Unfettered in an (un)fairytale-like world
A chance encounter with Ronni Ahmmed
In the preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', Oscar Wilde warns of the consequences of taking the plunge into the world of art: 'those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril,' he writes. Here is a slice of conversation with an artist who mines the same perilous territory talking to SAADIA ELAHI.
Saadia Elahi: In your own word, how would you describe the man you are today?
Ronni Ahmmed: I am a time traveller who sees things beyond future, beyond past, beyond present; but I see things not with the eyes of my body but with the eyes of my life-source.
I want to depict the creation itself – how the life source itself is everything, everywhere – from politics to spirituality. And I think myth is the best spaceship which can travel in time. In my paintings I always tackle myths of the mankind and the myths of the individual and treat them as vehicles that transport us to other worlds.
I am a man who never sees or says things from within an accepted boundary or in an already used context. I try to build over-bridges over over-bridges. Thus, there is always a multiplicity of discourse in my work. I say things in multiple voices or languages – mouthed from a lost, little child, though roused like a saddened pyramid dropped from the sky right in front of you.
I think mysticism is the ultimate truth of this world. Everything is mysterious in this world. Everything is enigmatic and puzzling – mind-blowing, because we are still thinking, because we are still searching for heaven and earth, of which the perception keeps changing. We are meditating but always failing to reach the stage of 'samadhi' as, strangely enough, logic is the only weapon we have in our hands, which is the weakest weapon ever found in the history of mankind.
What makes you think that logic is the 'weakest weapon ever found in the history of mankind'? Why do you say that?
Any question is a personal attack, even the question 'Have you had your lunch, madam?' (in a heavily accented voice) is a personal attack directed to your belly… or 'What is your name?'... this is the biggest crime ever... hurting people by questioning. The only question that is the right one to ask any one is – 'Are you mad?'
But art and life are not about madness.
Only madness holds the secret of the universe. If you are not mad, you cannot be sane… if you are sane then you are the one who is the mad guy.
Insane! So, logic is logically defective!! …faulty, weak… like a 3000-mile bamboo bridge (and the bridge is made of only one thing – bamboo) over a 2099-mile crocodile's leg.
Could you please explain further?
Basically sanity or insanity is the product of sanity and insanity… so both are absent and invisible, even never existed... there is no borderline between sanity and insanity… because a sane person is designed by a corrupt as well as insane society and an insane person is designed by God Himself. So you can see there is no sanity or insanity to talk about in the social context, or in any other context...
So what exactly is your ideology or philosophy of life?
Well, personally I don't believe in numbers – 123456… you know those vectors. Some people, explaining real-life situation, say they just saw 2 men passing by; I never believe that because of the number 2. It's a number... why should I believe in a number? There are millions of numbers or more.... So why should I believe in only 2. The numbers are illogical, because they are like the law... as the law is the most unlawful thing, because you cannot judge and law is all about judgment, and judgment, you know, is evil, and judgment is the God.
I believe people will die and I will never die, because I don't believe in death or any concept regarding death. There is no death… no life either. It's only travelling through time and space – in the space where there is no time... no place. I live where time is no more... space is gone… and place has disappeared, where love is every where... but it's true… whatever it is... it's true.
We should imagine a place where numbers and geometry are no longer valid... then we can understand what we should understand... should you understand anything?
Do you think the creator is one?
I told you before one and a half million and seven and a half times I do not believe in numbers...
How much of your ideology is reflected in your painting?
My painting is very much my ideology... its only 4,000 miles and 4,000 miles, and again is only a 4,000-mile journey. It's not even 1 mile or 1 inch. My paintings are everywhere, because I have painted this world. And this world is not just this world, this world is an ambassador of 3 billion other worlds, and 3 billion worlds are just a few ambassadors of 90 billion worlds, and 90 billion worlds are just a few ambassadors of numberless worlds. To me, even the word numberless is not numberless enough, because it smells of number.
My philosophy is no philosophy, my philosophy is seeing through the eyes of a blind man. He only perceives what he cannot see. You don't need to see, you only need to perceive… you only perceive, you only perceive...
Seeing is chaos, it disturbs you, it puzzles you, it misguides you, it makes you a criminal. You can see, if you close your eyes, like a blind man, not like a man who can see. There is infinity within an individual – the classic concept of this ingenious stupid race; because, human race, now performing its ultimate performance of ingenuity, is on a suicidal train, equipped with their atom bombs and the black smokes, and the mindless, mature imbecile kings and queens.
So, Ronni Ahmmed, what inspires you, if you think that the world and its logic should be trashed?
Everything inspires me. everything from art history to human mind inspires me. Even the artist who is not an artist inspires me. Even the chicken and the titanium dome of the planet Borg inspire me. Every moment inspires me – every second, fractions of seconds, fractions of fractions of seconds of sec, sec, sec, sec.... Beauty inspires me, ugliness inspires me. The most powerful inspirations are the things that never existed, never been created. That's why I'm always searching for the world never seen, never created, never born, and especially the language never used and numbers never known, the species never seen, the tears never felt, and the laughter caused by an angel in the moon.
