Grim social realities bind art in the Subcontinent

Grim social realities bind art in the Subcontinent


Contemporary art from the Subcontinent is a reflection of the socio-political realities — the political conflict, repression and gender imbalance — prevalent in the countries as can be seen in the works of artists from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka at an exhibition in New Delhi.

Three video installation and relay drawing projects are being held at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, one of the country’s biggest private museums of modern and contemporary art. The show will be on till November 1.

Leading Bangladeshi painter and performance artist, 40-year-old Mahbahur Rahman, uses his body, popular Bangladeshi literature and the bovine (cow) species to convey the increasing Talibanisation of Bangladeshi society and the looming threat of returning to military rule. “Cow, oxes and bovine slaughter pre-occupy me because they symbolise so many things in Bangladesh like repression of women, exploitation of the poor and the struggle for freedom,” says Rahman.

In his performance art project — ‘Transformation’, a series of five photographs — Rahman performs an interpretation of a popular Bangladeshi play, ‘Nurul Diner Sara Jibon’ (The whole life of Nurul Din) by writer Syed Shamsul Haq on beach in Chittagong. He wears giant buffalo horns and a coconut coir mesh.

“Nurul Din was a poor indigo farmer during the British rule in Bengal, when Indigo cultivators were being tortured by British agents and local landlords. One day, he takes his young son to till the Indigo field, where he works. Since Nurul has no oxes to till the land — because of the landlords’ meanness — he tells his son to hold the ploughshare while he becomes the human ox to drag it down the field. Weak and hungry, Nurul collapses under the weight of the ploughshare. His son watches in horror as Nurul slowly metamorphoses into an ox and moos in agony in a rather Kafkaesque manner,” Rahman explains. The photographs, shot by his wife, fellow artist Lipi, show Rahman collapsing under the weight of the giant horns in the surf.

Rahman, founder of Bangladesh’s biggest contemporary arts initiative, Britto Arts Trust, is one of the few artists in the country who lives on art alone. “The rest all have jobs to support themselves because market has not yet made inroads into Bangladeshi art,” he says.

Bangalore-based artist L N Tallur, known for his new-age installations, speaks of  “social chains and repression of human freedom across Asia” in his interactive project, ‘The Souvenir Maker’ in which viewers are invited to operate a barbed wire making machine to create souvenirs of golden barbed wires stored in glass milk cans — marked ‘Designed in America, conceptualised in India, Made in China and Sponsored by Korea’.

Contemporary Sri Lankan artists Muhammed Cader, Chandragupta Thenuwara, Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan and Jagat Weeasinghe document the civil war, people’s unrest, social disintegration in Sri Lanka in a relay drawing project featuring 100 sketches, ‘The One-Year Drawing Project’, between 2005-2007.

“The one-year drawing project is one of the most significant art projects to have emerged from Sri Lanka in the recent past. The project seemed to find a way of surmounting the turmoil and civil unrest in the country through its process — that of artists mailing works to each other and allowing each artist to articulate their visual vocabulary over a period of time,” co-owner of the gallery Anupam Poddar says.
The projects are an extension of the India Art Summit.

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