The muted/mutated concept of oneness : Rokeya Sultana's revised 1st person expressivity
Brandishing the elemental to inaugurate the natural in human is one way of staving off the dominance of the market-driven, entrepreneurially fired-up milieu of our time where the (money) wise take the lead. Art often is a way to get back at the social grid that seeks to disinvest the individual of the power to stand against its inhuman dynamics, and has Buddha, in this age of the technological/logical creeds and contrivances, anything to add to such form of resistance? The answer is in the affirmative.
However, an obvious question mark overshadows such simplified equations, as we have seen artists resorting to Buddha without having been aware of the resistance corpus that defines and determines the social interventionist role of the Buddhas – a string of (praan or prana) wise men to be precise – who descended on this earth in mortal coils to provide a counter-narrative to the one based on the hierarchy of the Bed (Veda) and Bedanto (Vedanto) to take reactive as well as pro-active positions concerning social prejudice and inequality – the accounts of which we are still able to savour from one of the most influential collection of fables, collectively known as 'Jataka Tales.'
This form of resistance may not have informed the artistic genre which Rokeya Sultana has been trying to shape and reshape to suit her evolving intentions over the last twenty-five years so of her career, but, at present, she has drifted towards a mode of art which – at least in its scope of representation – forms an apotheosis of the Buddha.
In several paintings in the last solo exhibition, her 12th after an interval of four years in her homeland, we have had the chance to stand witness to her allusion to Buddha and the yogic meditation, often with reference to the peace sign, lotus position and some assortment of suggestive body parts and foliage.
Though Rokeya has so far found no reason to trash modernism, nor has she ever displayed any intent of fully avoiding its attendant aesthetic considerations as do the exponents of Postmodernism and of all the other ideologies that come with the prefix 'post', she harbours a pre-modern passion for the celebration of what is 'natural' in humans.
To construct her world she employs several modernist tactile ploys, yet the idiom she brings to fore is a way for her to reclaim the world unpolluted by technology – where all senses coalesce to set off an experience which is all-encompassing. Here is where she acts like a bridge between what is social and what is natural – if the word social stands for the community sans the power structure and the word natural is defined as spontaneous excavation of vitality.
The world she reclaims is the world understood through a unique archeological excavation of the consciousness possible only through an art form that attempts to retain the fluidity of the primordial brain, and Rokeya does this to postulate an identity concerned mostly with womanhood in the context of 'naturalism' – the last remaining passage to reach back to the Eden of the mind.
Though the works in this solo exhibition are teeming with references to Buddhism and ancient yoga, quite interestingly they also harp on what is often dismissed as 'feminine tenderness.' She actually gets her hands around issues related to what is 'feminine' only to move away from the location of the male-centered society, or the imaginary that presides over it – where women never have the chance to escape the 'normative gaze' and its mono-coloured prism.
Rokeya, through the works that recall the archaic 'existential realities', also attempts to literally trace some ominous signs de-centering both liberal and conservative knowledge bases and the associated grid of ratiocination. But a question may arise: has she been able to invest the same emotive force in her newer explorations as she has been doing when she is given to self-indulgence – when she emerges in her pictures as the modern-day Madonna accompanying her child? In this particular show, which she titles 'Mystic Empire', one gets the feeling that as a new area is being excavated the new yield suffers some form shrinkage at the core of vitality.
As a colourist she has always been bold; but now that she makes her entry into the world of meditative self-regeneration from that of the meditative gaze, her gait seems a bit shaky, if she is not fully off track, in some of the images. As she somewhat redefines her imagery to tie her former language to an older lineage, she places her faith more on linearity than on areas defined by colour and the effect of wateriness due to her distinctive application.
The batch of acrylic-on-canvas paintings that was on display could easily be grouped into two genres – one of Rokeya the abstractionist and the other of the slowly emerging new Rokeya – the Buddha-loving exponent of oneness of the universe where all things come down to a single level to create a cosmic whole. It seems that the latter Rokeya still has some distance to travel, though from an artist who began her career as a successful printmaker, in whose water-based acrylic paintings the dimension of the primordial has already seemed to have peaked during the early years of the new millennium, it is only a matter of time for the new language to take a decisive shape as well as direction.
Mystic Empire was presented at Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, February 19 to March 2, 2010.