Faced with the bold, the young and the restless
Art is anaesthetized, or simply put, loses its 'zing' the moment it enters the cloister of a gallery and gets worse if it is caught in the mousetrap of misinformed analysis (in some anomalous cases, the work can be overshadowed by the critic's eloquence or rather their fixation with trending theories). But one can always rely on art's inherent power to withstand both tailored or ill-fitted 'exegesis' or the value-laden art circuit that oversees its presentation. Art is unwieldy and rakish, terrible and terrifying; it holds its own jealously and resists conformity. Art bulldozes through all telos of preconception to coax out, as we often say, a new way of seeing, well, at differing degrees, that is! But, have we not scratched our heads enough over what makes it art, or to fix on art a generic identity/timeline, post this post that? The question is, who is to adjudicate? Or shall we just leave it to 'viewer's discretion'? Hand them a mish-mash, and they will decide what to make of it!
Aminul Islam Young Artist Award 2015 was founded on the ethos of chasing the signs/signals of new eruptions in the scene of art practice in Bangladesh. It is an undertaking by Bengal Foundation to promote young artists in honour of Aminul Islam's life-long endeavor to bring talented artists to light. A board of jury comprising celebrated artists scrutinized the entries. The jury were 'looking for a frank exchange of local knowledge and international practice, artists who were not defined by their mediums, a sensitive approach, analytic perception and effortlessness' – claimed the catalogue. Not that the criteria are transparent, which does not come as a surprise given that by virtue the process of 'selection' is complicated. From 23 July to 6 August, 2016 a number of works by shortlisted artists were exhibitedat Gyantapas Abdur Razzak Bidyapeeth in Dhanmondi.
Ranging across mediums – photographs, sculptures, video works, performance (recorded), installations and the like – it was a veritable compendium verging on the ongoing trend of multidisciplinarity. Inviting an audience (increasingly receptive) to taste a cuisine of art made up of essentials, inevitable staples, this exhibition deserves mention. If not for the discovery of the new in art, but for the gallery space that offered itself up for artistic vandalism (of a pleasant or constructive nature), in a way that foregrounded art over the space that accommodates it. This space is neither neutral nor neutered, but a space that is inscribed with the embodied experience of the spectator, who engages with the art on display within a somewhat social/cultural field of an informal exchange of 'signs', wherein the so called object dissolves into a 'symbolic' order of imagery to be made sense of, to be read.
The unstained sanctity of the walls was made amenable to a spillage of art's overriding ambition. Walls surrogated for the canvas became a screen, off which bounced familiar signs, decontextualized, dematerialized into an abstract narrative. In this, Rupom Roy's 'sonic' sculptures, concrete and cohesive as they seemed, formed a visually lent voice with the help of graphics on an adjacent wall resembling readings of sound frequency. This appendage, direct and counterintuitive in its approach, seemed to detract one's attention from the sculptural pieces whose very materiality echoed the oral, aural, and tactile. Atmospheric, sensorial, fluid, intent on extending into space without having to be acted upon – such was the presence of these works. Resonating through the rhythmic, almost pulsating folds of each piece, they seemed poised to summon what cannot be heard but looms within its 'space' as an insinuation. The pieces looked sophisticated albeit their lack of finesse, rough-hewn, and all the more provocative as such. Roy has appeared in biennales: one such was in a curatorial project by David Bauman at Dhaka Art Summit. His works were marked with open-endedness, not an end in itself but a means to an end inspiring a need for 'contemplation', an act that is often derided for turning works of art into sterile objects. But contemplation denotes a space within Space, time within Time, where and when one consciously engages with a specific phenomenon with mindfulness. The need for it cannot be so easily written off.
