One piece by Najmun Nahar Keya: The Spell Song

Written by Sarah Burney


A wall of soft words. Bangla script as sculpture, with pillow-like volume and skin of shimmering sari fabric. The formal beauty of written Bangla catches the eye of the uninitiated. The title, The Spell Song, heightens the mystery of the text. For Bangla speakers the softness will transcend the physical to the linguistic. The phrases on the wall are Bangla folk proverbs – familiar and, for many, familial. The title, kindling reflections on the magic of language; the mysterious immortality of folklore.


Bangladeshi artist Najmun Nahar Keya debuted this installation at the 2020 Dhaka Arts Summit (DAS), a biennale exhibition based in Dhaka, Bangladesh that has very quickly become a critically significant event on the international art calendar. A text-based artwork that is indecipherable to foreigners is a bold choice for the exhibition that routinely draws the largest foriegn crowd to Bangladesh. Keya’s decision however, was well rewarded. The Spell Song was roundly lauded by DAS attendees and the art industry press. Kajal connected with the artist to learn about the origin, creation and reception of this work.