Documenting plebian life
As one of the veterans who stepped into the art scene in the late 1960s, Rafiqun Nabi has always shown a definitive dedication to a highly stylized diction. Drawing his inspiration from a wide range of subject matters, in his landscape and other peopled and unpeopled imagery, he aligns the empirical with the formal with an eye to inflecting the end results with human empathy. In his recent oeuvre, play of shadow, achieved through manipulating tonal variation, becomes a central meditation leading mostly to enhancement of the visual appeal of the represented subjects consisting of fishermen, peasants, boats and landscape. These are the points of reference that serve to define the contours of his compositions mediated through patterns extraneous to these elements.
His current solo exhibition at Dhaka Art Centre, Dhanmondi assumes the shape of an archive of memories of his childhood. Chapainababganj, his birthplace, emerges in all its real and imaginary hues to testify to the idyllic life of a people he was once witness to. Consequently, a number of distinctive themes recur in his paintings: fishermen, boatmen, day labourers, people at leisure, herds of cows and buffalos, crows, kingfishers, goats, wild flowers etc. which are artistically transformed under the technical finesse of this veteran painter. Interrelatedness between man and animal, man and nature are also harped on in these canvases.
Nabi has always been fascinated by 'the simple, uncomplicated lives of the rural folks,' the faithful depiction of which constitutes the central preoccupation of his oeuvre. 'I think villagers appreciate and enjoy the gifts of nature more than us — greenery, rivers, hills, the play of light and shade, flora and fauna — all these are part of their consciousness. I have tried to highlight these in my paintings. It is akin to plain documentation for me,' says Nabi on his recent articulation on rustic life still found in the rural frontiers.
One of his paintings at the exhibition shows a number of water-vessels, a man recumbent on a boat with a group huddled nearby. Nabi is perhaps overly meticulous in the execution of his composition, especially, the arrangement of figures, therefore, in some of the works his formalism eclipses his proffered depiction of reality, and in this particular case it seems to detract from the apparent ambient appeal of the pastoral.
The exhibition also shows how Nabi's growing focus on the synergy between humans and nature has dominated his recent creative sprees that resulted in several huge canvases. Despite the painter's avoidance of the metropolitan setting, one feels, however, that the paintings are a nostalgic wish-fulfillment on the part of someone who has seen the inexorable march towards urbanization threatening to invade the rural life.
Nabi is an artist who adheres to experimental realism. Meshing romanticism with a personal brand of impressionism, he attempts to arrive at a certain pictorial effect, mostly to send forth a voice of recall and at times, to portray an urban milieu where suggestion of architectural lines overshadows human existence.
Nabi has always been known as a watercolourist and the current exhibition has some of his recent takes on the monsoon, the splendour of mountain ranges and the scenic beauty of the countryside. Translucence and subtlety are the characteristic traits of his watercolour pieces and these are qualities that he has strived to attain in his canvases time and again.
The exhibition at Dhaka Art Centre was launched on April 12 and lasted till April 22, 2013.