August 9th, 2012
12:45 PM GMT
Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) – India’s contemporary art has been making a splash on the international scene in recent years, and now Bangladesh is trying to emulate its success.
Monirul Islam is considered one Bangladesh's most influential artists. In the 1960s he moved to Spain on a scholarship, and since then he has represented his native country's art scene abroad. He says it’s still difficult for Bangladeshi art to get noticed overseas.
“You have to go Europe, America, the art world, to expose our art. It's very difficult,” he told CNN’s Leone Lakhani.
Over the years he has won many accolades, most recently a special honour from Queen Isabella of Spain for his contribution to the arts.
His paintings sell for up to $25,000. Works by Bangladesh's other well-known artists, such as Zainul Abedin, have sold for up to $300,000, but they've only been sold through private collections - not publicly through auction houses. That means less exposure and no recognition on the international market.
Bangladeshi art is emerging in the region and painters like Islam, as well as art foundations, are trying to push the country’s art into the international sphere.
But some say its international success is being hampered by Bangladesh's image abroad - which is often informed by images of tragedy.
“Bangladesh doesn't have a very positive image globally - the famine, the flood, the cyclone image - and that doesn't allow people to understand or realize that other things are happening in Bangladesh,” said Luva Choudhary, director general of the Bengal Foundation.
The foundation is a private trust working to raise the profile of Bengali art abroad. “We feel it’s important for the public to engage with this kind of thing, to understand and give it value nationally,” said Choudhary. “The second approach which we tried was to get non-resident Bangladeshis to understand it and appreciate it and again engage with what’s happening.”
For the past eight years the foundation has been exposing its artists around the world through art publications and international exhibitions. The foundation has plans for a museum of art and in 2011 it organised Bangladesh's first showing in the Venice Biennale - a prestigious contemporary art exhibition.
Its work culminated in this year's Dhaka Art Summit, which showcased the country's talent and was attended by representatives of British auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's.
Art collector Giorgio Guglielmino says there are opportunities for Bangladeshi artists internationally.
“On one side we have the international market - you have the collectors, you have the galleries. They are always interested in new artists … coming from new places," he said. "We have seen it with China a few years ago and we have seen with India in more recent years."
But he adds that it won't be easy to make a splash overseas. “Bangladeshi artists have to work a lot … they cannot take for granted that they will be discovered,” he said.
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