Vol. 5 Num 369 Sat. June 11, 2005  

Kashef and his melting images

This is not the first time I have seen an architect trying to understand his 'location' from a distance. Dhaka for Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury is a canvas that he has been re-orienting with elements. He adds a bit of poetry to a wall and a bit of mystery to an empty living room--which was supposed to be dead forever-- and then puts in another bit of sunlight and sky and laughter-long-forgotten into brick windows. He calls this collection of photographic representation 'Urbana: Around Dhaka.'

Anthologies that deal with construction works always have photographs of the 'working class.' It might seem only natural that all socially conscious artists would do so. But these kinds of constructions never seem to have any relationship with the workers. So Kashef cramps them down to a dinginess which reveals the contrast--while vanishing them from these sites, he gives them a space that is exclusively their own, an 'outside.' It is we who would assume that the figure dancing into a haze or those at the tea-stall are workers--people who are comprehensively different from the unreal, toy-like figures in the 'plazas' with glass towers.

What seems interesting is that the spaces created by Kashef does not seem to be made for the 'living' or, for that matter, the 'dead'--these spaces can never be 'spooky'...I would never tell fairytales to my son if we had to live here, we would rather play videogames. The windows are not for anyone to look out into the world--there is no world outside. The cover of the book shows a road with children running, but this road does not lead outside to these 'designed' houses and they would never reach the 'jalebis' depicted at the end of the book.

We are made to walk unfinished museum/alien spaces where the hallucinatory effect of the surrounding is enhanced by the way sunlight from outside is brought in through squares cut in the roof. This is going to be the reality of the finished piece of architecture. Light wouldn't just pour into the rooms during the day (or at night), but would have to be brought in--a sanitized light - as clinically as the bricks and glass and concrete were during building. We would have a quota of both the expected and the unexpected, but the unexpected would not surprise us.

It is a cleverly constructed book. The reader/viewer who goes through it would have to think would have to think how s/he moves in and out of it. Kashef wants us to look at these images from behind closed brick windows and from the living rooms of artists who never lived.

Amitava Malakar teaches at Pathshala, Drik Picture Library.

Urbana: Around Dhaka (a book of photos) by Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury; Image Works Production, Dhaka; 2004.