Yes, all beings are spiritual, everything possesses a spirit – even a T-shirt has its own spirit, even an eyebrow has its own spirit. The sub-atomic particles… they are spiritual, they have their own spirits… spirit is the core of creation. So there is no way you can avoid spirituality, because if you create space to create a universe, you only imitate the universe.
What is your concept of art? How is it connected to all these?
Art is 'what is your concept of art' is. And, absolutely, art is what is your concept of art is.... But, for the human race, I can explain – it is not valid for other races as it is already known by other races, understood by all and sundry.
Art is the past, present, and future of a society. Well, a society unfortunately has a culture and fortunately we really do enjoy culture as it makes people gentler, softer, more imaginative, and also more relaxed. The unfortunate part is that culture is a political word and a political world. An art can define fortunate and unfortunate parts of a culture as I have described.
Art is the oldest religion of man. The primal instinct of the entire species can be found in art.
[Do you have] Any favourite artist who makes you want to cry or fills you with joy?
Where, in this world?
In which world?
Our earth; our world.
Okay, now I get it. [But,] you know there are worlds out there?
I don't believe in the word 'favourite' and I don't believe in artists and I don't believe in the word 'believe'… and who cares what I believe and who cares who is 'favourite' to whom, where, and when? There is no artist, no names, and no art – there is only a face.
For us, the spectators, can we still have a few examples of artists you admire?
I like primitive art, modern art. I like MJ.
What is it about history and myths that make you paint about them?
Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and a few others like Breughel and Bosch and those genres of the pre-renaissance period, they are of value to me. I love all kinds of primitive art, especially African art that rouse in you something strange. I also like Renaissance art because of its boldness and the mystery.
Modern art and artists? I like every artist... almost three millions of them.
As an artist, why do you draw the way you draw? Is there anything shadowy behind it that we should know about?
Art is a self-portrait, because whatever an artist does or paints is a portrayal of his own self. Some people want to see themselves, some people don't. Creative people want to see themselves in fractions and in entirety – in many, many different forms.
An art is like a mirror to me. Mirror is the art. And artist always breaks one mirror to find another. Piece by piece… mirror by mirror… all through his or her life the artist keeps expanding on the vision.
All reflections in the mirrors are messages from the eternity. I want to express those messages of eternity. My style, I think, is related to my becoming a messenger – a messenger of some basic things, things that have profound impact – expanding the horizon from the limit to the limitless, from love to hate, sane to insane, fire to fire, ashes to ashes, amen...
So, the way you have just ended right now prompts a question. Are you religious?
There is no religion. We call it religion as it is a political word. Religion, its sense, cannot be found in the term religion. So, am I a religious person?
Do you represent religion or belief in a higher being in your artwork?
Yes, I… well no…well yes… ah no... am… (mumbles this way for a while)
What is your medium of choice? What do you think best suited for you to channel your creativity?
I prefer big canvases, because small canvases are small, so says my carpenter.
How do you define your language of expression, the means that you use or abuse?
My artistic language is in itself an experiment in motion. Experimenting means trying to find the probable and improbable possibilities, and I always try to invent... excavation of possibilities, or showing and exploring the possibilities, or sometimes only showing the possibilities. My art is always at a crossroads of possibilities… they are a proposal – like an examination of possibilities, a discourse written by good and evil, by gods and the rats, fire and dreams. My art is a fairytale of time and beyond, my life is a fairytale of a fairytale, and my reality is beyond my mind and my legs.
The visual language of art has something that lies beyond visuality. Visual language is how visuality becomes visible, not the vision itself. Art is thus visualization of the vision; art is not the vision itself, because vision stays only for a few seconds – like a blink. So, art is the camera that captures visions, the camera set in the heavy downpour during the time of Prophet Noah (PBUH)… blurred and beautiful.
I visualize a moon which has no dark side, yet I know that only the dark side knows the moon for what it is, for ever.
Do you draw for yourself or do you draw for the consumer? Is there any undue attraction of the trends that are seeping into the world?
I am the sole consumer of my paintings. So, I draw for myself. I draw for myself, because I love to see what I can be or cannot be. And the question of self-appeasement is a question of totality and consumerism is just a part of the totality, only a part of what you are.
Only stupid people will go for the part or fragments, not for the total or the whole. I try not to be a stupid. I would rather try to be an innocent adult as it is only through innocence that we can portray the self in its totality, with the infinity within us, because infinity is ignorant, blind, and wise. Infinity is not confined, because our brain, our imagination do not know what infinity is. It is impossible to know, because knowing is committing to confinement.
What is wrong with the world nowadays is that the world has become a knowing world; that's why heaven is always up above the world. We can always sense through religion that heaven is not up there, because in heaven you don't have to know but on earth you have to know! You have to know! You have to know...
How do you think the society perceives you and your art?
