Unfolding Amara's tale
Amarar Akhyan, Dilara Begum Jolly's recent exhibition, translates into the tale of the 'placenta' (or the 'undead'), presents a body of work cutting across a plurality of mediums to bring into view a discursive visual field replete with traces of the 'spectrally embodied', cast in minimalism of contrasting black and white to expose the binarized domains that falsely hierarchize and often erase from view elements/values that are concommitantly constitutive of what we know as 'human'.
In this particularly striated exhibit, the title draws on the 'spirit' of an installation that presents the female body as the locus of contention, appropriated as it appears, as a site to bear the 'signs' of power and domination. Dehumanized and relegated to a state of passivity that denies a woman the agency to claim her body as a vehicle of 'will' or desire of its own, is however compensatorily glorified in the statute of motherhood. Marking a departure at this point, a narrative of 'spectrality' is put forth in Amara to negotiate the dominant discourse that turns the presence of the female body into the non-presence of that of an apparition, that of the 'other', a ghostly apparatus to perpetuate its schema (chimera) of power. Hence, the idea of a ghost or a spectre is capitalized to re-assign beingness to non-being, to instill presence within absence, to dislodge real from the unreal, to instigate a leap of faith that erodes the distance between subject and object. Thus, spectrality becomes a mobilizing force that directs the course of perception beyond the familiar paradigm towards a new way of seeing and knowing, re-terrestrializing a 'woman' within lived and living realm of experiential/situational existence.
Avoiding the free associations spawning from the ruling liberal market economy that strait-laces the female body into a fetishized object, Amara, signifying the womb, radicalizes the notion of its association with procreation by imbuing it with a creative power that does more than beget a new life, it becomes a force central to securing oneself the mastery of life (enabling ownership and a will to change), rendering one coeval with the power to decide, to act and to fulfill one's 'will'. The dark chamber that houses the 'womb' sculptures, lit from within and nestled mid-air also resonates with sounds of a moaning woman in labour breaking into the continuous mechanical incantation of a male voice-over.
A retro-futuristic installation resembling a sacral zone for meditational rites ushers the viewer into the dark inner sanctum leading them through layers of flimsy nets, bringing to mind Irigaray's… a lip touching the other and many more within, a symbolic crossing over margins of many a narration, beyond any single frame of reference; then, s/he is also 'spoken to' by voices, as if from the dialectical interstice of recognition, wherein both the subject/viewer and visual object dialogically acknowledge each other's stories.
In the newly built space of Daily Star Bengal Precinct –Jolly's spectral visions unfold in three stages – first in a dimly-lit chamber producing a sobering effect on the onlookers; then with a series of photographs that attains a unique threedimentionality (by inviting one to touch), as the pieces align the evidentiary element with that of the performative; lastly with the performance video where the female body emerges out of the mist of historical amnesia. Breaking free from this tripartite coalition of three different types of installations addresed to trauma and remebrence is her re-presentation of a readymade identity construct in an installation entitled meye-chhele. One comes across an engorged metal-cast stamp that reads meye-chhele (a common denominator to relegate the feminine to a deprecatory position) nestled amidst a cluttered jungle of battered kitchen utensils, which turns out to be a recognizable visual trope emphatically calibrating 'womanhood' to mediated conformism.
Jolly archaeologizes the past, creating a time capsule that both locks and releases a narrative of 'memoriam' soaked in the karuna rasa (the essence of sadness and compassion) of our affective relationship and reflections in and of an intimate psychic debt to the liberation war. Jolly niched out an economy of remembrance from within the traditionally inherited 'bathos' of war, characteristically tiptoeing around risqué political/moral judgments, showing little or no patience for aesthetesizing (read anesthetizing) politics. The decrepit structure of Mahamaya Dalim Bhaban is resurrected to launch Jolly's personal engagement with a fragment of the past, of an event well preserved and rooted in communal memory. Jolly admits of no discontinuity between the past and the present. To her, the present is not distinguished by its unique disjuncture from the past, and as she reconstructs traces of the past she endeavours to restore subjectivity, the agency of the sufferers, to retrieve their stories from the limbo of historical narrative so as to invest them with feelings and human experience, a revelatory intervention that rescues the memory of a particular act of violence from being subsumed under the generalized category of war crimes.
Jolly homes in on the 'body,' as a site of resistance, as a site of memory that withstands any attempt at rendering it to oblivion. She raises a spectral world (in a specular mode) inhabited by veiled entities who appear/float before our vision, as lives/people who ceased to exist, yet whose absence resonates a presence throbbing from behind the white shrouds in an obtrusive act of redemption, in an attempt to reclaim the present, the temporal now.
Although the sum total of lost lives, in scale and scope, is tantamount to a national tragedy, commemorated in a manner of annual tradition/recurrence, it is Jolly's retrospective articulation, moderate and free of all gimmicks, that premises her tactic of storytelling on profound human interest lending it its peculiar significance and import. Sifting through the mires of history, Dilara alighted on Mahamaya Dalim Bhaban located in the Andarkilla neighbourhood in Chittagong, which was turned into a site, which she calls a factory, of torture and killings perpetrated by Al-Badars, a local outfit operating in collusion with the occupying army, who in form and function were anything but self-serving fratricidal conspirators. Dilara claims: in a play of poetic irony, it is the soul of the killer which is destined a demise unlike the phoenix soul of the killed which rises up in the swirl of cosmic time to '…tell their tales. Continues to raise questions.'
