Memory of trees and tranquility: Shamim’s take on nature
Those who believe that emptying the canvas of all traces of reality, or references for that matter, is a liberating experience unmatched by any other spiritual leap possible in life, usually choose to settle for pure form. It is this band of artists who thrives on the rigour of self-referentiality. For them all forms exist on their own right in the ecosystem of what we often refer to as high art. Jamil Akbar, aka Shamim, is fully informed of the presence of such seemingly independent forms and elements, and the faith in the absolutely insular world of painting, yet he chooses to wed what is being constructed within the space of the canvas and the world that lies outside it.
He does so by way of remembrance. Reconciling what is lugged around by the experienced body in the form of emotive indicators and what is being projected as encryption of an aestheticised language (the process of painting itself), a pictorial vocabulary is brought forth, one that helps him to reconstruct the state of mind that is already far removed from the present. In this respect Shamim is a nostalgia-prone artist, and his personal memory is invested in touching on the collective nerve, that too only through the act of painting.
What he does – the shuttling back and forth between references/real-life experiences and the reality of the canvas defined by the drive for an intrinsic harmony – can simply be described with a single phrase: referentiality at the level of rumination. And his is a rumination through encrypted visual data.
Therefore in Shamim’s work pictorial details are shorn off to make way for a shorthand of what was or has been, which manifests itself in pictograms, often linear and calligraphic in character. His image making is analogous to a process of getting the pulse wave of a human heart to register in the form of a line showing continuous sharp descents and assents.
What do curlicued lines get us to realize or feel? This is the question one may ask standing in front of the works of the 1st solo exhibition of Shamim, which he titled New Crop. Most of the works that takes the same phrase as their title, and another batch of drawings that are also collectively titled Bush, are images of transcendent beauty.
The linear and structural beauty of a handwriting that never strives to put nature in subjection may or may not lead us back to nature, but it tries to zero in on the emotional residue to inaugurate an interest in what is natural. In works like Adda (one that seems unseemly as a title), Bush-1, and Bush-2, this back to basic frame of mind is overtly and fruitfully expressed.
Yet, what becomes palpable in this show is the fact the presence of nature, or natural elements that go to build his imagery, is devoid of any discourse, or definitive instinctive response set around the unity between nature and the human body.
One may easily take issue with the divergence that cuts through what is natural and painterly. And that Shamim displays a strong predilection towards painterly beauty keeps at bay what is natural beauty; of the latter Rabindranath’s landscapes provide some exemplary instances.
What the show tells us is that the subject, or the artist has been witness to natural phenomena, i.e., has gone through retinal experiences, or perhaps an experience of psychic dimension, and that has left an imprint that is faint, as it is fractured.
Shards of memory are organised according to a chosen principle to strike a compositional balance rather than to emphasise the empirical sources. As such the unpeopled oeuvre reads like a translated script rather than an impassionedly formed artistic language. The evidence of this unique aesthetics receives a full-blown treatment in the series that look something akin to a new take on alpana.
To a great extent, intentional omission is what characterises what Shamim has attempted in his maiden solo. Colour, chiaroscuro, contour, and even tactile surfaces of various distinctiveness– one that guides most abstract and semi-abstract painters of Bangladesh– disappear to make room for the crypto protocol of the chorography of black lines on grey ground, which is either paper or canvas.
Shamim, via Cubist heritage, set himself on a mission to accommodate his will to effect a sense of logic in the viewers of his brand of linearity and formal beauty. Had this been otherwise, the force of nature would have had a chance to reveal itself in its irrational/rational integrality through his artistic diction.
The exhibition took place at Gallery Chitrak from June 27 to July 7, 2009.