Sharad Das's conundrumic images
Sharad Das, with his combination of stratagems, showcased in the exhibition titled 'Blurred Borders', particularly through some recent forays, comes to terms with the nature of image production in the age of outsourcing and accelerated capital and information dissemination. The new meaning formations of images against the backdrop of the semiotic landscape which is deeply embedded in the rapidly changing social-economic reality and the emerging technological climate, are the themes across which Sharad takes to making sense of his own artistic project and playing around with the appeal of human and non-human icons.
Inclined to act as an artist out to short-circuit the mainstream knowledge base, he puts forth Pop Art-like mishmashes to dazzle the eye. This is also the locus where linearity remains eternally challenged and the order, hierarchies are set aside to voice a contradictory paradigm pivotal to the understanding of the imperial monopoly under which third world citizenry lives. That technology and the new global financial matrices are impacting the social functions of signs and images is the most pertinent issue that helps frame the indigenized 'pop art' effusion we witness in the elaborate paintings made up of multiple components by this twenty-plus artist.
The totalizing narratives, which are throwbacks from the previous century, still govern both art and life in the urban centers of Bangladesh. Though seemingly anachronistic, we, ourselves, are responsible for accepting their worn-out logic. At times, these are even inconsiderately regurgitative, giving rise to various different versions and crude interpretations. Consequently, the mythos of the modern world around the signifiers of 'development', 'freedom', and 'individualism', though, have been subject to revision to register the changing times, serve almost as constants, in our everyday business in making sense of the world. These knowledge also taint our vision and veils the power relations and class apartheid amidst which we try to eke out our existence. Sharad, somehow manages to critique the very flow of such flawed narratives without getting into the political-ideological tangles.
His juxtaposition of late bin Laden, a number of US presidents, super heroes from the US comic world, and his take on the current events in Bangladesh, seem, at first, an exoticized, scopophilic prism through which to re-enter the image world and the stream of reality. However, faced with the fact that his hometown Chittagong serves as the primary source for his readymade images and other base-matters, one begins to look through the seemingly 'fuzzy logic' to discover a critical position. Thus, the purposeful collaging of portraitures, overlapping of iconic and non-iconic images, with their multivalent pictorial and textual connotations, seem to form a cobweb where one is able to spot a central concern – which is the hegemony of the Center – the US imperial design.
His mishmashes are a recent mediation. In his earlier work one recognizes a stream of images generated to address, in the usual linear fashion, urban development and its probelmatics, where sound is a recurring metaphor. This environmental variable aside, the space recalled as lost domain is also addressed through juxtaposition of the human form against an urban landscape showing the telltale signs of transformation, where humans are forced into an attenuating circumstance as the concrete jungle around them proliferates.
By contrast, the clustering of the found images, whose re-organizing may seem arbitrary at first glance, as they seemingly jostle together independent of their intrinsic value, proposes a conundrum which the gazer needs to solve. So, it is the later, nonlinear type of works, which bring out the best in Sharad as he successfully intiates a 'deferral of meaning' as the onlooker attempts to get into the groove of things, rather than be overwhelmed by an image as a passive spectator.
During the show, Sharad's irony-filled, conundramic images, thus, attracted flaks from people enduringly attached to classicist-modernist position. He, with clear intention, forwards a counter-narrative, perhaps, in the hope of doing away with the very culture of image making where the popular never figures. He broaches his idea-images amidst other forms of industrial and commercial image production imitating the freedom Andy Warhol had once introduced to infiltrate the hi-art fraternity.
There are missing pieces of the puzzle which is resolved immediately when one comes to know that the artist uses images from the local bed-sheet manufacturing factories that work on subcontracts, and produce their wares on the basis of designs supplied by the contracting parties.
As appropriation is one of the conceits he playfully employs, we become chance witnesses to a seemingly arbitrary agglomeration of signs and symbols: the extra-scriptural Islamic construction borak shares space irreverentially with Spiderman or other American cartoon characters, or Neanderthal man and its antecedents in an evolutionary line-up is juxtaposed against a self-portrait with a handgun. These hypertextual constructions, often laden with a caustic intonation, sync perfectly with the burgeoning culture of Postmodern pastiche. They are the result of a strong will to disown the entire gamut of signification the cultural development of the linear, 'positivizing models' of modernity produces, only to co-opt the empty as well as emptied signs to attain different goals.
Though, he ventures further into the twilight of our time, where the desensitizing devices of society are active, often colouring the popular, mythic as well as the modern with an innocuous hue, Sharad intervenes and enforces a new reading of the old signs by way of his composite countertexts.
As he attends to the disquieting and mordant facts with his tongue placed comfortably in his cheek, the stage, thus, is set to testify to the 'Postmodern condition' going global. We may define Sharad's own style as an organically devised attempt given to appropriationism, as his artistic sites, specific as they are sometimes to the spatial matrices, serve as a melting pot. One finds that his attention trickles into both European developments (in his pop-like diction) and the Kolkatan chemistry of resistance art (in his figurative painting), as well as the local reality of Chittagong, his domicile. Thus we begin to wake up to the traffic of re-formed signs and symbols fashioned by this artist.
Blurred Borders was organized by Dhaka Art Center, 11-22 September 2012.
GOLAM MORTUJA is an art writer based in Dhaka.