Multiplicity in Santaran's First Karnaphuli Folk Triennale
The conjugation of Folk with Triennale, two words representing two separate realms, has so far seemed impossible. Triennales/biennales are established sites reflective of our modern-day ambition in institution-building, and the 'folk' is perceived as having stemmed from outside the pale of what is 'modern' and/or 'contemporary' with its base firmly rooted in tradition. Though the framework sounds like an impossible hybrid in the making, Santaran, an artist-run collective that has expanded its operation from their Chittagong base to Dhaka, dwelt on the unity of the tropes giving rise to the First Karnafuli Folk Art Triennale, subsequently staged in both cities, during the ninth month of 2015.
The event ran its course in two phases: Part-1 lasted between 3rd and 8th September in Chittagong, while Part-2 used Dhaka's Shilpakala Academy premises as its venue between 11th and 17th September. A combination of exhibition, seminar and talks gave salience to the trajectories of art from the South Asian region that still continue in one form or another. Often deemed culturally important these are traditional genres that are much talked about in the creative circuits but mostly kept at an arm's length since the polite society seems disinclined to venture beyond the Rhetoric. With their declared motive of reconfiguring our vision by prioritizing the 'folk' and the 'popular', Monjur Ahmed, with his Santaran team, makes an attempt to place under a curatorial lens a miscellany of art in a consortium of displays including traditional alpana (in reproductions) and rickshaw decoration of Chittagong, Thanka and Pouva paintings of Nepal, Madhubani art and Medinipur pat from India. The Triennale leveraged the network that Santaran has built over the years through cross-border collaborations tapping an already known reservoir of art of which little has been showcased prior to this event. With the intention of eliciting response from artists and art lovers alike this effort seems to invite a second thought about traditional trajectories – especially those that are connected to beliefs and rituals.
It was an unprecedented feat in many respects. Works of art crossing borders usually involve logistics which overshadows all such ambitions of crossborder exchanges since officially Bangladesh has no set policy to go by. Involvement of co-curator Samundar Mansing Sharestha, a Nepalese Mithila artist who also runs the Mithilian Art Gallery, ensured Santaran's smooth navigation through the phases of planning and execution of the final event. The tie-ins with organizations that are already engaged in promoting traditional art in India and Nepal were also of crucial import. The Karmarong Art Institute in Nepal run by Thanka painter Dorjee Gurung Lama, who also gave a workshop during the Triannale, assisted in sourcing artworks; while another organization in Bihar, India, of which Madhubani artist Babita Shah is the proprietor, helped organize the Madhubani painting section.
Sathi Chakraborty merits special mention for her traditional alpana, as she spins mythologies in patterns as part of household brotos or rituals – a tradition that goes back a thousand years. An artist from Chittagong, Bangladesh, hers is a practice that is communal and is borne out of a strong craving for a communion with nature that all brotos take up as their central theme. Integral to the Hindu religious ritual of the locality, her works on clay surfaces of the mud-houses and their surrounding spaces employ white rice powder as its material which is applied by hand (using impressions of fingertips and palms) with the intention of creating compositions of 'noumenal' implications.
The presence of artworks by artists Ramprakash Sharestha,Lok Chitrakar , Prachanda Chitrakar, Sanjib Shakya and Rojina Sinkhwal, Pasang Hojer Lama, Mithia Devi, Subodh Chandra Das, Saym Sundar Yadav, Mithila Devi, Subodh Chandra Das, Manimala Chitrakar, Anwar Chitrakar and Ganesh Chitrakar who have earned respect for their respective acumen has made this event a memorable one.
If the above artists dwell on the tradition they ardently adhere to, there are a few whose works signal a departure from such traditional representation. Satabdi Shome, Sayam Sundar Yadav and Krishana Tamang are three contemporary artists inspired by the style of traditional art but pursue a personalized methods of execution as do the modern painters.
Experiencing a medley of artworks at the First Karnaphuli Folk Triennale cannot simply be seen as a glimpse into the fields of discipline the organizers wanted to bring into salience. Rather it operated like a site where disciplines collapsed as the delicate details of Pouva paintings overlapped with the bold colours and frills of Ricksha art, the meditative Buddha images set on the mandalas collided with the intricate patterns embellishing the Madhubani pieces. What remains as an aftertaste is enough to raise an awareness about the possibility of all new hybrid forms emerging out of such an orgiastic co-appearance of genres and their unexpected collisions with contemporary reality.
- DEPART DESK