Quarantine : Mahbubur Rahman
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, a nationwide lockdown was announced in Bangladesh on March 25, 2020. The entire world was engulfed in the horrors of the pandemic. While physical interaction and movement was restricted, the free flow of thought remained unhindered. New feelings continually flooded our awareness. This became fertile ground for artistic innovations and led to the urge to examine new media and tools.
Three days prior to the lockdown, our assistant Nigam and his wife Baishaly, who live with us, were blessed with a baby boy, Prastar. Later in winter that year, Guddu joined us. This was followed by the arrival of Gunda, a puppy. However, Gunda left us forever within twenty-one days. The day Gunda left us, Bingo joined our family. This cycle of departure and arrival, and the blend of loss and gain forms the basis of my ‘Madona’ series of prints.
Painted Traditional Terracotta Artefacts
The exhibition Bangladesher lokoshilpa – Chitrito mritshilpa/ Painted Traditional Terracotta Artefacts comprises dolls, toys, tools and implements, decorative pots, and votive objects, from private collections, as well as artefacts found in local fairs across Bangladesh. It is dedicated to all artisans and craftspersons who have so lovingly preserved the heritage of painted terracotta, despite many odds.
Bangladesh has a rich heritage of performing arts and craft that has traditionally served as a means of livelihood for a sizable number of rural communities, but the continuity of such traditions is at stake. However, as Prof. Nisar Hossain notes, ‘on the surface it would seem that handmade terracotta crafts have been brushed aside in the face of ubiquitous plastic goods, but the ground realities are slightly different. One would be surprised to note that there is a thriving local market for terracotta artefacts, the demands of which, craftspersons often have to struggle to meet. The ways in which artefacts are produced in the present day, their stylistic preferences, paint application techniques and artistic leanings, have all undergone change in the face of shifting tastes and market needs, but the craft itself has not disappeared’. In order to better appreciate the intrinsic qualities that have historically informed the artistic excellence of heritage terracotta crafts in Bangladesh, it is important for us to know and understand its trajectory.
Organicity – drawings by Aminul Islam (1970s to 2000s)
Aminul Islam’s (1931-2011) lines possess an organic quality reminiscent of roots, and irregular poles inserted into the ground. They vary in thickness, resembling individual roots within a root system or tributaries in a river. The contrast between the black lines on the white background adds a geometric dimension. Intertwining tendrils connect the vertical lines, creating a sense of unity. These lines seem trapped within their dark emanations, possibly representing different yet related themes or improvisations of the same theme. Each element harmoniously interacts with the previous ones, gradually shaping forms that may occasionally evoke images of a grand tree or a flowing river, although these interpretations remain open-ended.. The drawings by Aminul Islam from the period 1970s to 2000s, are culled from from the Abul Khair Collection.
Atlas of Dissent
Dhali Al Mamoon’s monumental work represents the manifold entanglement of Bengal’s history- the impact of colonial past, its deeply embedded patterns of trauma, the psychic and constructed spaces around us that continues to shape our social systems and collective memory. History, in Mamoon’s narration, does not run ‘linearly’, but is disjointed and contingent to the norms of its victim. Using an array of drawings, sounds, videos, kinetic objects, pseudo-artefacts and organic materials in the exhibition, the artist constructs a complex, sensory and emblematic experience while revisiting the wounded past. Mamoon’s approach to artmaking inflects a shared conscience, with a philosophical and poetic underpinning against the colonial hegemony of our knowledge systems.
Random Harvests – Photography Exhibition
As an avid photographer G. M. M. E. Karim (1919-1999) was a witness to his time. An author, he was and is a presence. By being able to share Karim’s photographic and videographic material, we intend for the audience to be transcended beyond the present and be taken to the author’s time.
Photography and its recent accessibility, in digital and analogue forms, mediates questions of identity, creating a space for personal inquiry and experimentation. Endlessly fascinating in its capacity to give form to memory and capture time, photography is a tool to assert identity and give evidence of existence. But like most inventions, it has been available to only certain sections of people throughout history.
Forerunners Rashid Choudhury, Murtaja Baseer, Debdas Chakraborty – their pedagogy and modernist approach
On the occasion of 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence, the exhibition ‘Forerunners Rashid Choudhury, Murtaja Baseer, Debdas Chakraborty – their pedagogy and modernist approach’ sought to explore the contexts, trajectories, and interpretations that characterise fifty years of institutional art practice in Chattogram. The curator, leading pedagogue and contemporary visual artist Dhali Al Mamoon, enquired into the ways in which Rashid Choudhury, Murtaja Baseer and Debdas Chakraborty foregrounded new modernist thinking that resisted conventional categorisation, setting new idioms and parameters in keeping with the politics of their time.
Baseer: An Eloquent Mind
‘Baseer: An Eloquent Mind’ was an homage to one of the most influential modern artists of Bangladesh. Murtaja Baseer (1932 – 2020). He had established a remarkable command of almost every style and genre of painting throughout his distinguished career, which spanned nearly seven decades. Ranging from tender portraits to visceral abstracts, lucid figurative to monumental murals; this exhibition showcased Baseer’s astonishing reach. The works on view were collected from many private and institutional collectors. It was hoped that ‘Baseer: An Eloquent Mind’ would grant us comprehension into Murtaja Baseer’s compelling but unconventional approach to ‘abstract realism’.
