Belittled and bullied. These are words that I would use to describe Bangladeshi people at the hands of their Pakistani colonizers who tried to annihilate their language in the 1947–1971 period of colonization; words I would use to describe Indigenous people from Bangladesh since the lands they long inhabited were renamed to be “the land of Bangla speakers” in 1971—when these original inhabitants of the land do not speak Bangla; words I would use to describe how CHamorus were made to feel on their/our own lands across centuries of Spanish, American, Japanese, and again American occupation; and words I would use to describe how some people refer to mixed race Indigenous people from Guam—claiming they are “too Americanized” to be part of “pure” discourse on indigeneity in the Pacific.
Anne Perez Hattori’s 1995 poem “Thieves” becomes a metaphorical canoe to sail past name-calling, visualizing the violence that a dominant point of view, no matter how well meaning, can impose on a place it is far from understanding. CHamorus hold American passports, and are impacted by American policies and military occupation, but also are rarely included in institutional “Native American” discourse happening in the continental United States.
I often turn to Craig Santos Perez’s poem “Ars Pasifika” which points out that the words Canoe and Ocean are comprised of the same letters as inspiration to rethink labels and words that we take at face value. There are other possibilities mixed-in (a nod to Hattori’s poem) and like a canoe navigating the great ocean—how one perceives something depends on where one floats across space and time. A Canoe can be an Ocean, an Ocean can be a Canoe. My brother pointed out that his CHamoru mentor in his legal battle against the colonial policies bestowed on American territories is a practicing and believing Catholic, yet behind her desk she has a mural of Chief Matå'pang killing Father Diego de San Vitores in 1672 (after the priest baptized the Chief’s child without his permission) painted by CHamoru artist David Sablan. I think it is important to allow contradictory points of view to simultaneously co-exist—rather than colonize minds into choices that are too complex to come to simply. It is important to open up worlds of possibility, not close them down through the belittling act of judgment.
Bangladesh and Islands in the Great Ocean are linked in many ways, not only from the fight for language, but also by the very fight for land itself as rising sea levels eat away at their coasts. Postcolonial discourse is strong in South Asia—but as Hattori’s poem points out through the use of ‘UN’ as a prefix in the second stanza of the poem—Guam is one of the 17 territories that can still be defined as a colony today. The audience of Dhaka Art Summit is larger than the population of the entire island of Guam—and Bangladesh can be an example as to how art and culture can put a place that was previously misunderstood and brushed-aside as a “basket case” firmly on the world map by presenting alternative definitions of its past, present, and future. Mixing allows one to be many things at once —so perhaps this is a tool to celebrate as a portal to the future—rather than mourn in anthropological quests for purity.
Thieves, they called us.
Religious converts, they made us.
Said we were sinful,
naked, savage, primitive
Playmates of Satan,
native souls blackened and corrupted
by immoral appetites
Exterminated, they called us.
Half-castes, they branded us.
said we were impure,
casualties of inauthenticity
native blood contaminated and polluted
by casual miscegenation
Infantile, they called us.
Wards of the state, they made us.
Said we were immature,
UNeducated, UNdeveloped, UNcivilized
Victims of illiteracy,
native intelligence retarded and muted
by indifferent laziness
Now they tell us
we are simply, sadly, contemptibly
Anne Hattori, “Thieves” from Storyboard 5. Copyright © 1995 by Anne Hattori. Reprinted with permission of the author and the editors of Storyboard Journal.
Tumon Bay, Guam. Photo: Diana Campbell
Diana Campbell is a Princeton educated American curator who has been working in South and Southeast Asia since 2010, primarily in India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. She is committed to fostering a transnational art world, and her plural and long-range vision addresses the concerns of underrepresented regions and artists alongside the more established in manifold forums.
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, 2016, 2018, and 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 where new work and exhibitions are born in Bangladesh, also adding a scholarly element to the platform with a think tank connecting modern art histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia in collaboration with the Getty Foundation, Cornell University Center for Comparative Modernities, the Asia Art Archive, and the Samdani Art Foundation. 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.
Concurrent to her work in Bangladesh from 2016-2018, Campbell was also the Founding Artistic Director of Bellas Artes Projects in the Philippines, a non-profit international residency and exhibition programme with sites in Manila and Bataan, and curated Frieze Projects in London for the 2018 and 2019 editions of the fair. She chairs the board of the Mumbai Art Room and is an advisor to AFIELD, a global network of socially engaged artistic practices. Her writing has been published by Mousse, Frieze, Art in America, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) among others.
She is leading the international network of art educators sharing transcultural approaches to art education - ediglobalforum.org - an initiative of the Fondazione Morra Greco in Naples and the Campania region of Italy. EDI will convene 150 institutions in Naples from 12-14 October to build new collaborations to better address access and equity in art and its public engagement.