Of trend and culture-specificity
We live in an exceedingly self-conscious age; yet there are 'unknowing demonstrations' of social relations in many an aspect of today's cultural productions and the narratives that give them their legitimacy. Like any production in a given era, art and art writing too, by and large, bring to the surface some obvious traces of the economic design of the time. At present, finance speaks through fine art in an ever greater scope and possibilities, albeit in a roundabout manner.
Though geography and culture-specific indexes, or situated knowledge, continue to direct and redirect the visual and textual tendencies, and also constantly redefine the relationship between these two interrelated trajectories, the World Order exerts even a mightier pull through some obvious mechanisms that hook up the artistic domain to the global market, thereby instigating a thrust towards finacialization. And as a consequence, a new kind of 'internationalism' has emerged under the umbrella of a concept which is 'globalization'.
In the flux and fugitiveness that rule over the political, financial and cultural arenas, art is more and more being defined either as a process of intellectual muscle-flexing, or a way for one to successfully keep at bay what may be termed as 'historical consciousness' by cultivating either a 'universal' mode of expression, meaning – along the grain of the dominant trends, or bringing into view art which is grounded in the insular and anodyne perception of history, culture and politics.
In fact, the exclusion of the 'material facts' from most cultural discourses has set the tone of our time; it is particularly true for Bangladesh, a country in the throe of a level of consumerism and credit flow which is only the most precarious. However, most artists choose to live in the ionosphere as if to remain aloof of the goings on of the day. And these as well as other virtual existential matrixes neatly dovetail with the fragmentary exegesis of our time, through which knowledge itself has been reduced to a product to be purchased, among other necessities, at a one-stop mall.
Historical reckoning' has no place where emergency logic rules. As for knowledge being a way for one to transcend the sensory domain in favour of the cosmic understating of the world, the idea itself seems passé to most. In the final equation, all human endeavors now seem inseparably connected to an emergency physical drive for Acceleration of Time.
Today's mass culture and/or money culture is Chronophobic: there is an urgent need to sever the link with time. Accordingly, every artistic production is seen as having a self-contained entity – separated from its physical situation. We have become accustomed to view technology and the present-day reality as the ultimate reflection of human excellence, defying both historical time and social memory.
This has brought a flurry of new trends at the threshold of the aesthetic arena. Whatever the categories employed to define the new brand of artistic practices throughout the region, most are reflective of this 'accelerated, anticipatory, and repetitive' age, as is described by Pamella M Lee, though it doesn't matter to what extend they may de-emphasize our time as 'troubled and undecidable,' to borrow a phrase from Lee once again, who, in her book 'Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s', outlines how artists and critics lost their temporal bearings during the period when technology and thoughts seemed to have conjugated to blur the sense of chronology in the Western Hemisphere.
Aren't we witnessing a second phase of that era today, and that too on a global scale?
Reading art from within the nationalistic frame of reference does not restitute one from this global 'chronophobia' as we can clearly see that, with even ever greater propensity art is being defined primarily in relation to the current Western trends and episteme.
As for the technological advancement made in the fields of representation, or the technographic and technology-bound art that are categorically redrawing the cultural map, thereby defusing the boundaries between fields and disciplines, though some are surely born out of serious conviction, most are a way for a host of second-raters to ride the wave of success initiated by genuine artists.
The subcontinent and its closest neighbours too are being swept away by practices that interiorize the idioms born out of the bond between technology and trends. And from the other end of the spectrum, the voices that decry such 'advanced mode' of practices displaying a strong allegiance to tradition, that reactive response too has little to show for itself as tradition can simply be recognized as human 'construction'. Apinan Poshynanahda, in a preface to a catalogue for contemporary art in Asia, 1995, writes: 'Frequently, traditions are imagined or constructed by cultural institutions or other promulgators in order to indicate certain values and norms of behaviour by repletion.' He goes on to clarify that the invention of tradition, characterized by references to an often indeterminate past, involves 'formalization and ritualization that seek to evoke nostalgia'. As Bangalees we have created an industry out of nostalgia related to a relatively recent past – evident in the urban rituals centered on icons such as Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore, the two most celebrated poets.
So, the dichotomy of the contemporary (put forth by the centre) against the outdated (related to the hinterland) itself has to be set aside to look at things as they are. The modernist gaze that seeks to supersede the past and the eye that searches out only the references to tradition both have led us to ends that has failed us in our efforts to understand things in their true colours and contours.
Perhaps it is the fragments from where we should begin once again, as Clair Colebrook points out while contexualizing Gilles Deleuze's philosophy: through affect art restores time's disruptive power. We no longer see life as some unified whole that goes through time; we see divergent becomings, movements or temporalities from which the whole would be derived.
We pledge to keep on trying to restore the 'whole' with whatever little discoursing we have been able to unleash from the micro-realm that is Depart. And to the benefit of the topographic difference of the current issue, we are happy to showcase a number of writers from across the borders – writers who have already occupied a niche in their respective national imagination. Articles by the likes of Romain Maitra and Paula Sen Gupta from Kolkata, India, and Quddus Mirza from Lahore, Pakistan, only reinforce the fact that with each issue we are gradually inching towards meeting our target – which is to make Depart a vehicle for the entire South Asia region.
Each new writer apparently ensures a fresh glimpse into the geography of human creativity; the cultural archipelago that is every creative individual is apparently a transmitter of social memory and also who forms the unitary force that continues to build on the past achievements on behalf of the entire society.
In the end we would like to inform our readers that due to some personal engagements in the sphere of cultural activism, Abul Mansur will discontinue as senior member of the Editorial Board.