Nisar Hossain's 'Portrait of the Killer' was an ambitious art project that brings out in the open the murderous mindset of killers linking his theme to the atrocities committed by the collaborators who went by the name of Al-badar or Rajakar during the nine-month-long liberation war. For the artist it served as a way to make visible the traits that lie latent in every personality that go into such inhuman acts. Among the series of works that was part of his first solo exhibition at Gallery 21, in the year 2001, there was a painting in shocking vermillion that served as a mediating element in the scheme that attempted to merge aesthetic space with the social ones.
Though he was working with the subject matter since 17 years ago, it was at that juncture, when the Four Party Alliance government turned a blind eye to minority repression, that the artist felt the urge to display his work to make people confront the horror of persecution.
Interestingly, at the same time, his reflexive analysis of a painting by Mohammed Kibria, an unlikely candidate for expressing the vicissitudes of political dimension which Nisar was intent on addressing, made him resort to the most unconventional method one could imagine.
Nisar subjected a photocopy of a work by Kibria to his own aesthetic action transforming it by juxtaposing a drawing that showed the visage of a killer in few spontaneous lines. The spectral figure actually took its form out of the textural configurations of the work by Kibria, the most revered aficionado of purist abstraction.
As Nisar looks back on his transgressive artistic acts, he prefers to see them in the light of the atrocities that continues in the name of religion, nationalism, politics etc. This forty-plus artist likes to refer to reality as a 'neutral zone' pointing out the fact that it is the presence of humans that makes it lopsided – transforming it into a potentially perilous social space. The politicization of the social space is what the artist was intent on critiquing at that time through the binarism of victim and perpetrator. However, the dialogic possibilities that he set in motion by placing one of his paintings in various social-historical spaces to infiltrate their given 'reality' and thereby altering their ambiance and meaning as well as the significance of the painting itself, was an act of heterogeneous intent. This interactive scheme helped him position his focus on the connection between art and life – about which the artist has always been vocal. The idea of a predetermined seam never suited his purpose, and in turn prompted him to devise such aesthetic transgressions. Consequently, his 'Portrait of the Killer', one that a journalist interpreted as 'recalling the nightmare of 1971', can easily be considered a speculum where both personal and social memory cast a significant reflection.
Popular culture, in the form of low art, has always been in tandem with the imaginings the Bangalee populace at large resulting in works that tackle subject matters as varied as actors from the Bangladeshi moviedom, characters from fables (themes that always verge on the fantastic) and the war of '71 – a subject that is grounded in reality but open to interpretation.
Lifted from the collection of the Fukuaka Asaian Art Musum in Japan, these two rickshaw paintings are a reminder of the way the back-plaque of Dhaka rickshaws used to show the war scene and the final victory during the 1970s, following independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Don McCullin, born in 1935, in Saint Pancras, London, is world's most acclaimed war photographer who, during the war of independence of Bangladesh, photographed thousands of refugees and the suffering caused by the outbreak of disease during the monsoon season. 'His photographs, combined with the strong layouts of the Sunday Times Magazine editorial staff, evoked a strong response from the British public.'
Donald McCullin won the World Press award in 1964 and in the next two years became the war correspondent for the Sunday Times Magazine. His iconic pictures of the war in Cambodia, in 1970, and his grand exhibition, 'The Uncertain Day', at London's Kodak Gallery which coincided with the publication of his book 'The Destruction Business' typified and established a hyper-realistic style that has become the template and has been imitated and celebrated by almost everybody working in the field today.
I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don't practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: "I didn't kill that man on that photograph, I didn't starve that child." That's why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.
- Don McCullin
Compiled by SHAHMAN MOISHAN and DEPART DESK.