Art News & Views



CrossOver: Indo-Bangladesh Artists' Residency & Exhibition

by Sushma K Bahl

As long as there is duality, one sees 'the other,' one hears 'the other,' one smells 'the other,' one speaks to 'the other,' one thinks of 'the other' one knows 'the other'…(-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

Dhaka. The palpable excitement experienced by the group of twenty artists from Bangladesh and India who gathered together during a CrossOver, not only in terms of the geographic borders but also in an encounter of each other's artistic framework and creative terrain, was manifest in the resulting creative out-pouring exhibited at the spacious Dhaka Art Centre in Bangladesh and at the India International Centre's new art gallery in Delhi. The two week long residency, in Bangladesh during December 2011 followed by Delhi in January 2012, was the culmination of an idea mooted a year ago, when I first visited Dhaka as a jury member for the last Asian Art Biennale there.

The residency and interactions, aware of, but not embroiled in the political one-up-man-ship being played at the official levels, took time to mature. Despite the confines of a time bound and staged configuration, the mid-career internationally-exhibited ensemble of young artists from across the neighboring countries, worked uninhibitedly and used the opportunity to delve into each others' aesthetic concerns and share ideas at a personal level. The CrossOver also entered the curatorial framework of the collaborative project as Archana B Sapra and I worked jointly with Mustafa Zaman (also an artist and editor of DepArt quarterly magazine), to put it all together.

The construct of the residency, partly shaped and partly open-ended, included visits to the National Museum, local galleries, the college of art, sites of historical/cultural significance in both the countries as well as time and facilities to draw, paint or write in the mornings and discussions/interactions amongst the participants and on occasions, slide shows/lectures, by guest speakers, in the evenings. The exposure to a wide range of creativity on display at Dhaka and at the Indian Art Fair in Delhi, together with the relaxation and rejuvenation of the body and mind that the CrossOver facilitated, meant the artists could bond together, and on several occasions engage in some fun filled jugalbandis in the evenings. It was fascinating to watch the artists' creative endeavors often beginning as basic ideas and sketches to take on elaborate and complex forms in the resulting collection of fifty new art works. In a mix of media, art practices and aesthetics, the expositions encompassed drawings, paintings and collages, with some installations and new media art, along with photographs and documentation of the group's travels and interactions.

The Bangladesh artists' work exhibited at Dhaka included several installations and multimedia process-led art while and the ones created and shown in Delhi were more in the realm of mixed media two dimensional wall works. Perhaps being in their home ground and having a ready access to a range of local material and the facilities at the Dhaka Art Centre were more conducive for the Bangladesh artists to opt for experimentation. In terms of themes too their work seemed more rooted to local politics of strife, violence and deprivation. This kind of non-commercial focus in work coming from artists in a country where art market is yet to develop fully; came as a pleasant surprise to us in the visiting group.

The Bangladesh contingent featured Ronni Ahmmed's large format imagery, with strange underwater creatures partly realistic but highly imagined, that seemed to represent his dreamscapes. His free thinking spirit and interest in tantric art and patachitra folk forms was reflected in mixed media paintings, adorned with colourful dots, tattoos, sequins and accessories. Abdus Salam took a different recourse to incorporate drenched cinema posters pasted onto his drawn canvases that were then painted over again. The work depicts “the assaults of violent moving images showcased in our commercial cinema”, says the artist. With an odd juxtaposition of elements such as vegetables used as weapons in 'Scene from the Class Struggle' he brings up-front the politics of perversion in today's society. The political ideology was also the undercurrent in Mohammad Wahiduzzaman's installation. In multiple images, his conceptually layered work echoes the world that goes around in circles where text and computer images of historic world figures are super-imposed on painted surface, in bright colors as relief in an otherwise stressful life. The unethical political forces at work are bared further in Monjur Ahmed's imposing mixed-media work 'Politics in Our Time' exhibited at Dhaka. His plans to include a live caged puppy in the installation to depict ongoing oppression in his country, had to be abandoned given the group's concern about animal rights that such an act would have violated.

