Subject-object nexus in Mahbubur Rahman's recent works
Between the embodied, corporeal mortality and the disembodied deaths we die on a daily basis in our automated subjective response in complicity with the codes released by the Capital Order rests the ever-expanding 'culture industry' and its legions of intermediaries – media, degenerated secular and religious institutions as well as the webs of virtual and actual communication channels. These are constituencies whose operation, in their extreme forms, often verge on the fetishistic. Dust to Dust, Mahbubur Rahman's recent solo, seems to hover over these hard- to- chart geographies found within the larger map of the 'real', but is inclined to read the condition of the subject, whose bodily existence remains under erasure amidst the glut of consumable materials, or the objects which serve as the subject's worldly predicate.
The relation between the subject with its object(s), thus, becomes Mahbub's area of exploration – where he roams with an eye for what glints, providing an indication of truth beyond the surface as well as what lies on the surface. This multimedia exploring artist touches on some essential bases – the fad, the fetish and the fecundity of the post-industrial commoditized social order – not to probe the ambiguities of power but to home in on the gulf between the conscious subject and the social spaces where the norms appear in their most questionable formats.
As an objector, it is the interstitial zone between the subject and the object from where Mahbubur Rahman freights his narrative to the public domain.
The ritualistic rebirth of the subject amidst an otherwise untouched natural setting is the primal aspect of the human being which the artist once dwelled upon in several cycles of a performance and at present refers to by way of a sculptural piece which memorializes the recurrent act(s). This nature-human bond and its attendant narrative seem like an extension of his above mentioned preoccupation. This he represents through the hybrid body: a performative recalling of a primordial state of being is, thus, lent a new face in Transformation as he enframes the desired subjectivity in a metal cast horned head that wears something close to a medieval chainmail.
If in most parts Mahbub examines the travails and trauma from within the continuum of absence and presence of both mind and body feeding the mechanics of life's continuous drama, his performative extension of his self seems to bring to light his spiritual longing for a continued partaking of the regeneration that occurs in nature.
The most important point of departure for this forty-plus artist who has manned officially and unofficially the artists-run nonprofit Britto for the last ten or so years is the way he resorts to industrial elements (stainless steel objects) to represent the instruments of intrusion and manipulation of both individual and social body. Mahbub's repertoire of objects articulates a narrative which makes one feel the urgency of a life in need of rescue – especially from the current state of morbid existence arising out of the nexus between medical establishment, religious fanaticism and the current form of (mis)governance.
The materialistic bent in building things out of industrial products and elevating those built pieces to the level of fetish objects may be a way for Mahbub to avoid making his themes schmaltzy. Mahbub's oeuvres never smacked of sentimentality, neither does he, in this show, display any urgency to renarrativize the existing reality he chooses to critique. His inscriptions in the form of objects and images with their finesse and deliberately arrived at forms, forwards a double-decked meaning. If on one level he demolishes the widely circulating social myths, on another, he is preoccupied with the idea of presenting his concept each wrapped in a formidable cloak – one that has the capacity to look beyond ambivalence about the pitch, or ambiguity regarding meaning. Nowhere in his script is there a place for the creepy and the cryptic.
The surgeon's scissors with their poignant reference to the submissive body and regimentation of the bodily functions amidst the modern-day urinals and bathroom fixtures; the words which are considered unutterable in a Muslim culture; the education that produces unthinking schlubs; all this is addressed through separate installations.
And they, together, stand testimony to the body and its displacement from the primordial/natural perch. Additionally, with a set of violins that plays without imparting music while a single headphone is committed to bringing to the attentive ears an interview with Manik, one of the volunteers in the unofficial rescue team formed after the Rana Plaza collapse – a disaster that killed the highest number of garment workers a year ago.
If the dominant line of production revolves around the objects that reenact the phenomenon of having deep-rooted social pathologies, the creation of the human subject is playfully addressed in the drawing entitled Absence and Presence.
A bird's eye view of the exhibition clearly suggests that absence and presence of image/object that represents the 'real' take the form of warp and weft in this solo where three new projects share space with two already shown projects – I was Told to Say these Words and Sounds from Nowhere. If the installation that addresses how gendered narratives inform our social-cultural sphere(s), the life-size red cow's head, entitled Portrait from the Market, kitschy as it is, showcases a phenomenon where the market overpowers a people given to an ancient religious rite of sacrifice which simply turns a possible devotee into a poseur entrapped in protocol of his own making in line with the Capital Order.
To get one's head around this exhibition by one of the most prominent installation artists of Bangladesh one must not deviate from the 'show' that is life – one which is now dispatched in technicolour, yet empty codes.
Dust to Dust was presented at Bengal Art Lounge, April 11 to May 2, 2015.
Image courtesy: Bengal Art Lounge