Another chamber lit with a milky-white glow emanating from a video takes one to the actual site of the Dalim Bhaban, a torture chamber during the liberation war of Bangladesh. As part of a leitmotif of 'invisibility' (that which resides at the very fringe of what is seen and known, and counterintuitively informs our perception of a reinvented 'subject'), a ghost appears, this time its invisibility animated/materialized through the occupancy of the body of the artist covered in diaphanous fabric, there are also two more to follow; in a representational mode the figures impersonate the heroic victims of torture.
Dilara Begum Jolly employs a strategy of visuality that merges the visible with the purportedly invisible, a ghostly revisitation of the dead, whose temporal (past) sojourn to Dalim Bhaban is reminisced through the re-creation of a spatial typology by way of creative intervention/reappropriation of the building, if only to stage an artifice of instantiation of the souls' 'haunting' the place where they lost their lives; Jolly goes to show how what 'is' is always impregnated with what has gone by, as the present is concatenated with the past, seen with unseen. Through the passage of the uninterrupted flow of time, bodies dead fuse with bodies alive, dislocated from their violent past to be reinstated in a humanist/commiserating recollection.
A two channel video is projected respectively across a wall; the other in a slight change of plan instead of scrolling over the floor is seen mounted/focused at the corner of a separate wall almost touching the ground. This one shows a writhing body squirming and thrusting under a white covering, a pupa struggling to set itself free from the chrysalis, however its efforts perennially thwarted/arrested, as it remains forever a stimulus for remembrance, stuff of memory, embodied without (ontological) flesh. The same figures observe the world outside with veiled hypnotic gaze hovering by the grilled windows, who are also seen ( in the video) floating past across the building's exterior, like wily mermaids whispering out to lost sailors at sea, they become both guides and detractors to a people who flurry past deafened by the din of life, mirroring the 'unacknowledged' they harbour within, where they buried the memory of the 'other' whose potential resurrection by means of 'performative' participation into an 'emergence', however, holds the promise of refurbishing the essence of 'being', ceaselessly evolving,as it embraces multiple selves, being I and the other all at the same time.
Though her very early works boast a distinct propensity for colour as part of a semantic register where colours lent meaning to the art product, her latest ensemble trailing through a lineage of exhibits that gradually became increasingly reductive in colour, at the end of the line, turned conspicuously minimalist in palette of black and white. This ubiquitous/omnipotent contrast was brought into view to stage a creative redux of the ethos and pathologies of a time when humanity atrophied into an atavistic impulse of relentless animosity that left its marks on the bodies of the freedom fighters, and the subsequent trauma transferred unto a nation's psyche manifest in a longing for righting/writing the wrong. Which found expression in Dilara Begum Jolly's Amarar Akhyan, like a grieving mother she gently dusts off memories' cobwebs with tender affection to reveal the interior of Dalim Bhaban in a set of black and white photographs that showcase lyrical stills of the inside of Dalim Bhaban caught at somewhat oblique yet suggestive angles. Here the ghostly 'presence' of what is not seen, the absence of human occupants, lends the images an aura of 'haunting/longing', by which the 'stills' from inside the building become redolent with voices breaking their silence, and also breaking down all spatio-temporal distance between entities, between humans and objects alike. The snapshots depict doorways, staircase, and some such 'circulatory' spaces evocative of movement, starkly defiant of notions of stasis. Layered or rather lathered with a cornucopia of piercing, the photographs take on a palpable texture, allowing them almost to breathe an ethereal life of their own. Alternating between densely clustered and sparingly decorative the pinpoint holes add an organic/generative dimension to the otherwise representative visuals.
The perforations on the photographs appear like conduits threatening to let out a seepage of an innate, potent 'energy', which in connection with the photographs' role as memorabilia of war, might be characterized as the inner strength that fuelled a people's imagination, will to self-determination. The uneasy tension between the pictures and their 'ritualized' tattooed bodies (figuratively speaking as these have been qualitatively enhanced relative to extra-representative efforts) open up differentiated plateaus of cross-reference to engage the 'gaze' into negotiating meanings, to be precise, an endless traffic of meanings at that, an 'encounter' that can only portend meaningful and relevant trans-cendence/formation. Resisting all closure and stagnation these self-reflexive encounters engender an unexpected freshness into one's perspective on the transformative power of human spirit and that of art. Art instead of being a product of a social time turns into a timeless tool for 'perceptual' change/recuperation, when it irrupts into a domain and consequently morphs it into a non-space, a metaphorical/physical site of deconstructed representation that supersedes categories of private and public, in a structure aka Dalim Bhaban, that has been historically (or in its historical linearity) passed down from the powerful to the marginalized. Jolly's restorative art intervention evacuated the space of all socio-political connotatives to raise it into a mausoleum for the celebration of life, one doubts if viewers would disagree! Jolly's 'wounding' architectonics seem able to wield the power of a lexicon peculiarly her own, employed quite cannily to disrupt the acts and voices of (past) authority, provoking reclamation of one's position as an actor/planner in the spaces of life's actions.
‘Amarar Akhyan’ (Microtears) ran its course from 12th December 2015 to 9th January 2016 at Daily Star-Bengal Arts Precinct.