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     Volume 4 Issue 5 | July 23, 2004 |

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Mustafa Zaman

It was in 1990, when SM Sultan visited the home of the artist Priyobhashini and ecstatically declared, "You are a true artist" that Priyabhashini woke up to her own talent. Before that deciding moment she never thought much of her own sculptural creations, she didn't even considere them to be art works. She made them as she felt a compulsion to do so. However, she took immense pleasure as a root of tree, a trunk or a part of it gradually took a different shape in her hands.

Driftwood, roots and trunks constitute her vehicle. She courses these articles -- her base metal -- through process of transmutation. As they change and start to take recognisable shapes of humans or birds, she stops at a point with the mutation remaining incomplete. Her art banks on the vaguenesses that the incompleteness of the transformation that she, as an artist, initiates.

However, as sculptures they are complete. The vision, with which she is able to determine the fate of the raw material she deals with, brings into view the essence of a human or two, or a bird in its contemplative solitude.

With birds she remains a calm observer, rarely showing one in flight or in any other posture but stillness, with humans she sheds her reservation, and presents them in gaits of ecstatic turmoil, not of psychological nature, but of a physical one. Priyobashini's intertwined roots of trees turned into human couples are sights of joy. She is unreserved in her depiction of the vortex of sensation her couples find themselves into. The material she works with plays a role. While working with a root that looks like a cluster of muscles in motion, her desired end is always swirling and gesticulating humans.

She has been doing it for more than fifteen years. The visual ecstasy that she harps on has struck a different chord in many a mind. However, the recent solo show at Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, showcases her already familiar art form and more. She displays her own brand of horticulture.

"I used to throw away a good portion of the tree trunks after I have finished my sculptures.

And suddenly one day I thought, why not use them as handmade pots for my plants," she confides. This process of turning tree trunks or even roots into a plant-pot has started a whole new cycle in her life. The results are displayed in the gallery, but these experiments in plantation took years to master.

"The Pakur tree that you see in the gallery, has been with me for last fourteen years," says the artist. She makes it a point to treat these trees as part of her family. She is always on the look out for a roadside sapling or a small tree that soon will be uprooted by anyone next to us.

Both with the material for her sculpture and plant, Priyobhashini remains an artist dependent on indigenous resources. Hers certainly is an independent and alternative way. "Even if I go somewhere to attend a seminar and I stumble into a sapling or a tree trunk, I pick it up and take it home," she reveals how she accumulates her raw material. At one time she couldn't help nullify her husband's request to keep her hands off a tree that she desired to save.

It was during a funeral and she was as usual adamant to get her tree to replant it in one her pots. To make things look civilised, she went back in the evening to pick up her tree.

Though a certain sense of beauty governs Priyabhashini's world, she makes it a point that things don't get bogged down in the desire to decorate the house. Although her plants are meant for urbanites who lack proper space for planting trees, she says, "It is more about bringing a patch of green in your own home than about decorating the home. It is mostly about saving the trees."

In her effort to keep this process going, she has made many an attempt to rescue roadside saplings. She, in this respect, is true to her word. Her total presentation comprises only of the indigenous variety that we often ignore, as they do not easily appeal to the urban sets of eyes.

Apart from the huge sculptural pieces or plants, there are simple craft-like presentations. The best example of this is the Pakur tree and the way it was adorned with encircling boats. The tree itself is of human-height and she turns it into an occasion to create a virtual miniature ghat -- a river station where boats are anchored under such trees. To make her small boats, Priyabhashini uses the outer coverings of the pod from which the coconuts emerge at the early stage of flowering. Their beauty is in their simplicity. She is crafty, but never too much to make her works look like products.

What is it that makes her work so fraught with emotion? It is the seemingly pristine look and the feel of the natural. The manipulation is so subtle that her work gives the impression as if they each were formed through a long natural process. The patina of the old and weathered wood also adds to the aura that she strives to create. Usually she sticks to colours that hide any sign of sanding. And polishing is avoided altogether. Yet in this show a couple of new works veer to a different look -- they are sand to show the true colour of the wood, which is yellow-white. The work titled "Emon diney tarey bola jaey" (In such a day you could tell one) is one human-like form growing out of another. They are a couple -- mutating towards an unknown end.

The same sense of metamorphosis is brought into the work "Shey rater kotha" (The story of that night). The suggestion of humans are even fainter in this tangle of roots embracing one another. The effect of having to confront piece like this lying on floor, presented without a stand or plinth, is a surreal one. It seems like a naive or expressionist version of the celebrated Laocoon sculpture of the Hellenic Greece. Only the grandeur is dropped to initiate the communication on a human level.

With all the twists and turns, with all the crafty handling of material, Priyabhashini's works retain a simplicity akin to the age-old tradition of crafts in Bangladesh. Perhaps it is this traditional pull that manifests in her work and makes them look humble and communicable.

In the present show, there is an effort to handle an epic theme in her large-scale work titled -- "Sea-bound". The sculpture is a feast for the eyes, but it also stands like a puzzle to be solved by the onlookers. Here, her ambition exceeds the human level, and it is at the human level that she comfortably hovers and delivers her emotive (but mute in their emotional expression) sculptures.

Priyabhashini displayed a lot of mixed breed plants and creepers. They all go back to the time when she started working with plants, which was in 1994. However, in this show the most interesting species is the fungi that she mounted on the wall. In a number of painting-like presentations, she composes the tree burke with soft, white fungi in them. Nigther her tree, nor these works are presented to create the unreal and sophisticated look of a Japanese bansi. They thrive in their natural energy and give the urbanites a chunk of the almost untouched nature itself.

Though her target audience is the people who have long ceased to live in a natural environment, her vision favours the natural and the rustic in most occasions. Made for people living in flats, her works strikes a balance between the urban taste and the rural inheritance. She even dares to negate what the architectural setting allows for. She says, "I have plans for designing interiors, where everything geometrical will be overwhelmed by what is natural. I have plans to plant big trees on big logs as the pot."

We only hope that she makes it a reality.

The exhibition kicked off on July 10 and will last till July 26.

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