Recourse to the reproducible : The Dhaka Print Club Show
The question of authenticity has followed the history of the print media like its shadowy other. With reproducibility, its primary function and often purpose, 'multiples' in their capacity to often outweigh the concept of the original, as Baudrillard in no uncertain terms canonized, lay bare the chasm that haunted art history between high and lowbrow. Cuing on the play of words, scholars were even prompted to equalize its propensities as a 'nobrow'. Michael Rothenstein recuperated its relevance/significance as a medium of reproduction by allegorically associating it with the essence of an embrace, wherein one body is pressed against the other. Clearly, instead of sexualizing a medium of art production that is widely vaunted for its commercial potency, it goes to show the relevance of mediation or rather remediation, an essential process of all creation, or the mode of alchemy (or a given technology) that operates between actor and the thing acted on to bring a resultant third into being. It is a self reflexive process that incrementally repeats itself without, arguably losing the imprint of the originary act. On the other side of the spectrum, every offshoot is also unique by virtue of the variations and alterations that are an inherent quality of the process. It is the very instability of every 'incarnation' that enriches the print with ever new possibilities – by infusing it with expressionist impulses – lending it a creative force that enables inter-medium transmission; one can be tempted to cheekily call print making the authentic 'new media'( not to mention, the example of digital prints that have proliferated over the current millennium).
The array on view at The Dhaka Print Club Show was an outcome of a conscious collection. With an eye to employing techniques that result in amassing multiple and successive technical application in a single piece of work, was a motivated ploy to channel the focus from the surface to the process, which makes the very essence and substance of print making. Once the artist applies himself to a particular method, the distinctive properties and requirements of the process become the formative guiding tool, which not only demands meticulous attention to techniques, but also engaged manual labour. In procedural details which also employ schematic planning, prints share similar processual orientation to that of craft based production, hence it is relegated oftentimes to a lesser station in the hierarchy of fine arts. However, this very 'process' at the same time vindicates the medium's inherent flexibility, porosity, a characteristic much valued in an age of interdisciplinary practices.
The show plated up an assortment of traditional techniques, occasionally extended to conceptually ambitious ends, if not pushed to glamorous visual heights/flourishes. It was designed with the mission to instruct on the versatility of the medium with its ability to encompass diversity. The works are by large muted in palette, with only a limited number in multiple colour registers. What comes to the fore is the play in tonal delicacy, textural subtlety as an overriding principle, which at times is invigourated with expressions of explicit cultural consciousness as displayed by some of the works; on the whole, suggestively pointing to exploratory creative engagement.
A bulbous sack perhaps the symbol of human existence, straining against the heaviness of 'living' yet spurred on by an innate force to break free, is seen levitating in a poignant, atmospheric sepia monochrome, perhaps indicating a precarious journey. This print seems to set the stage for presenting this collective oeuvre that bears signs of a tendency to push boundaries which in no small measure pronounces a neophyte's triumph, if accomplished.
In Rashida Akhtar's series, a recurrent face is cast in portraitures of what might apparently appear as stereotypical gender representation as the images in question run the entire gamut of a mad woman, a society beauty edified by art 'nouveau' stylization to a collaged depiction of the same as a commodified object. However, as one comes to stand before Furious Moment 1- the inscrutable visage, eyes staring askew, fingers gnarled and tattooed with hieroglyphics of obscure symbolism- all of lending the print an aura of illegibility-affirms at once the volatility of the manifestation of the feminine. In stark contrast stands Fair and Lovely by Juton Chandra Roy which unmasks ( with churlish vengeance) the process of myth-making. The artist takes a dig at marketeering strategies that rely intrinsically on creating an alluring but infallible myth to fire public imagination with a desire to acquire. This work represents the package of a popular product that feeds on the beauty myth. The central figure appears to be a composite of metonymic tropes. The artist irreverently juxtaposes the popular with the classical, Lakshmi infuses with Kali, the goddesses of prosperity and redemption respectively, and share the unadorned space with lexical signs/overtures associated with the market. A linear yet playful formulation, it defuses/challenges 'male gaze' by attributing it with man's pathological need for consumption.
Artists turned to Eastern mystical traditions to appropriate the iconography peculiar to their spiritual teachings. Mukadesur's search for creative expressions for his spiritual mooring led him to delve without reserve or feint into the Sufi lineage of Islam to excavate pre-eminent tropes to etch a non-secular exegetical representation of his faith. He pays homage to its constitutive elements, through his renditions of the holy names of the prophets, iconic diagrams, a bowed formidable figure of a robed supplicant, all seen repeatedly to intersperse each other on the visually (as well as technically) complex prints as signifiers of a faith Mukadesur unreservedly pledges himself to. His ecstatic devotion is writ large in crimson, the colour of passion, in Hazrat Nuh(A)'s Kisti in the manner of a personalized liturgical study, that belies the usual interpretative/hermeneutic obfuscation by its transparent simplicity. Farzana Haque, on the other hand, prevails upon the semiosis of Tantric/Buddhist tradition to carve out her very own gestural 'morality tableaux' in woodcut. A female figure is seated sedately in a lotus position inside the central mandala, her body is forged with graphically fascinating, intertwining geometry of chakras, a single lotus symbolizing an enlightened soul inside an upturned palm, yet paradoxically, this figure is flanked by predatory tigers whose form claims stakes to local folk tradition. Painstaking attention to details is what – besides its pastiche/parodic content – makes her work stand out.
Mahbubur Rahman's lithographs are fraught with what one might call an omnipotent, ambient noir. Faces are disfigured, bodies caught in a timeless morass of darkening gloom, prophesying an ever-present bleakness that surrounds our human existence. By contrast, Palash Baran Biswas in his Reader injects a luminous yet elusive beauty inside the apparent darkness of the four walls that nestle the genteel lady with a book, seated by the boarded window frame that glows quietly with the warmth of red as if the sun is furtively breaking in. This particular work in woodcut speaks for the accuracy with which this relief technique has been exploited to a sumptuous extent.
Dhaka Print Club is the brainchild of Rokeya Sultana, a faculty in the Department of Printmaking, Institute of Fine Arts. Her words from the catalogue of the show, '… there is almost a mechanical element in how we express ourselves but always keeping humanity at the core,' aptly delineates her celebrated series Fata Morgana. In her use of unique pressure point she brought the coital embrace between material and machine to bear on prints that do not fail to display a unique constellation that came into being following a process of slow, calculated 'brewing'. Where layers (tones) are created with conscious precision, resulting in a remarkable architectonic of depth, where 'semantic' skeins fold over each other, silently and languidly rising through tonalities of techniques to a high point where the exoteric meets the esoteric. An untiring veteran printmaker, a constant experimenter, for Rokeya to step forward to form a platform for the emergent practitioners to find their own voices in a world that disregards the young and resents the rebel is certainly a commendable and timely move.
‘The Dhaka Print Club Show’ ran from October 25 to November 8, 2014, at Bengal Art Lounge.
PHOTOS COURTESY : MIZANUR RAHMAN KHOKA / BENGAL FOUNDATION