Reality plumbed and unloaded
As an exemplum of the modernist “dissent art” Atia Islam Anne’s work is about raising a voice of concern/alarm through personification of the tragic conditions brought on by misrule, abuse of power, and misguided adventures of the politically-charged consumer society. Through her art she comes to term with the present-day traumas in a world that is increasingly becoming an unfortunate breeding ground for misanthropes and misogynists, whose firm hold on societal affairs has already resulted in some unpalatable ‘turn over’.
Her outcry against categories such as autocracy, social and gender inequity is thus brought into view through the rot (read, downgraded human institutions) that has been eating away at the core of all modern societies.
As an artist, Atia is a modernist in a sense that as she loads her canvases with references of political, social and to an extent moral implications, she does so with the hope of “improvement”. Her faith in redemption informs her socially antagonistic voice, which is otherwise abrasive and high-pitched. Through the imagery she constructs, her serious intention becomes obvious, which is to send a clear message of change. Her language tends to divulge "brut facts" is always packed with social criticism intended to hit the viewers with a thud.
In this second solo tilted 'Inauspicious Time', held at the Bengal gallery of Fine Arts, Atia measures the status of art as socially significant signs, and she does this by subjecting the society to a gaze affected by a gendered perspective. Though framed in metaphors and similes, most works address historical condition and proposes the individual as the victim of this conditions which, in her clime, are synonyms for the urban problematics.
Yet her stance remains unclear about social hierarchy and order. Atia has done a lot to clear her position as to whether she rejects modernist excesses, but little has been said about the hegemony of knowledge and representation.
Through the depiction of visible facts she enters the domain of the power structures, as in the work tilted 'Investigation Committee', her most recent painting that tackles the subject of Bangladesh Rifles Headquarter massacre in Dhaka and the futile attempts that followed in the name of investigation. But the “particular” signs of the traumatic event have no place in Atia’s canvas. She constructs symbols – generalized forms of communication – to hammer her point home, as in the painting 'Present Situation', where women’s place as the “nigger” of the world is sarcastically defined by contours of the chessboard, snakes and that Western mark of the trendy women – the high-hilled shoes.
All her references are amassed to create a pictorial diction that, not unlike the famous British painter Francis Beckon, who is Atia’s foremost reference, is only symptomatic of our time.
The artist is not into the search for the authentic historicality, rather is intent on discovering the time-bound symbols and imagery. And it is the “present socially defined time” that is being challenged by its sinister “alter-ego” in certain images where the human body is medicalized, tempered with and even made into corpse to underline the social squalor.
The act of indexing many forms of mortification, through factual debunking, tilts towards what is almost fatalistic in the painting such as 'Cancer', and in the two particular series called 'Burn' and 'Blood Rain'. These are the works where the victims are subjected to bodily mutations, thereby creating a condition for both viewers and the depicted subjects to remain stuck within a nightmare. But these traumatic images probe the condition and the disease not the cause.
Atia’s world is devoid of any counter discourse, if not counter social time, that stems from beyond the dichotomy of the oppressor and the oppressed. In the end, one realises that all that has been proposed in the form of criticism are mostly descriptive and at times almost didactic in character. Exceptions are few.
Both fetishizing of the victims and mystification of the subjects (women in Atia’s case) are dealt with in the series called “Women and Society”; with these works Atia attempts an interplay among the references that might seem unrelated at the first viewing, yet might make viewing interesting in the end.
The titles of Atia’s works display a clear lack of playfulness on the part of the artist; they are descriptive in an unimaginative way, and are most banal when they are monosyllabic.
The exhibition 'Inauspicious Time' lasted from 12 to 23 June, 2009.
- DEPART DESK