Roots into the recent modernist past
Bengal gallery's 10th anniversary celebration of Bangladeshi artists
Ameditation on mainstream art scene and the scene-stars: Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts' (BGFA) haphazard cluster of exhibitions under the rubric 'Rooted Creativity', organized mostly to celebrate their 10th anniversary, could effectuate a set of high-wire curatorial considerations, instead it is an archival indexing of sorts of the recent batch of conventional dispatches of paintings, prints and sculptures from the participating artists.
The first of the series – 'Rooted Creativity 1', brings under the same roof works of the pre-eminent artists (mostly painters) cutting across generations. From Shahabuddin (born 1950), the youngest in the group, to Safiuddin Ahmed (born 1922), the oldest – the group includes names such as Mohammad Kibria, Qayyum Chowdhury, Murtaja Baseer, Syed Jahangir, Hashem Khan, Rafiqun Nabi, Monirul Islam, and Mahmudul Haque.
The most noticeable feature of the show is that the works amassed are of recent yields, tracing the creative journey of the last three years of every artist with the only exceptions of Safiuddin Ahmed, whose etchings and woodcuts date back to the 1940s, -50s and -60s.
Similarly, both the second and the third of the series put on display works of divergent generations with different artistic roots, but attempts to unveil their latest works.
The first group makes up of the reputed protagonists of modernism – a few among them also enthuse mass adulation – perform routine excavation of the terrain they have already traversed while they all squarely put their bet on recognizable aesthetic schemes. Not advancing further from the set model of pictorialism, let alone taking the risk to guide the textures, the formal assortments of forms and frills into a new domain, they have chosen to remain stationed in the apolitical, asocial and an aestheticized arena of art-production. The only exception is Shahabuddin, whose mediation on figures has been exhaustively explored repeating the motif of man in motion.
In the second slot – the hackneyed mode of expression based on the known pictorial configurations clash with a number of artworks that want to break out of the conventional skin in order to meet some conceptual criteria. Though, no single participant attempts a detour from the tradition of painting, as evidently the whole array of display consists of artworks on canvas and paper – works of a few provides a respite from what is customary – languages that has lost their cache due to both overexposure and oversimplification of the vocabularies interiorized through selective negotiation with the European moderns.
Outside the ambit of the degenerated languages which first made their appearance in the 1960s Dhaka, along with the false take on both modernism and tradition, Dhali Al Mamun's forays seem to want to stand out with its conceptual rigour. The artist takes a stab at the catastrophic events – the mutiny by the sepoys and the killings of the officers at Bangladesh Rifle Headquarters in Dhaka. The temporality, or the presentness , that he mines and the location of collective trauma as well as dilemma that he identifies, are centered on the tragedy and the official investigation that ensued following the tragedy. These concerns and issues are encapsulated in a series of charcoal on paper works that the artists executed back in 2009, of which two reappear at the BGFA alongside a new painting on the subject, which almost attains a dreamlike dimension, depicting a cat chewing on a fish inside the stomach of a tiger in stride – a reference to the playful take on social reality in the Kalighat's Pats.
Among the artists showcased in the second installment, works of Rokeya Sultana and Shahid Kabir together form the axis defined by a voice that introduces candour but hovers between grit and sobriety. Their works provides for the viewer to get a fresh load of subjectively arrived at visual tropes and topics that attempt a partial unfurling of the mental state they were in during execution. Though languages of both artist seem somewhat informal – giving the hint that they are affording a mediation on art on a level where formalism seems passé, for both artists the technically developed washes and gestures that they have so far achieved loosen a bit to ensure what one may call 'active involvement' with the work surface.
If Rokeya's attempts at realizing some vague abstract expressionistic scenographic model, Shahid tries to bank on the gesture in the vein of the first-generation artists of Santiniketan. However, both artists display a tendency to build on their already established signature vocabularies that employ the process in the service of eloquence.
Anniversary exhibition (Rooted Creativity)-3 featuring 10 well-known artists is both a group show and a barometer that managed to capture the collective mood , multifarious (non)styles and aesthetic currencies that ruled the mantle of Bangladeshi art during the last few decades of the 20th century and still refuses to go away. In trying to skirt the normal incumbent politics, gender issues and ignoring the burden of history, the offhand glimpse of Mustafa Monwar, Abu Taher , Abul Barq Alvi, Naima Haque or Kanak Chanpa Chakma reflects the make-up of a deflated, disconnected and disenfranchised épistémè and techne and no single work or artist, in this group show, rises above the rest; not that the individual pieces avoid separate or meaningful themes, to the contrary , each work engages the individual artist's concerns but they simply get mired in the under-nourished mediocrity and contribute to a heritage of cold, canonical array of derivative paintings.
Shishir Bhattacharjee broach a question, not unlike Gericault did, relating to friction between perceptions of realities that overlap allegory, spectacle and social commentary; his portraits and slivers of narratives of villain, dictator, corrupt official, executioner's exotic charm is almost impossible to escape and rely on clear unequivocal distinctions – not unlike his cartoons – that engage with binary oppositions and seem little played out these days.
It is sad to note that, if tropes such as multiplicity and heterogeneity are to be drawn on in reference to the Rooted Creativity exhibitions, it is not to acknowledge and celebrate the richness and diversity of Bangladeshi artistic expressions but to bring together names of repute in one major event to lend it showbiz glamour and to make populist waves in the cultural scene.
- DEPART DESK