on the other side, a new historical timeline produced for DAS ’18 by AOTFD/Vali Mahlouji.

to be free is to lose sight of the shore
Film Programme

At DAS ’18, AOTFD curated an eclectic selection of films which echo and reflect the themes at the heart of A Utopian Stage, both aesthetically and politically – from the revolutionary to the existential. The programme conflated artist and feature films, video documentation of live performances and historical documentaries to realise an ambivalent, universal stage where ideas and impulses can flourish.

For Dhaka Art Summit ’18, invited artists and filmmakers were Reza AbdohLarry Achiampong & David BlandyAshish Avikunthak, Shezad DawoodRose English, Rose Finn-KelceyWilliam Greaves, Mikhail Kalatozov, Lindsay KempWilliam Klein, Lala Rukh, Goshka MacugaSimon Moretti, Sergei Parajanov, Gillo Pontecorvo, Ousmane Sembène, Shuji Terayama, Stan VanDerBeek.

Festival Panafrican d’Alger (1969) William Klein