Performing the issue/body
Chhobir Haat stages its very own festival
Following Kali Das Karamaker's early spectacular appearances as a semi-ritualistic performer in the 1980s, Mahbubur Rahman's episodic corporeal acts of transgression since the late 1990s, and the recent visits of Seiji Shimoda, the Japanese performance guru, performance art has finally caught on.
Chhobir Haat, which began as a public space primarily devoted to paintings by member artists usually showcased on Fridays alongside other cultural sideshows they invite in, recently pooled some young talents to stage their very own Performance Festival. Launched on November 4th, the Festival continued for the next three days.
With two Indian artists joining in with the Bangladeshi contingent, Chhobir Haat, which is situated at one of many entrances to the Suhrwardi Uddyan, a public park, was set to accommodate a series of performances that variously addressed nationalism, violence, gender disparity, and even psycho-corporeal aspects of human existence.
Most participants were fairly new to performance art, which is in the process of becoming a fad. Though, in the modern academies, of which one of the earliest institutions is situated right across the road from where Chhobir Haat has found its home under the open sky, performance art has no place in the curricula, more and more young artists are taking to it with the hope of cutting loose from conventional practices of art. Qualitatively, the event presented a mixed bag that contained some good, some middling and some run of the mill concepts rehashed without much ado. Staged over the duration of three days, Chhobir Haat's crop of corporeal action pieces generated considerable interest among the visitors. With some 30 artists taking stabs at their own pet subjects, among who managed to exercise an interesting blend of theatricality and conceptual authenticity.
Womenhood and women's rights have fed the imagination of some of the ambitiously framed acts. Arpita Sing's enquiry into womanhood and identity politics and Sumona Akhter's meditation on similar subject matter, in their respective manners, spoke to the invisible barriers between gendered identities in the given social context. With Dimple Biswas, a woman artist from Bengaluru, India, one crosses over from the gender issues to the social ones as she demonstrated a unique way of absorbing the 'destructive elements' in our thoughts and deeds by asking people to volunteer to express in writing the nether realm of the mind. She began her lengthy performance by burning the written notes she received in an oil lamp treated with dhup (incense), and ended by inviting people to write on a shirtless male body (a participating artist, and one of the organizers, Neloy) while she was seated on a rickshaw munching on bread burnt in lamp fire.
Dealt with an absurdist twist, social concerns in Ali Asgar's performance take a challenging route. To address the most pressing social-political malaise – violence, he offered the spectators drinking water which he accumulated while cleansing his body. Jahid Hossain's, response to violence took a very personal turn – he struggled throughout his long-drawn-out performance to put around his hands bandages while scalpels and scissors were simultaneously being attached to the fingers.
If a handful of participating artists were in sync with their thematics, many attempted to produce spectacular performances, a trait which has now become a South Asian obsession. Jewel A Rob, a young enthusiast, somehow manages to pull off a visually interesting performance with poise. He stands statue-like in front of a canvas while two of his co-performers, with their hands passed through holes from behind the canvas smeared mud in his bust mockingly recalling the process of sculpting. With performances like these, one is easily deceived, as photographic reproductions seem more enticing when posted on Facebook.
Ashim Halder Sagor too is given to a similar strain of praxis. Yet unlike most of his contemporaries he explores the place and position of the being in nature and how the anthropocentric ideologies and polity are wreaking havoc with what we often refer to as nature.
In the end, however, what needs to be reckoned with is that performance as a form is quickly becoming mainstream fodder. A measure of alertness, thus, is necessary to ensure that artists do not produce an echo of what has already transpired in the global mainstream.
- DEPART DESK