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South Asian art is political: Bangladeshi artist

Posted on Jan 16, 10:30AM | IANS

Saying South Asian art is political and there was a need to develop a South Asian identity through art, Mahbubur Rahman, described by critics as one of the biggest names of Bangladesh's contemporary art, says through their works, his compatriots want to escape the memories of the 1947 partition of the sub-continent and the 1971 liberation war and do not want to "remember the reality of the past".

"South Asian art has become a political term now. But for artists in Bangladesh, in some way or the other, the partition was a pain. It was like migration within our own culture and own land. Within a night, people were forced to dislocate from our heritage, soil and known people to a different unknown political boundaries," Rahman, one of the first Bangladeshi artists to exhibit solo at the India Art Fair in the capital Feb 1-3, told IANS from Dhaka.

The collective memory of the trauma of partition and the liberation war drove Rahman to innovate with poignant themes across genres and mediums that include the folk literature of Bangladesh and performances as well.

The artist is playing with an odd contrast of material in his installation for the India Art Fair - by using them as symbols of man's political state of being, repression and inherent human curiosity that bring about finer appreciation for aesthetics and a desire to know.

Rahman says he "wanted to make a new language in my piece by using different materials and objects". One of the symbols in the installtion is an Ambassador car, "usually used by an identified community as a public and private vehicle".

"I have made the outfit of an Ambassador car using the leather of used army boots that may raise different curiosity among viewers. Thousands of used army boots emerge from the boot of the car to create a huge dome adjacent to the car," Rahman said.

The ceiling of the dome is made out of the stitched leather from used army boots. Two chairs and a table covered with cowhide give a sense of space inside the dome. The dome tells a story with the "projection of two pairs of hands accompanied by the sound of dripping water, an iron door and the sound of boot steps like an interrogation room," Rahman said.

"Though this work makes the first individual presence of a Bangladeshi artist at the main venue of the India Art Fair, I am sure it will create a greater interest," he said.

The 46-year-old artist, founder of the Britto Trust, a non-profit platform for the promotion of the new arts of Bangladesh, says he has been providing space to alternative art practitioners from Bangladesh as well as from across the globe.

"The trust is very research-based and rather challenging within the limitations of the Bangladeshi organisations and galleries. Britto Arts Trust is the first-ever artists-run initiative in Bangladesh," Rahman said.

Rahman said his trust does not consider the "divisions created by mainstream life and politics because the ethnic communites are suffering".

"They seem out of the South Asian identity," he said.

Rahman said, "Ignoring the neighboring countries, we are trying to look at the western world and we end up seeing South Asia as part of the trade and political conflict. We have been blocking our resources. Even the natural flow is blocked by political borders, by barbed wires or by fences."

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)