Abdul Halim Chanchal, having mastered the art of knitting a narrative with academic realism and a conceptual rigor came up in his layered line work built as shadows in the background with masking tape. Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif equally popular in Bangladesh, as well as onions and cows as symbols of want that are often smuggled across the borders, all appear in his work.  Young Rafiqul Islam Shuvo's fascination with process led experimental art, comes through in his engaging video works centered around power politics as well as some delicate childlike topographical map drawings with figures and text on paper, appropriately titled Body in Border, spread in a disarrayed order on the floor of the gallery at IIC in Delhi. His contemporary Swarnily Mitra Rini did a large installation including drawings, paintings, pots and a range of familiar objects, for the show in Dhaka and painted two canvases 'Black Space' about a society in transition for the exhibition in Delhi.

Some additional local artists were invited in each city, to interact with the group and also exhibit their work. Ripon Saha from Chittagong amongst them used stenciled signs and symbols over paintings to manifest his mental block in numbers on the one hand and the calculative nature of people today, on the other. Two of Bangladesh's internationally renowned artists also interacted with the group and their work exhibited in Delhi- Shahbuddin Ahmed with his imaginative and forceful brush strokes and Monirul Islam with his abstract renditions. Mustafa Zaman's soft palette echoed the anguish of on-going socio-political currents in a mix of narrative and abstraction, as did similarly abstracted canvases of Anukul Majumder.

The experimental oeuvre around the politics, society and peoples' struggles as mirrored in artwork from across the border, took on a somewhat different, more mature and at-peace with itself stance, in the Indian contingent's art-scape. Primarily in drawing and painting mode, each artist rendered the work in his/her own distinct genre.  While Gurdeep Singh's variably sized colourful abstract paintings in oils and acrylic play with lines, maps, calligraphy and unspecified geometric and mathematical formulations, Bhagat Singh's panoramic views of nature, entails a somewhat tantric streak, submerged in detailed rendering of changing seasons, flora and fauna, snarling creepers, birds perched on fruiting trees and bees humming over flowering patterns, suggesting an influence of miniature tradition.

The narrative of Farhad Hussain around inter-personal relationships in middle class urban India is marked for its iconography, figuration, posturing, attire and surroundings, underlined with satire and often set in the drawing room or other social spaces. In a different vein of popular culture, come watercolour paintings by Dileep Sharma. His lissome female form especially her legs, in recurring motifs variously cropped and differently figured, are linked to modern icons in media, sports and glamour in a heady mix of pop, sexuality and fun.

Jagadish Chinthala who hand-carried his own tools and material to the residency, took a detour and instead of working on his trademark theatrical life-size sculptures, worked with hand coloured paper and a variety of punching machines that he has collected during his trips around the world. His painstakingly layered paper collages, akin to sanjhi art, recall his work with children during the early phase of his career. Puja Bahri too deviated from her more popular compositions of semi-clad meditative figuration, to explore contemporary urban metro culture, basing her paintings on photographic images of people engaged in their daily struggles. Pragya Jain's recurring pristine forms with intricate patterns in cellular arrangements make brightly coloured canvases, reflective of her work as a graphic designer.

The guest artists invited to interact with the participants during the Delhi leg of the residency included several masters who spoke about their work and aesthetic concerns. Amongst them, senior artists Satish Gupta, Shuva Prasanna, Sanjay Bhattacharya and Seema Kohli's work was also added to the exhibition. Ravi Agarwal known for his work in art for environment shared his ideas and video works with the group. Arpana Caur's presentation focused on her work including murals and public art projects. Younger artist Mukesh Sharma's I-Shakti entailed using hundreds of computer keys collected from old used keyboards, and images of other electronic equipment and high-rise buildings loaded onto a cart, illustrative of the co-existence of the old and new and the impact of IT in today's India.

Supported by DepArt Magazine, and Dhaka Art Centre in Bangladesh, and Art Mall in Delhi, The CrossOver project was an interesting experiment. Such artistic and cultural initiatives clearly work to strengthen people to people networks and help build bridges and mutual trust amongst different nations, in today's vast and varied world.

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