Excursion into a liminal space: Habib's attempt at naturalization through art
'Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.' – Donna Haraway
The cosmology of representation/presentation, buying/selling and even categorizing/archiving that modern living has brought into being are not the only backdrop against which artists determine their position and modulate their voice – this fact is of some importance if one is to read Habibur Rahman's syncretic natured recent work in its social and epistemological context.
As time has its own way of saturating a single mode of expression with languages that seek to reach similar end, Habibur Rahman's mode of representation too has seen some degree of synthesis with the Indian avant-garde that predates his appearance in the Indian art scene. He went to Gujrat in 1982 for his higher studies and then returned to settle down in 1990 to get married to the woman he had fallen in love with during his study.
It is safe to say that he has reached such a stage coursing through experiences that only helped to interiorize the buoyant emotional streaks of artists such as KG Subramanian and the angst-ridden social examination of Jogen Chowdhury as he seems to have rejected the sinister aspect of their language – the depiction of sexuality as a sign of corruption or as the symptom of uneasiness that constantly sears the very core of the modern man.
The emotionally-loaded indexes of life-forms culled from the unified world of the human and nature, thus speak a language which is immune to psychosexual ambivalence that besets the artists given to modernist figural representation. That his imagery is given shape through a linear resplendency akin to artists who were inspired either by pat paintings or shora paintings assists both his own spontaneously conceived imagery as well as interiorized gestures to lend an aesthetic 'naturality' to the representation of all natural 'natural elements.'
The fact that he is beholden to both traditional and modernist practices in the arts only testifies that Habibur Rahman is prone to interiorize every trait that may serve to underline the communion between nature and human, which was once central to human existence.
However, if we are to pinpoint his source of inspiration, its well-spring can be traced in the calligraphic tradition of the East, where linearity expresses a collective striving for a communion that connects peoples across societies and eras, as is evident in the calligraphic arts from Persia and China. And in this era of intense financialization – when nature is either presented as plain sights to savour, or is explored only to gain mastery over it – Habibibur Rahman aka Habib provides an 'authentic' frame of mind to re-examine the age-old question of the concept of the 'human' in the context of 'nature.'
Habib doesn't call into question the lifestyle that finally led to the present-day pathologies, nor do his propositions serve as an appeal to the conscientious to initiate an intervention to rein in the modern-day excesses and revert back to natural living, but he privileges a slow awakening and a gradual progression towards a perceived 'future' where our visions of 'unity' and 'oneness' with nature will again have some bearings, at least, on the collective unconscious. It is through the unconscious intelligence that this artist ensures a subterranean link between imagery and collective imagination.
In some of his works flowers/vegetations dwarf the humans, as in an image where the petals – in their centripetal order – seems to render immaterial all human achievements under the socio-techno-economic order of Modernism. As the very physical/spiritual existence of humans is now being threatened by the brute 'technologies of survival' introduced over time, Habib's playful defiance of the hierarchy relative to size, through a representational mode that is free of naturalism, creates a 'liminal' space for the uninitiated to reorientate himself/herself. The artist strikes a sympathetic cord with the viewers and injects into one's perceived 'reality' a sense of 'ecstasy' that it otherwise lacked.
In Habib's world, through his indescribable 'monologue' the above is addressed. Perhaps this 'inwardness' inaugurated the zeal to look beyond the anthropocentrism that marks the modern age, but it also makes his footing a bit vague – a little unsure as to the question of a political position vis-à-vis human interest that spoils nature. Yet it is through introspection that this artist gets to redraw the landscape of human conscience and condition.
In a smallish piece titled 'On Poetry' the late poet Jibananado Das writes that, to turn one's introspections into a piece of poem one needs to subject one's writing to 'time'; and he also points out that the poet's effort, in the end, privileges a “naturalization” which helps to give it a literary or artistic quality. It is the muted agony and the subterranean ecstasy that links Habib to Jibananado.
The subjection of the artistic effort to time is one decisive act which has a clear bearing on the work of Habib. The images that banks heavily on linearity speak for themselves: it becomes obvious that time has percolated to create an artistic phenomenon that is both a 'dibya-jagot' or a 'world of vision' and an 'existential link' to the worldly world – the physical reality. The point of direction – towards which the artist has set his personalized course – the unearthing of the metaphysical amidst the physical properties of the artworks, i.e., the spirit behind the lines of different dimensions and candors that go to build the mutated, and at times, disembodied anthropomorphic form and the exuberance of floral representation, in the end, transcend the binaries between matter and mind, real and unreal, and also perceived and felt.
The works are a portal to a mind-field – where uncharted terrains abound and the 'existential' realities intersect with the 'cosmic' ones. The latter category is brought to light to refer to what is known as “onaadee” in this clime, which is 'eternal' and 'without a source' in literal translation. This 'eternal' can never be employed in the sense the Western epistemology interprets it, but only as an essence of a Being and Becoming made possible at the behest of time by a man free of any false beliefs and preoccupations.
That time, nature and existence is aligned to create every authentic vision in this world is a fact one slowly wakes up to contemplating what Habib has on offer – the body-mind-nature orgy. This organic, orgiastic character of his art too is a passive and subdued play on the concept of communion. As such, it prepares the ground for a departure from the frame of mind that privileges modern-day confrontational idioms as well as ideas related to a representation of beauty in all its falsified versions.
Beauty today is linked to a false sense of harmony and balance among, what we may call, art-for-architecture's-sake elements and concerns. And when its flipside is explored, art is pitched at an absurdly high note with the intent of giving a jolt. And as is the case of all things done according to the norms, in the name of beauty, today's artistic production remains prostrate in front of so called industrial/architectural ideas and constructions. Trashing both trajectories, Habib's imagery, with its instinctively playful lines and contours, negates all such compromised stances and rigour by invoking a force akin to nature to lay bare the essentials behind all living forms.
The fact that Habib is able to create a vast space on a small surface-area of the paper, which retains the quality of the miniatures that once adorned traditional manuscripts, can be traced to his academic background. He majored in printmaking, and the expertise developed in etching has translated into the myopic engagement that he displays with lines – which he explores in its various dimensions – and the impassioned manner he lets them flow from the nibs and pens of his choice.
The sense of deep-rootedness that Habib brings forth through his artwork has so far escaped the attention of those who attaches an absurd importance to 'identity politics,' equipped as they are with the remnant of a knowledge-base that fails them while they try to cull the authentic (significant and dialogic) from the false (unimaginative and communicative). As Habib's idiom has little to do with the 'politics of nationality,' or 'internationality' for that matter, many may have failed to take to it like a moneyed man to the ostentatious accoutrements of cultural inheritance.
If Habib's reticence makes him look like a throwback from the eras before Public Relations became a deciding force, his images articulate a language full of non-verbal vitality – a kind of pictorial equivalent of the Imagist poets who were concerned with lucidity and immediacy. And through the pictural as well as the fecundity of his signature morphology, Habib sets out to course the viewers through his personalized arboreal vision, which, one hopes, will have some bearing on the lives of all who have been through the experience only to have come away with a piece of his non-hierarchical mind.
The exhibition showcasing Habib's recent drawings was presented at Gallery Chitrak, February 5 - 11, 2010.