Niamul Bari's way of working through negation
When art veers towards artistry, it does so to please the crowd. But, when it stays clear out of such known and easy-to-reach destination, it goes beyond the location of acceptable taste. By way of negation, it actually enters the realm where the visible or the pictorial is sacrificed, as is alluded to by Lyotard in one of his treatises, to confirm that it inaugurates a new way of seeing.
And this unusual feat shuttles both artist and spectator to a site, or endow them with a vision, that has hitherto been unknown to all. Yet one may easily surmise that the expatriate artist Niamul Bari seems to straddle the line between the two ends of the spectrum – artistry and authenticity. No matter how far apart they are, Bari cultivates a taste for both, as is evident in some of the pictures among the total 50 paintings made out of mostly black viscous material. Dispersed in the three rooms of Dhaka Art Center (DAC) during the solo exhibition titled 'Journey of the No', in July this year, the works of this painter somewhat shook the pictorial system on which all painterly abstraction is based on in this country.
If the whole oeuvre of this thirty-plus artist is considered, it is hard to conclude that the articulation of authenticity has been enfeebled by the presence of artistry in some of the paintings. In fact, Bari hinges his faith on authenticity in quite a few works – ones that he propose as microscapes of urban reality with a cosmopolitan soul-life matrix manifested through its neutral yet somewhat neural work-area – which is the canvas worked all over in the similar vein. And Bari makes it happen with the disarming panache of a workman whose footprints, after a job well done, is detected only in the choice of materials and in the process of how he lets them articulate their own character in the final combination, and in turn, manages to ascribe meaning to what we often perceive as the 'mundane'.
By assigning meaning to matter-of-factness of abstract compositions, the artist let his language dwell under the shadow of an understatement almost barring the emotive from his domain. Avoiding the corresponding drama of paint and brush and the meteorology that they help to build with the hope of altering the very act of looking at art objects, Bari seeks validation of his act of art-making by preferring not to push the material to the immaterial height.
Modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with collage materials such as sequined lace, golden threads and decorated borders of saris, Bari's recent paintings have a muted visual presence. The elements which adorn the surface of the blackened canvas become one with the resonating and regal blackness which is all pervading. As for the relationship the works have with organized social structures such as roads, pavement, buildings and building materials, it can only be determined through the episteme that presides over modern-day building activities – architectural knowledge. When the pictures are no longer looked at as self-referential, self-governed entities or sites, the link with the modern day architecture with their tendency to spell out the material is established.
Taking our cue from the austerity of expression, Bari can also be comfortably situated in the tradition of art making which dovetails the minimalist method with a certain degree of audacity of minimalist origin, the 1960s negation of the emotive and the expressive. The regulated material expressivity that Bari relies on can actually be defined as a way for him to test his own ground for making art; with the seemingly unexciting dark surface as his central theme, he test his ability to turn the point-blank banal to an object of contemplation, following the example of many a modernist.
Not much of a gaze shifter, Niamul Bari wants to look at the same prosaic surface with a tinge of poetic conviction – resulting in a slightly new mode of seeing, but not much to boost the conceptual credentials.
'Journey of the No' was presented at Dhaka Art Center, July 2-15, 2010.