17th Young Artist's Exhibition at a glance
The Hole in the Structure of Praxis
A culture with such a representation of time could have no experience of lived historicity.
–Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History.
The bud wishes to bloom but shrinks back,' – I have no choice but to draw on the lyrics of Rabindranath Tagore to define the artworks presented in this show. The bud emerges but does not blossom into a flower; yet, the reason elude us. We are face to face with what has been put on the platter at present, not what has been achieved in the past, and we are zeroing in on the seventeenth slot of Young Artists' Exhibition, one of the major art events in the country, organized by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
This is the largest gathering of institutional learners. The artworks of the country's budding young artists are believed to have fostered through the continual attempts on the part of the Academy.
Before fixing our analytic gaze on the artworks on display, one should remind oneself that the basis of institutional learning is what goes on at the level of praxis. The structure of academic art practices in relation to the epistemic practices apparently is the harbinger of all creativity, constructing the background against which culture and society thrive. Unfortunately, judging by the entries, one is forced to conclude that the practice that went into shaping the young artists – whose works stand proof of it all – has not been satisfying enough at this point of history.
The artworks showcased in the current exhibition seem to reflect a poor account of the levels of praxis and the paradigm of knowledge that feeds it. For the majority of the artists, the creative method is always as customary as it can get; they never even get close to what can be termed as dynamic. Let me attempt a summary of what has been on offer: there is life but no drama, let alone the dynamics that propels life into developmental motion.
The fault does not lie with the youths and their conventional practice, as even in the institutional education there is no provision for the learners to get a glimpse of the history of Bangladeshi art. History itself has never been excavated in order for the budding artists to come to an understanding of the chronological development. Perhaps, this would have allowed them the space and the position to determine their own posture against the past achievements and norms.
In the province of art criticism too, little has been done which is foundational to the development of new talents. In Bangladesh, criticism is never seen as a way for one to express anything of value as it even avoids expressing opinion frankly. For example, the preface in the catalogue by Kamal Lohani, director of Shilpakala Academy, utterly fails to address the real situation. Lohani writes: 'There is a lack of dynamism in all branches of our culture. Yet the wealth brought forth by the exponents of fine arts affords the society a sense of motion, setting the standard for other disciplines.'
These words may go down well with many an art lover, but it utterly fails to recognize the problems that beset the cultural productions from the much talked about field of fine arts. Such enthusiastic infusion of eulogy into the commentaries written by dignitaries is an indication of our short-sightedness.
A mammoth gathering of young artists' creative productions, where even the amateurs have now joined forces, pushing the total number of participants to 117 this year, the mélange definitely deserves appreciation. In spite of that, one must raise the most important issue: is there any perceptible trend in this huge congregation? To answer this is to look the whole spectrum of institutional practices in the eye.
Modernity itself problematizes our artistic endeavours as it has not evolved from within our society. It was under the gaze of the colonizer that a certain portion of the society, along with its intelligentsia, delved into it and in turn gave rise to all kinds of misperceptions. At this point of history, some are comfortable with the trope 'modern' as the going perception is that it stands for progress, and some are inclined to 'reject' it based on the fact that its incursions into our artistic traditions, if not the social fabric as a whole, has only contributed to the disabling of the natural thrust of our society towards development.
If we care to look at any personality steeped in modernism in this clime, we will see that his/her self, worked through the modernist knowledge base, can neither love the 'other' nor the 'self'. Therefore, every modernist seems to cultivate a persona happiest in isolation. Frankly speaking, a culture or thought or even temper that does not evolve from the core of the society can never represent authentic modernity. Therefore, whatever pitfall lies on our pathways, we may still try to devise a way forward – and critical evaluation is the foundation of that 'will' to stride forward.
After a good look at the entire range of works on display, one is able to pinpoint the main tendency of a large portion of the artists in this exhibition: most of the artists paint and sculpt to excite 'empathy', which only simplifies the primary qualities of art. Through the cultivation of empathy artists place their bets solely on the generalized emotional response of the viewers, shutting off avenues to all the other nuances including the intellectual and spiritual components. Kamaluddin, Rashida Ferdous, Sabid Osman, and Ajmal Uddin exemplify this category of artists who lay their faith on the sympathy of the viewers alone. Though – going by the merit of their work – they are of differing statures, there is a marked similarity among them: the titles they gave to their artworks simply fail to relate to the images they propose.
