Clashing notes from an ensemble of the Disenfranchised
‘Footnotes and Unorthodox', an exhibition hosted by Dhaka Art Center, echoes the sense of unfinishedness of its title. In this artists-organized exhibition, four young practitioners come together to display works that show a total disregard for thematic coherence. Neither does the exhibition explicate any conceptual framework through which one is to understand how the distant paradigmatic practices were made to occupy the same space and time.
One can unequivocally split the works on display into many fragments with some of the paintings sending high notes disrupting the cadence of some other unabashedly middling images, which in turn clash with yet another stream of conventional method of picture-making – a la local academic monolinear take on modernism – figurative expressions carefully thrown into the direction of the experimental allowing gestural elements to take precedence.
If Rashedul Alam Manik and Md Zakir-us-Salam's works can be bracketed within the last category, Swarnaly Rini with Rafiqul Islam Shuvo together occupy the rest of the slots, splintered as their output is into many fragmentary visual modes. But if the show carries any merit in respect of its ability to put across some novel vibes through to the otherwise somnolent mainstream art scene of Dhaka, it is due to the ambitious experimentations of the latter two. Shuvo and Rini – sending their tentacles in various directions – come up with large paintings that can be divided into interesting, semi-interesting as well as run-of-the-mill images.
One thing that lodges the project on the altar of difference is Shuvo's hostility towards conventional (in regional context) picture-making. Invoking the ugly and the post-gestural gesture paintings in such works as 'He Came Back Again After 30 Years' and 'Food Poisoning' the artist, who has been known for his macabre-meeting-light-hearted-jesting-kind-of-distorted-anthropomorphic image, now takes a retreat and goes for mostly benign expressions only at times making the intentional jump to buffoonery and sedition. There is this tongue-in-cheek criticality to his work that may irk serious viewers.
His most striking work entitled 'Time before Invention' – where stick figures recalling Joan Miró walks across the canvas while a splash of green paint dribs from the above, is a musical tribute to absurdist frame of mind. Though exemplifies controlled accident that we often see in European abstraction the work emits strangeness – in a subtle way – creating a memorable aesthetic moment.
Rini, on the other hand, has her eyes set on the merger of her realistic strain with the method that reverts to canvas-depth flatness laying out patterns vaguely recalling traditional alpana or kantha. Especially, in the works where her bold white lines behave like thosein an alpana, the image seems to veer towards non-narrative language; had this been otherwise – the patterning could have had stories to construct making her work impart something akin to mythological transmission.
She displays her acumen in the series where quickly drawn realistic heads join with bodies rendered into flat patterns. Two-fold hybridization becomes activated here: on the one hand, human heads conjoin the bodies of animal and bird, or just a jagged trace of a body in one particular piece; on another, the flatness (of the body and the background) is overlapped with speedily rendered naturalistic portraitures. If the work 'Black Pigeon' brings to mind the composure of a submissive Bengali belle, the 'Red Boy' is an exploration of the obstinate boyhood, aptly highlighting the eyes that frown at order and discipline.
Among the rest of the two, Zakir-us-Salam used to be tied to a kind of figuration which enabled a dislocation of the human body similar to the early twentieth century expressionists', only his means were intentionally sketchy and depended more on the quality of the painted/textured surface. In this show, his works are poorly represented, as no work is in sight that may stand proof of at least his signature draughtsmanship. On the other hand, Rashedul Alam Manik is given ample space for his foggy and textured images that show apparition-like humanoids cavorting among themselves. But it appears that the artist is split between two dissimilar goals – one is to execute human form and other is to embellish the surface with textures and drips.
In the end, one comes away with the feeling that if footnotes were to be attached to this write-up it would only be fitting to refer to the absence of an awareness about the hold of the ideologies that are doing the rounds on art. Not everything that exists and occupies a space in the cultural register does so due to the individual artist's will or passion for new methods, but more because of the currents of knowledge have intervened and won over the individual.
The group exhibition titled 'Footnotes and Unorthodox' was held at Dhaka Art Center, April 18-26, 2011.