Your face is a book where man may read strange matter.
Inexplicable as it seems whether "painter" Rabindranath Tagore started making art to convey his mental disquiet or the state of enlightenment, we may still resort to his oeuvre to contextualize Mushtaque Ahmed’s take on portraiture for their somewhat similar fluid handling of paint and facial configuration. The feminine principleand some aspects of nature’s energy exert certain influence on Mushtaque’s paintings, which in turn leave traces of a mystery and mystification, those that penetrate the realm of the psyche and stir the audience into a certain awareness of the unconscious terrain.
While surveying the recent exhibition titled 'Shudurer Mita' (a distant friend), one is reminded of Rabindranath’s expressionistic take on portraitures. Though Mushtaque’s primary meditation is not portraiture, but it becomes obvious that his success lies in the very configuration, or reconfiguration of portraiture. To map his output calls for an understanding of the fact that he seems to explore both human presence and the vast natural expanses that unambiguously engulf them, almost pushing to obscurity.
Among the visages that he tackles by exploiting the tactile aspects of acrylic– his chosen medium– Mushtaque demonstrates an unmatchable facility, especially with female faces.
Presented under the title 'Face', they are beautiful and appealing to the eyes. While taking in the vibe they exude one gets the feeling that these spirit-like women have emerged from the artist’s romantic nostalgia, or phenomena that led him to articulate them in such an impassioned form.
His attempts can be seen as a violation of the sheer physicality of the portraitures. Sometimes with the aid of the very body of colour, sometimes by violating the structure of the visages, Mushtaque let his works express an emotion that help him effect a semblance of what is natural.
It seems that most of his works are a way for the artist to rekindle a loving memory, or rebuild the psychic terrain from the traces of dreams and aspirations. This romantic attitude also governs some of the portraitures, but some are strikingly conceived as a blatant embodiment of the usurpation of the flesh and blood of– what one may perceive as – the muse.
Rabindranath, on the other hand, depicted women as a significant part of nature, and even as an essence of spirituality, or a portal to the realm of the imagination. Having cultivated the urbanity that rules over city life, where placidness is an overrated virtue, Mushtaque’s take on most of his landscapes, and also some of the portraitures admit of little more than a mannerism and an accented expression. But he certainly brings forth his prowess in handling both form and content in most of his paintings. As a self-taught artist, he has successfully mounted two exhibitions to date to the sheer astonishment of Dhaka’s art establishment.
The unobtrusiveness that marks most of his landscape paintings and abstract compositions are of high-art ilk. He has accepted Rabindranath only when tackling portraiture. Mushtaque’s works are soothing to the eyes and thoroughly entertaining, therby forming a statement that verges more on the schematic than the artistic. However, there are exceptions that bring out an image make per excellence.
The portraiture in the painting 'Face-13' is particularly attention grabbing, owing to the red-faced ogre who cast a diabolic spell on the audience. His uniform, similar to that of a police officer, accentuates the severity of his countenance. One gets the feel of the regimentation that go to the making of the powerful– an essential social component that always mocks at the society’s claim to democracy and other rationalizing values.
In contrast, the monochromatic composition in the painting 'Face-10' almost veers towards abstraction, though the vivacity of expression still trails behind.
Of the rest of the paintings displayed on the walls of Gallery Chitrak, there are some that explore objective reality with a disinterested gaze, and they deserve some attention on the part of the viewers. The paintings titled, 'Letterbox' and 'Chair' can be defined as the ‘trivial turned into contemplative imagery.’ As a subject, the theme of the 'letter box' itself holds romantic possibilities and can in itself tell and generate multilayered stories.
One last point to ponder: it might have been more fitting if Mushtaque had produced the piece that tackles Bangabandhu and the nationalistic fervour that this national icon now stands for with the same acumen and violence that define most of his portraitures.