Sketches of self and beyond : Three-man exhibition at Shilpangan
In the exhibition entitled Appointment, the trio Barbara Bux, Frazana Ahmed Urmi, Syed Zahid Iqbal, at first glance, comes off as a group awakened to their 'self', who are also keen to examine the same, placing it at the center of their 'being'. However, with one's focus adjusted to their individual tenors, Barbara seems to enforce rethinking. She, through her carefully developed yet unconsciously intelligent art, signals a departure from the formalist vision. Her works seem to have been informed by an understanding of the self as an othered entity – one that registers the universe that surrounds us following a degree of denucleation of the self. Zahid and Farzana, the well known young art couple, seem to operate from within the paradigm of the 'authorial art', trying to achieve a signature of the self, exploiting certain formal qualities of paint or the surface of the paper or canvas in use. Barbara, on the other hand, examines the possibility of image making and meaning generation from an altogether different register, always working to mediate on the serendipitous link between real experiences and art. It seems that she attempts to inaugurate a narrative of the world in flux – one that is unveiled in a series of interconnected imagery. She speaks about the world she inhabits by way of the metonymic embodiment of the real and the imaginary we all live by.
Farzana's effort underlines a thrust towards a disembodied modernist line of production – as is apparent in her abstract series Lines in Mood. The three large-scale works entitled Inside-Out playfully project outsized portraiture amidst a resonating surface, and they efficaciously straddle the line between abstraction and figuration. Though the fearful gaze which mark the first of the three portraitures seems to want to allude to the world in turmoil, any such narrative unveiling of what ails the world seems to have been allayed in the other two visages that verge on the abstract due to the attention given to the surface rather than the psychological state they are in.
Zahid's take on nature is similarly constructed around a chemistry of formalism of the painter-heroes from the 50s and 60s. The works bearing the same title Play on Paper appear in sequence to advance on the same principle of laying the process bare to reveal the state of mind or state of painting, perhaps. But what is emphatically brought into view is an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of nature, its wears and tears, and its cycle of seasons with special emphasis on the rainy season with the capacity to water down our mental angst and ennui.
Barbara's Calligraphy of Coincidence is a series that dovetails the mundane with the sublime, if we are to home in on the essence through which the axis of representation assumes its shape. The actual represented shapes which she uses as metonymic guide to the world/vision she wants to reveal to the viewer – floral representation, human form, trees, twigs, birds, etc., are carefully drawn, but not with the intent of striking a good likeness, but to build an imagery where presence and absence of the 'real' are at once evoked. This dynamical engendering of the recognizable enmeshed in a new unrelated element, as in Calligraphy of Coincidence 2, where a strange bird comes into being from the eye of an obscure fish, is what throws the process of viewing into disarray, giving rise to an experience of metaphysical nature. The 'sublimity of metaphysics' is thus brought to bear upon the experience of looking, and it becomes possible as and when the artist assumes the role of a 'seer' – one who unveils things that lie beyond the realm of the visible.
Appointment enforces two kinds of viewing – one which alienates to make one aware of the emotional hues of human existence and the other which simply wants to remove the veil from what we take for granted as real. The last being a 'messianic' transcendence, which 'has nothing temporal and spatial about it', as it 'hovers above the present,' to quote Richard A Cohen, also acknowledging the fact that things appear in fragments and what is being presented as vision is transitional and will not last. Perhaps this ephemerality is also echoed in the other two in materialistic term – where matters dissolve to make appear the assumed essence. One may conclude that the gulf between the two Bangladeshi young artists and their German friend lies in how ambiguity is encoded in an art form in the former and is seen as part of the 'literary quality' or in the form of expression that often verges on the metaphorical in the latter.
Appointment was staged at Shilpangan, 20-25 January, 2004.