Most of the people haven't seen my work.... In Bangladesh there are more than eighty million people and, I think, none of them has seen my work. I have never found any one who has seen my work, because I haven't seen my work either, because I was never born.
That you perceive me as an artist is a maya, an illusion, like the reality itself. And society is always a stagnant zone and it always rubs its own eyes like a listless person.
If one is a true artist, one doesn't care about acceptance… false artists do care... they are gentlemen [who] always say 'thank you' to every one they meet. And true artists never say, thanks... he says, mind your own business…
Can an artist be true to himself in this worldly world?
I am not a gentleman but I am sophisticated; or I am a gentleman, not sophisticated. So, to me and to the society, I am accepted as an artist; and, to me, I am a society, because the society too is like a soft balloon, because the society is very sociable. The society kills people and [the] society makes people happy, because it's a giant with one eye.
Once there was a society, now there is an epitaph – written on it is 'Capitalism'. Capitalism has eaten up the concept of society. Capitalism has eaten up the concept of capitalism. It's so hungry and cannibalistic.
I think they can connect the way I connect with my artwork. Society is just a mere example of one possible way of living. It's a single statement among millions that one can come up with. It always changes, switches over to statement to statements through space, power, and politics.
How is it like to have goals one is set out to achieve in this condition? Have you achieved yours? And what are your future goals in life?
I have achieved everything. I have achieved everything, because in my life I wanted to drink a glass of water and I did it.
But, to the society, I may not have drunk a glass of water. They may deny it. But, I [really] have drunk a glass of water.
Being an artist, what destination do you think should be of an artist and his/her artwork?
I personally wanted to achieve the whole world, and also the planet Borg… especially, my goal was to be famous in a sanatorium, because it is through insanity that you can hear the laughter of the creation and the creator.
If art did not help you sustain your everyday living, what would you have been doing?
I would have been doing unsustainable art and working in sustaining elevation project...
Generally what kind of people inspires you?
There are 2 kinds of people living inside a man. I don't like the general one, because they start war, take foolish decisions. I rather like the cornered one. What I am saying is that there are 2 kinds of people in a human being – one man wants to be some thing in the society and the other man wants to sleep in peace and dream, and a professional artist wants to be both. I want to be a sleeping artist who works while sleepwalking like Ibn Battuta (an ancient wayfarer) in a mud house.
What do you think awaits you in life?
I want to be an artist of a different path, of a different time and different culture. I want own-ness within me, within others… others within me, others within own-ness.
I want to be an artist… to remember an artist… to forget…
As you practise meditation, do you think it has a bearing on you and your art?
Art itself is meditation. Therefore, you can say I practise meditation. I do it to keep the chaos out. Meditation makes you a living person, a natural man. A natural man is a man who can sleep well and wake up in the morning and have bed tea with a sugarcane turtle.
Meditation is a rebel against capitalism, because capitalist world wants you to be a distressed person, an unhappy person, to be able to sell modernism and pencils and erasures... Because, if you are a happy person, you don't need a car, you don't need an expensive car; you don't need a car to look like Malaika Aurora or the president of Kunkunia. You don't need a cell-phone, a computer; you don't need so many people living in such a small place. You don't need black man, on the street, or on a dove's tail and you know, when the black man jumps and see the white people from afar, the boiled man screams like a dying horny hornet, like gold in...
You only need satisfaction, satisfaction, satisfaction. Reality is made-up, it's not real. Reality is produced in the industries, factories, super-malls, in billions by movie businesses, by multi-multi-multi-multinational companies. Reality is an interpretation of money-flow.
An individual is not capable of defining his own reality. Once, nature used to define the reality by revealing itself to us. Now, mega companies have taken upon themselves the great duty of defining the great reality of this fictional century. And there is always a frogman talking with the ratman in the middle of the middleman. So, always be careful before going to a billiard club, forever with so many balls scattered like golden blood drifting from the eternal landscape. Of the hetatechtic days of prince...
Excuse me, but what is 'hetatechtic'?
Why do you want to know? Do you think I would answer? Do you think answer is so available that a cucumber wants to answer all questions?
Hetatectic is an imaginary word. It means something absurd and illogical. I told you before I don't like logic very much. It bites me. I would rather like to bite a lake full of money.
I think some people are born with meditation and some people enrich themselves by meditation. I think I belong to the first genre, I was born with meditation. Being born with meditation is a privilege. Then you can get drunk with your life. Without being drunk, there is no life. Be a drunken man, then you can enjoy the total beauty of life, otherwise only partial [will] come to you disguised as a total. So, never buy the partial, bite your own lips until the noodles are coming from your mouth. To me, meditation is to enhance your capability.
Time is a slow train but you have to run to catch it. According to Freud, our mindscape attains maturity within five years. So, we are all five-year olds. And there are some who are three-year olds, those who start war, and are always chewing money and power. So, time is only five-year old, because, if you are not in this world, for you time is absent – so, time is five-year old. – Ronni Ahmmed