Ali Akbar's Pictorama and the logic of 'post-process' painting
Some consider abstraction's much vaunted method of translating accidents into potent visual anatomies a sham; as all accidents within the periphery of a canvas are nothing more than controlled phenomena, and if we look at the recent works of Ali Akbar, a Bangladeshi expatriate living in the USA for the last 20 years or so, one clearly sees how the seemingly non-methodical works are bound up with a logically determined procesal apparatus.
Materials used on canvas as well as in the construction of objects that we may call art, have their own nuanced voices, and giving a context to those articulations with extra-material means is the job of an abstract artist. Akbar seems to accomplish this by maintaining the distinctiveness of the materials used, which makes him a co-producer.
The artist creates a space where objecthood and their ephimerality are articulated at once – often to ensure that the elements in use are made to travel a certain destination through a preconceived route, and this is a clear indication that Akbar constantly exerts his personhood on his process and the character they assume in the final stage.
Though, Eugene Binder, in the preface to the catalog, cautions us that Akbar makes paintings that do not necessarily comprise a logical progression, after a deep survey of the entire show which has been dispersed in the six galleries of the Dhaka Art Center, the claim seems to fall through. However, his contention that 'they can be viewed as serial images' holds true to the last minute of viewing.
Ali Akbar has produced a series of works of similar vein, they often capture the pathways, though in traces, of a sticky substance that the artist applies as part of his process only to take it off later, thereby producing an array of effects that resides between muted Pollock painting and visual pleasure produced through the batiking of cloth. Wrongly construed by some as an offshoot of the conceptual art practices of the West, the antics of this 40-plus artist often seems like a throwback to the process painting of the mid-nineteenth century America.
Though Akbar offers an intersection between 'process as art' and 'surface painting', consisting of multiple canvases and sometimes, treated objects, the artist seemingly plays with the materials in the vein of those who have crossed over to the realm of multivocality and experientiality; though in reality he still seems anchored in the tradition of the painter-hero whose subjectivity keeps in check actual co-production. Motivated by post-material art that seems to want to evade labels, categories and even a learned way of art production, Akbar's work alludes to the ephemerality of art (not of life) while 'being within reach of an elusive insight', to borrow Earl Balsley Jr's reflection on the artist, lifted from his brief statement in the catalog.
Imprinted with the estrangement (of the producer) they are informed by, Akbar's work situates the viewers outside the esoteric world that is his art – assigning them the role of mere witnesses to the phenomenon he brings into view. In effect, what eludes the viewers is life-experience; it is nowhere to be found.
Works like 'Gagon's Journey', 'Journey', or 'Do You Miss Me', though furnished in an attempt to push the viewers into a web of references through linguistic constructions, apparently share the same autonomous perceptual ground with works like 'Light Escaping Black Hole,' or 'Bird in a Nest' etc. These works seem to hover over the turf where life's drama is enacted, subject matters that still elude Akbar. In his work, the postponement of the act of capture or formulation of the art as a figurative language that tackles the real in its own terms is enacted in a grand manner. As a result we encounter the rescission of life's actual cycle of proximity and distanciation, or engagement and withdrawal in the most tedious agglomeration of half-baked imagery that hinges primarily on the tactility of the surface or the intentional flaking of the paint.
To witness the consternation of a modern era and then vouching for silence is one thing, but to bathe in the glory of an esoteria that attempts to negotiate reality in the vaguest of all terms is what Akbar has staged, that too through some surrogate visual means.
The exhibition was showcased at Dhaka Art Center, October 11 - 19, 2011.