Casting a position vis-à-vis the third gender
Cross-Casting, an exhibition which looks at the crossover between an awareness about a stigmatized social group (of the third gender, in this case) and the exploration of the new media, could have been a straightforward way of manufacturing concerns. Issues of social import, seen as a form of investment in awareness-building gambits, usually lead to directional and at times even dictatorial texts/artworks produced with the aim of voicing one's allegiance/sympathy to drive home one's objective, which is to press for an affirmative change. Yet, when new media or a novel approach to art is employed as a prerogative, as it did in the exhibition organized by Britto which ran parallel to the second edition of the Dhaka Art Summit, it becomes a testing ground to discover how participants are able to translate the social cause or concern into aesthetically viable forms of expression and discourses.
The act of 'ontologizing' seems to have rescued most of the artists from getting embroiled in the urgency of supplementing the existing social narrative(s) which the educated minority constructs in line with the liberal democratic norms for the benefit of the majority. Working within a given framework, Mahbubur Rahman, a veteran in correlating art with social reality and Monir Mrittik, a young exponent given to multimedia manipulation, have demonstrated that the dilemma of excavating the 'self' or the 'other' can be resolved by plumbing a self-revelatory third narrative. This is most obvious in Monir's current work, who, through his novel device, juxtaposes his own portraiture on da Vinci's Mona Lisa with the cut strips of both pictures used as warps and wefts to weave his 'alternative masterpiece' – a pastiche exuding unpastiche-like temperament. Mahbub, on the other hand, embeds his video work, projected on a bed, in the unconscious kinetics of sleep. His video records movements of a sleeping transgender, who, throughout the duration of the work that runs in a loop, remains covered under a satin sheet revealing nothing but a presence equal to any other human being in sleep. The effacement of identity markers and the multiplication of the image of the video in mirrors – three in all, one on the ceiling and the other two at either side – lend a maze-like quality to the work and a mute agency to the sleeping human who can be taken for anyone, anybody lost in the world of tranquility.
Some of the participants take their point of departure from the corpus of art which are already in circulation in the global arena, like the set of portraitures of couples in Ashim Halder Sagor's photography installation that tosses at the audience the possibility of the idea of an 'awakening' one experiences in taking to cross-dressing; the hybrid sculptures by Anisuzzaman Sohel bring into play a plasticity akin to new age consumer products; Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty attempts an overlap of the digitally produced foetus with the hand-drawn reclining human; and Imran Hossain Piplu pays butterfly motif-strewn homage to his wife which takes the act of gestation of the two-winged creatures as a reference to femininity. Less prone to the flamboyant linguistic fruitions connected to global trends are artists such as Tayeba Begum Lipi, Khandakar Nasir Ahmed, Maynul Islam Paul, Mohammad Hasanur Rahman, Mollah Sagar and Shulekha Chowdhury.
Nupur, another participant famed for photo installation, could have been the centre of attention for opening cavalierly the door to the loo with the intention of evoking at once the sense of privacy by creating a sanctuary for every soul who has the luxury of time-out to ruminate on as well as experience one's own body. However, the conceptual frame seemed to have fallen through the pores in the actual artwork – pores that are not physically present but are there to pigeonhole her project which simply do not agree with the intention. The very physical constitution of her work fails to impart, on both visual and conceptual levels, the idea she ingeniously frames in words.
What this group of artists attempted is to deflate the notion of gender constructed through stereotypical frames of reference where identity is always released in strict codes. By creating narratives where the woman in man and man in woman becomes easily identifiable it is demonstrated that one particular social code can easily be adopted by another.
The curatorial note from Mahbubur Rahman refers to the historical practice of male actors playing the roles of the female characters to emphasize 'role playing' without establishing the link to gendered identity and role- playing in general as a rhetorical device. Yet, as the primary threshold for pushing the issue, the show was a successful aggregation of Britto's might.
Though one must mention that equal rights for all genders is touched upon without getting oneself immersed in the complicacies of existing social narratives (be that expounded in the narrative of faith-based or secular propriety) working as barriers. The curator's claim that they are prone to reconstruct the Britto space every time they mount an exhibition is an actual description of their continued efforts in making a difference while staging each show. Cross Casting becomes a portal through which to send some message across as part of a celebration of 12 years of Britto. The only fear that strikes the mind is whether radical languages are losing their edge by marrying themes related to social activism.
The exhibition was on view from 1-9 February 2013, at Space.