The 'stunt' (thoroughly positive) of breaking down conventional notions of art, of taking viewers for a ride crossing the boundaries of recognition and familiarity into the nebulous zone of technically/rhetorically indeterminate (re)presentation, furnished the premise of Razib Dattta's text/image 'meta-topia'. Springing out of an absurdist (il)logic, he built an 'other' topos that appeared more like a screen running scenes (lightly touching on the verves of a stop motion film) that reflects a dislocated/ re-oriented imaginary, upended reality, chronicling fragments or leaves from Ramiz's textual life in a carnivalesque desecration of 'history'. In an irreverent usurpation of the hegemony of the white cube, the fluidity and the immediacy of the oral narrative was given a scopic spatiality through leaflet-like handwritten texts with cartoonish illustrations that spilled out in the form of drawings into a fragmentary panorama across the wall and a glass pane. It goes without saying that this telltale sign of curatorial indulgence of an artistic prank bore results in the form of an award for young Razib Datta, following in the footsteps of predecessors who also played with the same trick (employing different modality). And from the look of things (Facebook postings of young artists), the tradition is likely to be emboldened with a passionate following from like-minded foot-soldiers.
Can one ever be purged of Rafiqul Shuvo's form-defying, norm-breaking audio-visuals that wilfully instruct audience on what art is? But who can deny the deftness of his videography, of the slanted interpretation of his version of 'every day'? It is from the crevices of the unexpected schisms, the stalled moments, the jittery movements of the camera, the snippets of stories of man's interior and exterior and how they mirror each other, the edgy garbling of the voice-over, that something unnamable but unique to art lurches forward to grab the audience, whose responses are obviously mixed but not amiss. There was a two-channel video installation with a sharp contrast in treatment and content highlighted by the contrast between, on the one hand a nostalgic revisit of a dreamy, utopian past projected through soft, quiet scenes of a slow pastoral life and on the other, a series of essentially jagged, disjunctive, yet grounded scenes of life in semi-urban centres brought into focus with sharp chiaroscuro, exuding a sense of uncertainty and anxiety, un-allayed by the visually suggested acceleration of time. Zihan Karim's combine of video and installation, in comparison, was much more toned down. A monitor ran uninterrupted static signals captured in print on the pages of a voluminous ledger, one mock-referencing the other in a gesture of a monumental failure of dialogue (with a tad bit of political inflection?), apparent from its ceaseless repetition and marked absence of any frame of reference, locking it forever in inconsequential self-referentiality. Palash Bhattacharjee's skyline depicted the passage of time, which ironically mimes an impasse, with light dimming away and clouds gathering to motion to us a thwarted hope for another day. Standing at the twilight of one's disbelief at life's meaninglessness, an individual confronts his reality and mortality that is daily raided by acts of violence. This video's backstory takes us back to a murder at Aziz supermarket, Shahbag; the grievous, shameful moment is commemorated in this 'numbed' video.
Reetu Sattar and Salma Abedin Prithi were, perhaps, lumped together in consideration of an assumed common message. Which worked out well, because Sattar's barbed wire cage, representative of suppression of the human spirit under a variety of mores, found a soundboard in Salma Abedin Prithi's video of a 'fake' bird suspended in the predictability of a controlled flight. Instead of relying on a single metonymy, Prithi offered an array of sketches and photographs in a display box. The paradox of gaze as agency that continues to challenge even when blinded or veiled, was brought to the fore through images of eyes. It was also layered with images of plucked chickens, women caught in abject postures -- all derived from a well known register of objectification of women, but it was the effective (also affective) composite of the video along with the collation of disparate materials with a rather poetic thread tying them together that elevated this installation from the plateau of a brooding feminist narrative.
Correlation between works of art and spatiality, animated with eyes viewing and minds perceiving, proposes forces at work that operate through interconnectivity of 'things', through transversals across material/ non-material schemes, through presence /absence. But none of these traffic is innocent of the cultural signification the viewers bring to these works to make them come alive with a human value, in spite of the rigorous conceptual schemes (with a Cartesian accent) of contemporary exhibiting principles. Standing before Datta's work, one unsuspecting viewer remarked: “Is this art?” Well, this very statement marks a point of departure. Questions are being raised, and the audience would not sit back and listen, and it would be an oversight on the artist's part to turn a deaf ear to these utterances. In this changing world nothing endures, and art is also part of this matrix, appearing anew at every turn, by changing strategies to generate new openings/ circuits to re-engage, re-negotiate and confront with life in all its associations.
The exhibition featuring shortlisted nominees of ‘Aminul Islam Young Artist Award 2015’ ran its course from July 23 to August 6, 2016 at Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Bidyapeeth.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF BENGAL VISUAL ARTS PROGRAMME