Sense and sensitivity in art
The emergence of an art magazine of international reckoning through the culturally motivated segment of our own society is a phenomenon to celebrate and be proud of. Such an organ of informed opinions, reappraisals and art explorations should go a long way towards enlightening, and promoting our artists who are searching for the ideal through an everlasting flux. Atypically hyper-enthusiastic deshi reader gets hold of a copy of June 2011, Vol 2, Issue 6 of Depart, and muses on the cover title for a while, shrugs and moves on. Very interesting reading continues, allowing rediscovery, illumination and appreciation until a pin is inserted in the balloon of euphoria resulting in a descent to a typical scenario we thought we had left behind, the squabbling Bangladesh.
The irresponsible and partisan approach of the article 'Rip Off/Rip Open', opens up a chasm of doubt about the authenticity of our motives. We Bangladeshi love to skim through life rather than live through it. We usually treat, with affectionate indulgence, this take-it-easy stance, excusing it as our national characteristic, until it becomes a documented and publicized reality. Then we have to stop and question the alacrity of that media body which is responsible for upholding, promoting and preserving the cultural and aesthetic activities of the country and yet allows crude attack on prestigious institutions like The Shilpakala Academy and The Bengal Foundation, and gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of art through the prejudiced psyche of a group of arbitrary commentators (the article is a co-production).
The myopic critics have not realized that those derogatory generalizations about 'most Bangladeshi artists' through a Bangladeshi media does not elevate one to a higher level as an art connoisseur, rather showcases his/her lack of finesse in matter of envisioning art as a process and not a fixity. What the readers do discover, as they proceed through this highfalutin linguistic labyrinth, is a deliberate catechizing of established cultural bodies in order to promote partisan loyalties, a tendency which will mar the last clean frontier in our already divided socio-cultural scene.
Art is expression of the artists' vision of the external reality refracted through their own retrospective imagination, and when that vision connects with the target audience, its goal is achieved. If that goal is to convey a social message, it has to be visual, direct and unpretentious – a fact which has been lost in the eddy of critical enthusiasm of these critics. It should have been the responsibility of this particular organ of opinion to acknowledge the fact that within the materialistic fixities, the artists constantly define and redefine themselves and when they are to follow the dictates of the market ratings, they succumb to the trap of consumerism and that is what an artist should consider as banality.
Speaking of language, the writer has deliberately used convoluted expressions to impress the readers with an erudite prose, possibly remembering the childhood story of the King's nonexistent ceremonial gown, visible only to the wise. While many of us will skim through it, we must not forget that an art magazine, with a sleek and smart get-up like this, must be addressing a wide range of readers within and without the country and therefore needs a more careful scrutiny of expression, intention and content.
Art in any form is to enhance sensitivity and aesthetic sensibility. It is a mystery why, amidst some very positive, constructive and enjoyable articles on issues from home and abroad, our own National Art Exhibition is slated in such a crude way. We must censure subjectivity in this particular field at least and not turn a review into an invective. When one looks at any creative effort only to make derogatory comments without finding anything appreciable in it, it smacks of some covert motivation and cannot pass as objective assessment.
— Sitara Jabeen
A disappointed reader
We are happy to hear a voice representing the other end – our readership, who claims to be an enthusiastic reader and has at her disposal the linguistic aptitude to formulate a critique of the magazine's content.
Here goes our response to the 'reading' Sitara Jabeen provides, one who calls herself a disappointed reader. The 'squabbling' that Ms Jabeen is so worried about actually is her subjective interpretation of Depart's critical, partial and political position vis-à-vis all artistic productions as well as institutional practices which influence and/or shape and reshape them. Our commentaries are the result of a polarized praxis, which is informed by historical development of modern and indigenist modern as well as folkloric art in this country and also distilled by an understanding of the interstices of the dominant narratives as well as attitudes of the cognoscenti and the masses towards culture and art. We strongly feel that a greater portion of the so-called culturally inclined urban elites have often failed to effectuate value judgment as they are unwilling to express contesting observations and viewpoints after surveying the past and present practices in art and theory, about which we are particularly interested.
Criticality in thinking is not foreign to Bangalis, as is evident in the cults of baul, Lalon, and many other subaltern and mainstream cultural practices. However, a certain quarter of urban elites, often as part of the process of collective catharsis, lionizes, or even deifies, the cultural icons they produce through a non-critical canons/structures of interpretation/construction. One must underline, that the society they construct and inhabit is shamefully hierarchical, although in acting, behaving and thinking, this truth is consciously or unconsciously obscured; and this is the social 'morass' from which we would like to depart.
As for connoisseurship, Depart has been conceived as a site for raising and debating issues relevant to our artistic practices of the present as well as those of the past; therefore, we are accommodating to close, contextual, and critical reflections and re-evaluations on our cultural and artistic trajectories.
True that art is an expression of the artists' personal vision, as is expressed by the writer, but whether artists and their artworks are situated on sites other than the society, is something which we would like to contest as we believe that such division is impossible. Therefore the context/location of the artist will always be important, as is the position of the reader, only then will there be an active 'gaze' through which signs, codes, which otherwise remain permanently dormant, will make their appearance before us.
Words such as 'positive', 'constructive' have always been linked to an essentialist value system which the power elite constructs to buttress their shaky position. We would like to replace them with concepts of intersubjectivity, relationality, locationality (not 'loquation'ality), intertextuality and most of all performativity in appreciating as well as reacting to what is part of us.
There are some critics in this clime who may have mastered the craft of projecting the knowledge they generate as objective assessment camouflaging their biases; we are aware that on having cleared one's 'position', they show little interest. It is their job to skim through art and life. Ours is certainly what the writer suggests: 'finding anything appreciable'. To do so one needs to develop tools and knowledge that will be the basis for all arguments and assessments, as no assessment can do justice to a work of art until and unless it is meant as a form of 'critical mediation' through which to separate the 'banal' from the rest and also to inaugurate, in public and theoretical domain, reading, re-reading and, most importantly, 're-appraisal'.
Depart would like its readers to send their opinion on xissues related to the magazine's content as well as art and artists in general at the following address: email@example.com, Mustafa.firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that all letters sent to our address should be within six hundred words and are subject to editing to ensure conformity to word limit and soften strange and offensive loquation.