Of combines and combinatorial logic of new art and new space
Gallery Charja is a new space launched by Santaran, an artists' collective that originated in Chittagong, the port city of the country, which still remains their primary base. The exhibition that saw the emergence of Charja was one of the parallel events of the second Dhaka Art Summit, and it was Santaran's maiden attempt at extending their activities to the capital city from a gallery of their own. The assembled multidisciplinary works might have spurred people weaned in mainstream art to pass them off as plain jabberwocky, but these young artists are here to elicit responses and also set to continue to raise their respective voices to drown out the 'white noise' issued from oppositions.
As one enters the venue, the video installation at the staircase serves as an unreliable sign of what is to follow. Once inside, the small but cozy two-room space, where aesthetic fecundity may drown the mind nurtured in the temperate climate of the mainstream culture in Dhaka, the gallery seems homey and inviting. Upon entering this new stage set for the seven-member exhibition, one realizes that there is substance to be sought.
The works that give rise to a string of afterthoughts, or demands one to cogitate at length, are but few in the current established avenues of art. Here, at this new site, the ratio of what is on the platter and what one relishes even when one is fond of surprises, is quite tilted against the latter. In Bangladesh the 'enfant terrible' mode of production, one that is inspired by the neo-Dada strategies of the West, often retain the 'enfant' while renouncing the 'terrible', thus, resulting in the disappearance of the edge from what is forwarded as edgy, or grit from what would have been gritty – all this due to a careful conglomeration of idea, object and title proposed as art. Here at this newly built venue what one came away with were a few sparks – maybe enough to keep one's hope buoyant about the future of art in this clime.
The most striking installation stems from the desire to expose humans perverted by worldly desire and in the process turned into mere predators in the social-political realm. Monjur Ahmed, a leading proponent of interactive art who heads the organization, directly refers to the act of gorging/eating using a signifier whereby it assumes a sinister aura. He presents a series of full dentures made of regular industrial materials (medical industry, that is) but attaches each to a perforated stainless steel frame. This set of objects mirrors both the technical finesse involved in making them and the horror that visits upon us looking at the vista of bare teeth ready to gnaw at whatever may be digestible. What seemed like overkill is the set of montage where the same artist sets the digitally reproduced denture against hand-drawn fishes that look like piranhas. Yet another work, a video projection entitled Beyond 71, by Monjur explores the process of paint getting diluted in the toilet water; it is a work issued forth as a political commentary on how the course of the new nation has been altered in the last thirty years or so. Hand-written words on toilet paper dipped in water one after another – the film jerkily advances from one shot to another lending the work its snarky baritone or voice. The work is part of a series Monjur is set to continue to advance on and place before the audience as a critical reaction to the failure of a nation to remain faithful to the socialist-secularist ethos which its citizenry once valued.
Perhaps, the glitz and glam we encounter in regular postmodern pastiches are best represented by Tanjil Tushy, whose work XX & YY is a playful dialogue between the sexes alluded to through cosmetic devices. The work itself is made of small glittery stickers that are repeatedly used to form a large lipstick. The video along the staircase was part of the same work, and its other components – a perfume bottle constructed following the same building principle is set right against the back of the pillar on which the lipstick is stuck. Taking chromosome as a point of entry into the politics of sexual difference, the work articulates the denuding of human life trapped between the political economy of the consumerist stripe and the reification of living through the culture of acquisition while it draws its narrative strength from the formation of subjectivities in the beauty industry.
Other objects – especially those that are 'combines' and where found materials are used – include a refrigerator by Bivol Saha, a text inscribed tea set by Shatabdi Shome, and fry pans used by Noor-e-
Elahi. Among these Bivol's fridge with its bandaged handle and red smears comes packed with references to violence.
Objects are treated from within a fairly predictable semantic field in Bangladesh art scene. The relationship between the object of mediation or call it subject matter and the object proposed as art has long been taken too literally, in a linear fashion, in this region. Shome's objects are a result of an unpretentious dash towards a language which is a mere illustration of a concept rather than a meditation on it.
Two of the members are rather comfortable producing images that are two dimensional. Meherun Akter Shumi's series of drawing-based paintings where the body is enamoured of botanical entities is hinged upon the new awakening about the 'self' and its relatedness with the organic world. Nasir Uddin, on the other hand, is technologically savvy but has nature written all over his art.He used a set of AutoCad-generated images that look like ripples mirroring the environment. These abstract works are the only self-referential specimens in this exhibition entitled Perspective on Art and Space.
Santaran’s exhibition was on view at Gallery Charja from February 5 to 12, 2014.
- DEPART DESK