<%-- Page Title--%> Art <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 112 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 4, 2003

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Modulation of a Social Voice

Mustafa Zaman

Modernist in mode and illustrational in subject matter, this line may be enough to sum up the recent works the artist Fareha Zeba. But to do justice to her whole oeuvre that she amassed in the solo show titled 'Sufia Kamal, an Introspection' at the Gallery Chitrak, one must progress towards elaboration.
Zeba puts enormous emphasis on two things. One is colour and the other is human motif. Her development as an artist who is craving to find a firm footing on the artistic turf is a recent one. She is an artist with a freshly developed expressionistic style. Her deviation is a recent phenomenon, she used to draw differently few years back. The motif--the human motifs mostly--that now adorn her paintings (done on ply board with acrylic) are of recent yield.
Regarding colour, she is bound to a set of hues: blue, gray, rust and muddy yellow, black and white. The whole picture, in fact, is painted on white background in every occasion.

Twilight Magic, 2002

Her human figures are tortuous, dehumanised and intentionally sketchy, sometimes even maladroit. Which lend them an awkward articulation. This articulation, somehow, escaped the notice of the creator, otherwise she would not be prone, to the degree she is, to the depiction of the portraitures of public personalities.
Fareha Zeba incorporated, in most of her paintings, the portraits of historically and nationally prominent liberal bigwigs, specially poet and activist Sufia Kamal. These glimpses of icons, she incorporates in her figurative forays, and she also paints pictures where her icons are her only muse. Yet her painting is neither glorification of these figures nor painted as historical documents or mere prtraiture. The artist used them as plain popular elements, her works that includes the icons, are at best be described as paintings that illustrate an allegiance of the artist with the figures who stand for liberal causes.

Mirror of Life-1, 2002

As the title of the show suggests, it is the portrait of the late poet and activist Sufia kamal that dominates as subject. Ghandi and Sheikh Mujibur rahman, too, are present in a couple of works. Her whole show seems to rotate on the theme of the portraits of Sufia Kamal. She is present as an icon, not as a leader of the masses. Zeba declares her faith in the late poet by depicting her in many ways and in many sequence, but she does not go further to touch upon the social context that made Sufia Kamal the icon of the middle class. Most of the celebrated figures are out of context in her pictures. Out of context because the social figures are present as illustrations--as visual elements--in her visual imageries.
Though she adds, in some pictures, a photo of a procession or scribbles that appropriates the news of the Mahila Parishad meeting or other news clips, her works cannot forcefully exteriorise the historical background that made them what they are. They are remote from the context, as such far removed from the social and political brew that they were a part of. And this certainly is the reason why this artist put forward such innocuous imageries in the series that uses the icons. Whereas the same artist is ready to whip up the smack of angst and sarcasm in at least few of the works. These few works are bereft of any iconic humans. Sad, morbid looking humans inhabit these; chained animals also figure in few occasions.
It is the Bangladeshi middle class liberal psyche that speaks out in an awkward voice in most of the paintings of Fareha Zeba. Awkward, because her rendition of humans almost verges on the expressionistic, yet they do not complete their journey to the extreme end. This brings into the surface the main contradiction that marks the art of this artist. In the work titled No-11, the main motif is the mildly expressionistic statue of the Lady Liberty. But to her right at the bottom the portrait of Sufia Kamal is framed inside an open window. This arbitrary juxtaposition of two icons--one a human and the other a statue--did not spring from either reason or unreason, both could have lent a real artistic fervour to this imagery. The portrait is present to assert the importance of a figure that stood for social and political causes, and the Lady liberty is her symbol. This analogy is dangerous and unfounded. Had the artist reflected on the context of the Lady Liberty, which no longer symbolises freedom, as it is a symbol enforced on us by an imperialist nation.
What message does it send to the viewer when popular figures and icons are used to emphasise issues of political import? Or is it that the artist is just harping on our idolatry? If the social and political message is what she wants to impart, putting the portraits as themes seem analogous to the effort of trying to depict a hunting scene using the visage of the hunter.
Fareha Zeba's art is trapped in the elitist cranium that shows its social concern through allegiances with iconic figures. She takes pleasure in the fact that she recognises the force that changed the society, but she is utterly devoid of real concern for anything social or political for that matter.

Twilight Magic 3, 2003

Her idea of idealism brought her closer the liberal canon, but left her far removed from realities of the society and of the painting. The reality of the society is in the struggle of the masses or the plight of the middle class, or their contribution in wining a war or superseding a predicament, all these subject seem not to have bothered the artist. Her paintings are a far cry from the real issues. As for the reality of the painting, it is amply found in her tendency to divide the white space into separate colour patches, and putting humans of disparate sizes and even drawing few morbid, leashed creatures leading their morbid owners who are crawling the canvas edges defying gravitation. The artist negotiated this reality for imposition of portraitures.
Not that Zeba's burgeoning style is exclusively her own, not that it is even humanly possible to be that original. Her human figures are derivative, they are beholden to the works of Mahbubur Rahman and Saidul Haq Jwice, and many other Indian artist in this connection. She is a belatedly grown offshoot of that old figurative style.
Her illustration of illustrious humans as well as formal arrangement of colour patches undermine her tendency towards forging a figurative mode which is essentially anti elitist in origin and in look. In the picture No-17 and 16 she is free from the ghost of personality cult. But her formalism, arrangement of colour patches against white background, also play havoc with her stark expressionist mode. Her rigorous display of colour patches antagonises her spontenious linear style, which uses an abrasive language of art.
It is up to the artist to find the right voice. Fareha Zeba either needs to cater to the liberal ideas and taste or side with socially antagonistic mode, the choice is hers.

This Show was held from June-20-27, 2003.


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