Conceived as a conceptual play on womanhood, Yasmin Jahan Nupur's photo- and video-based installation also seems to bank too much on empathy. Her title, 'Discovering Myself' also fails to match the ambition of her presentation. And it is beyond comprehension how the Bangla translation of her title has been made to read as 'Aamake Aamar Aabishkar' (I discover myself). However, her unique way of showcassing a set of images carries considerable significance as the work is a successful play on the relationship between nature and woman. It is a work where multiple selves/souls are invoked as it subtly harps on fact that nature is the route to all the other souls.
Anyone would agree that when an individual develops the ability to see oneself as 'other', then the Lord himself appears in another form – in a hitherto unknown character. When the 'I' no longer equals the name of the person, then that 'I' no longer remains the 'I' one is habituated to refer to as 'I'. Artists with a fixed position vis-à-vis the 'I', or ego, fails to invoke the 'other' selves, and in effect only keep on practicing art that is either self-referential or a way for one to fish for sympathy.
Like many other young artists representing the present art scene, Afsana Sharmin displays similar deficiency in devising a suitable title for her artwork, which displays a myriad-headed smallish sculpture of considerable visual verve. The work is called 'Me and the Portraits'. The artwork bears the sign of a mind that is set to travel from visibility to vision, but regrettably, the title fails to capture that spirit.
In one of the lyrics of Raamprasaad we encounter a line: 'Soul, you do not know cultivation.' The word cultivation appears as a metaphor for creativity, and creativity is what gives a new shape to tradition/convention. Obviously, this is a result of the cultivation of the society as a whole. When new traditions are not brought into being, art tends to revolve around the same set principles. By giving primacy to traditional (academic in origin) way of representations, some artists have only sought to entertain the viewers, as is possible by celebrating conventions. This is noticeable in the works of Zahida Akhter, Habiba Akhter, Lucky Osman, Sigma Haq Ongkon, Sayeda Sultana, Najir Hossain, Choudhury Golam Mujtoba, Sanjida Sultana, Moloy Bala, Najma Begum, Shotabdi Shom, Moturam Choudhury and Iti Adijan.
The influence of a number of Indian painters as well as that of the deshi predecessors seems to have stripped many a young soul of the urge to supersede the already established norms. They are all in a celebratory mood, as is the habit of any individual given to conventional way of thinking and acting. For instance, Abu Naser Robii seems beholden to Shishir Bhattacharjee, while Majharul Islam's work has the clear influence of Rokeya Sultana. Fortunately, Robii's personalized way of viewing the world has informed his imagery and helped infuse into it the sense of the non-rational via a rational method of representation.
Among whom there is at least an urge to leave an imprint of their own personalities are Lucky Osman, Sigma Haq, Maturam Choudhury, Golam Muztaba and Moloy Bala.
Consumerism has become an enemy of creativity. On the other hand technology and its logic have a real bearing on all kinds of artistic productions in this new millennium. Tania Islam, Promothesh Das, Tamima Sultana, Soumitra Kumar Biswas, Lutfun Nahar, Hasanuzzaman, Moumita Islam, Sumon Pal, Amzad Akash and Ashim Haldar – all of these artists display the sign of emotional and intellectual deficiency related to our age – which is the age of science, but which has diminished the ability of humans to tap the unconscious, or things of spiritual origin.
Some of them have even failed to connect to the reality of the world they inhabit. Their works simply are not informed by material relations that govern the society they are a part of; and they have no notion of the relationship between the real and the represented worlds. Lack of spiritual and emotional understanding has strongly affected the nature of their art, which fail to travel beyond 'matter'. Since, in every successful art, grace or energy is attained by combining roop, or form, with auroop, or essence, we may say that their materialism is commercialized and crass as it is divested of the search for what is conceptual, or even spiritual.
'Production of art through a learned method' seems to be the underlying ethos of this show; and this certainly multiplies the possibility of falling into a rut. Artists inclined to follow the rut are such that they become oblivious to 'chance' and 'change'. New realities call for a rethinking of the old methods of representation, this exhibition fails to address that important premise. Reproduction is the word that comes to mind in relation to the works that have failed to build on what has already been achieved in the field of fine arts.
Translated by TAMANNA KHAN with DEPART DESK
Photos from Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy archive