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First-ever International Disability Art Festival in Bangladesh begins

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International Disability Art Festival 2024, the culmination event of the British Council’s long-standing work in disability arts in Bangladesh, took place on 26 April 2024, at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. The event will continue and will end on 27 April 2024. The inauguration of the event occurred at 3:00 pm, followed by an inclusive theatre performance, ’71 in Silence, to commemorate the liberation war. The festival included an exhibition titled’ Odommo Shilpotshob’(Indomitable Art Festival) which was Curated by IID, the exhibition featured diverse artwork spanning music, painting, sculpture, and more. Also there was theatre performances, panel discussions, film screenings, and a marketplace.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by Dr Dipu Moni, Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Bangladesh; Matt Cannell, Deputy High Commissioner and Development Director, British High Commission in Bangladesh; Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director, Graeae Theatre Company; Shannon West, Director Bangladesh (interim), British Council; Nasiruddin Yousuff, Founder and Director, Dhaka Theatre; and Syeed Ahamed, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Informatics and Development (IID). Naheed Ezaher Khan, State Minister of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, will attend the closing ceremony.

International Disability Art Festival is part of the British Council’s project DARE (Disability Arts: Redefining Empowerment). DARE is a multilayer project aimed at developing the understanding and confidence among disabled people and the arts sector in Bangladesh. The project aims to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the broader society. It was launched in 2019 in partnership with Dhaka Theatre and IID (Institute of Informatics and Development).

On the first day, guests were invited to attend and watch five theatre productions: ’71 in Silence by Ramesh Meyyappan, ‘Circus Circus’ by Mostafiz Shahin, ‘Tribeni’ by Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed, ‘Kendro Borabor Shurongotir Naam Prithibi’ by Esha Yousuf and Rafiqul Islam, and ‘WASTELAND – A Journey’ by Sanjay Ganguly, director, Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed, Kolkata. One panel discussion took place on the first day, titled ‘Disability Representation in the Art Sector’, which addressed the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in multiple spheres of society, including arts.

On the concluding day, the rest of the five theatre productions will take place: ‘Otopor Karim Bawali’ by Shamim Sagar, ‘Shongoti’ by Samiun Jahan Dola, ‘Kajol Rekha’ by Al Zabir, ‘Pittrigon’ by Dr. Aamir Zaman, and ‘Shwapno Kahon’ by Ashim Das. Participants can attend two panel discussions: ‘Breaking Barriers for Accessible Arts’ and ‘Funding Inclusion for Disability Arts’. The ‘Breaking Barriers for Accessible Arts’ titled panel discussion will identify and address the barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing cultural and artistic opportunities.

Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Social Welfare said, “Although people with disabilities face various physical and mental challenges, most of them are not any less capable than others in terms of intelligence and creativity. In fact, in many cases, they are more creative than others if we can create opportunities for them. On behalf of the Government of Bangladesh, I would like to thank and congratulate the British Council, Dhaka Theatre, IID, and everyone involved in this unique event.”

Matt Cannell, Deputy High Commissioner and Development Director, British High Commission in Bangladesh said, “The UK works across the globe to support people with disabilities and marginalised and under-represented groups exercise and enjoy their full rights and freedoms, on an equal basis. The British Council’s DARE (Disability Arts: Redefining Empowerment) project, and the festival, is a great opportunity for us to redouble our efforts to forge a more inclusive world and celebrate the talents and achievements of people living with disabilities here in Bangladesh.”

Shannon West, Director Bangladesh (interim), British Council said, ‘We are extremely proud to inaugurate the International Disability Art Theatre Festival 2024 today, which is the culmination event of our longstanding work through project DARE. Since 2019 our DARE project has connected the UK and Bangladesh and supported building capacity for Bangladeshi theatre organisations and DARE artists nationwide, fostering inclusive practices, advocating for policy change, and ensuring accessibility for disabled artists at institutions like the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. We thank all our partners and the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) for their positivity and support for mainstreaming disability art theatre in Bangladesh.

Nasiruddin Yousuff, Founder of Dhaka Theatre, said, ‘Today we are proud to share that Dhaka Theatre has been a pivotal part of the journey of integrating disability art with the mainstream theatre in Bangladesh since 2013. Despite myriad challenges, each day presenting new hurdles, through unwavering dedication and collaborative synergy among disabled artists, trainers, the British Council, and the Dhaka Theatre team, remarkable strides have been made, and the International Disability Arts Festival 2024 is a testament to it.”

The event allowed guests to immerse themselves in the world of disability art, gaining knowledge about the artists’ journey and the barriers they overcome.

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