Imaginary of the Common: 50 years of Sultan’s Oeuvre
The exhibition titled Imaginary of the Common: 50 years of Sultan’s Oeuvre showcased the works of one of the most influential artists and early pioneers of modern art in Bangladesh. Sheikh Mohammed Sultan (1923-1994) or ‘Sultan’ as he is fondly known in Bangladesh, believed in an arcadia where happiness and contentment reigned. In countless paintings, mostly oils, and some in striking watercolours,
In oils, charcoal drawings, watercolours, photographs and memorabilia, as well as films, interviews and installations, the exhibition attempts to elucidate Sultan’s life, the process of his artmaking, and the artist’s poetic vision, whereby cementing his loyalty for his land and people; and the ensuing emancipatory knowledge preserved for future generations. The exhibition includes key works from the Abul Khair Collection, as well as photographs by Nasir Ali Mamun, some of which are being publicly exhibited for the first time.
Parables of the Womb
‘Parables of the Womb’ explores the place of women during war and reads into the conceptual perplexity of gendered history. In times of war, history shows us hostility on women and an increase in patriarchal authority. Dilara Begum Jolly recalls the specific plight of Bangladeshi women during the troubled times of the Liberation War; expressed through the evocative needle-works on photograph and x-ray, and a psychosomatic video portrayal of Roma Chowdhury, a ‘Birangona’ (war hero). The artist’s testament to gender roles in war culminates a feminist perspective.
Academic and artist Naeem Mohaiemen’s Turner Prize nominated film, Tripoli Cancelled (2017) was screened at Bengal Shilpalay from 6 February onwards.
A discussion was held between the filmmaker, curator Tanzim Wahab, and SeutySabur (Dept of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University), and Manosh Chowdhury (Dept of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University).
Breaking Ground: modern art in transition
Bengali modernism was a contextual practice drawn from the subcontinent’s traditions of courtly and folk art, as well as lessons of the various modern and contemporary creative movements from the West. The artists from the region explored tradition, reviving ancestral forms and incorporating a rich folk culture into their works, to come up with a fine balance between tradition and modernity. Rural landscapes, geographies, people, and their connection with nature’s nuances and dimensions played an important role in defining the artists’ approach. The geometric organisation of forms were often replaced by organic sensibilities where sharp, precise and definite shapes were transformed into soft, free forms; intuitive and earthy expressions.
Drawing inspiration from the collection of Abul Khair, the Bengal Arts Programme explores the artistic languages of the region. .
The Work of Creation
Using rich, lyrical language to express lived experience, and creating memories, Kazi Ghiyasuddin responds uniquely to the time and world around us. The Work of Creation asks how the expression of abstraction expands the genealogies of art and generates regional narratives informed by the artists’ attitudes to life, and their dialogues with wider publics and a wider culture, unshackled from the social and formal hierarchies of the arts.
The Paradoxical Now
The exhibition presented the works of three emerging artists from Bangladesh – Anisuzzaman Sohel, Firoz Mahmud and Yasmin Jahan Nupur.
Each artist established a vantage-point in their work, presenting an examination of the form and nature of identity. This convergence in an infinite network of connections/separations, relationships/coincidences, sense/nonsense acted as a metaphorical lens that is trained on our common present – a ‘paradoxical now’.
Subtext: Text-based Art and Art-based-Text
Subtext was a culmination of texts, symbols and images which proposed to re-explore the relationship of text and image. A white cube was temporarily transformed into a reading room with an overlap between text-based art and art-based-text. An imaginary library was formed for the artists and art audience to test the symbiosis of form and meaning.
Subtext featured a display of two hundred fifty-six books on art across the world covering diverse subjects such as history, biography, theories, philosophy, manifestos and more. The intertwined play of art and texts were reflected in video, drawing and installation works by nine artists – Abir Shome, Bishwajit Goswami, Emran Sohel, Marzia Farhana, Mustafa Zaman, Palash Bhattacharjee, Razib Datta, Wakilur Rahman and Zihan Karim
S M Sultan: Second Sight
May – July 2014
Second Sight featured a selection of paintings and drawings by S M Sultan from the private collection of Abul Khair, Chair, Bengal Foundation. The exhibition attempted to find the artist in his works; it showed both the paintings for which Sultan became famous in Bangladesh, and sketches and drawings that he made as a young man. Sultan, who famously retreated close to the land and far from the outside art world, was deeply influenced by the character of the country he lived in.
S M Sultan (b. 1923, Narail district, then India, now Bangladesh; d. 1994) had a unique personal and artistic style; his predilection for themes of folklore and popular culture set him apart among artists in this country. The painter earned fame for his depictions of exaggeratedly muscular peasants, through which he conveyed energy and industry.
Francisco Goya: Engravings
The show presented 84 engraved works of Francisco de Goya. The collection included works ranging from his first etchings, through which he mastered this difficult technique while interpreting Velazquez, to pieces from his four great original series: ‘Los Caprichos’, which depicts the vices of Spanish society using metaphors rife with fantasy; ‘Los Desastres de la Guerra’, which demonstrates the uselessness of violence; ‘La Tauromaquia’, a refuge from his disappointment with an irrational society; and ‘Los Disparates’, depicting his legacy of surrealist freedom.
The exhibition was jointly organised by Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, the Spanish Embassy in Bangladesh and the Inditex Chair of Spanish Language and Culture, University of Dhaka, from the collection of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of San Fernando.