Viewing without prejudice
‘Only Connect’ as a site of multivocality
Every exhibition, if staged with an intention to spark thoughts around issues of aesthetic or social import, by virtue of its very construction, becomes a thinking space – a place where viewers and the arts collide and connect as do ideas and values, both normative and new, attendant upon art and society. The first edition of Only Connect, conceived by Bengal Foundation to promote new, less-exposed talents, had brought together six young artists working in six different languages while exploring four different disciplines.
At Bengal Foundation's newest arts venue, the Daily Star-Bengal Arts Precinct, Only Connect was neatly rolled out as a communiqué, unequivocal in ambition, to simply touch on the edges of the art scene, as was the intention of its progenitor Sadia Rahman.
The idea behind such a motley presentation may not have been to effectuate an exercise in comparison, though this is what exactly comes to mind after an excursion into the built space of the new gallery. Works of varied inclinations is never taxing for the viewers of Dhaka who are accustomed to salon-like presentations at major built spaces including the oversized Asian Art Biennale. In the context of a heretofore unchallenged truism that some curatorial efforts are fitted out in a fashion which tacitly prioritize homogeneity, any good heterogeneous mix seems like a coveted windfall, especially when there is good art to be found within the very promontory of a group exhibition.
Looking at the works one gets to wake up to many a tendency that is vying for attention of the gallery goers: academic realism employed to comment on human condition; photographic poeticity's chance encounter with a river; and construction of forms in three dimensions to advance on the visual and hepatic qualities inaugurated by modernity. All these seem to coalesce in one spatial-temporal register.
The artists are self-aware, if not given to hubris; so it seemed on the day they were given the opportunity to present themselves and their works in a session where the audience got to hear the artists talking about their projects and answer questions pertaining to their languages. While their speeches were not tainted with artspeak of our times, the works self-consciously advance on the norms and tendencies they have co-opted and made into their own with an eye to eliciting positive responses.
Arfun Ahmed, for his photographic prints developed on and around the river Irrawaddy; Emran Sohel, for paintings on Dhaka's urban space constrained by clamouring of buildings: Manik Bonik, for his passionate response to the trees; and Pervaj Hasan, for his ambitious figure compositions, S M Asaduzzaman, for his installation with origami, Syed Tareq Rahman, for his sculpture where idea conjoins objecthood, are artists who are aspirational, and are ready to traverse many a dimension of their respective language – nuances that one may sense lying now latent in their works. The curatorial frame too is apparently aspirational as a vision into the future (of art and artists) seems to mobilize this series, which they plan to stage in sequence.
To make sense of both the presentation and the individual language of each artist on display, one must be aware of Dhaka's changing art praxes.
The nature of Dhaka art scene is such that the drift towards the future cannot be easily outlined. Academic realism's dominance keeps resurfacing through languages which neither draw on traditional use of such language nor address new human conditions. In relation to such re-emergence of colonial teaching, the generic categorization such as figurative and nonfigurative still muddies the water in this part of the world – where new art, though few and far between, has already made such dichotomies redundant.
In the learning climates of the institutes – be that old, as such following traditional curricula, or new, where some form of experimentation is allowed, as in Pathshala of Drik affiliation, homogeneity thrives.
To look at the other side of the coin, artists who resist by resorting to a few available means and methods to talk back to the dominant language often risk being perpetually trapped in the problems of dichotomy.
Scouting for new talents thus becomes a challenge. But this is exactly what Bengal Foundation is eyeing now: staging new artists tops their agenda at present. Accordingly, like any other organization looking to scan the horizon of today's art scene, they too want to trace skeins of potential art forms and formulations yet to follow. Perhaps, in such a scheme the relevance of any artist emerging out of the current vortex is to be measured with a blind faith in all the genres practised with certain individual or social passion attached to it. This has sufficed as the underlying principle of the first phase of Only Connect.
The exhibition was presented at Daily Star-Bengal Arts Precinct, September 14-30, 2015.
Photo Courtesy : THE DAILY STAR - BENGAL ARTS PRECINCT
— DEPART DESK