Sight-28, mixed media on canvas
this time of tremendous flux in values -- be it moral or aesthetic
-- what would the task be of an artist? What would an artist
living in Dhaka with his eye set on all the goings-on of the
world -- both real and the representative -- do? Artist Kazi
Salahuddin Ahmed simply could not remain untouched by all
the recent solo show of Salahuddin at La Gallery, Alliance
Francaise, on the left of one of the 28 paintings, an elephant-like
form attracts the eye. Among a plethora of conspicuously marked-out
segments that make up the composition of each painting, one
discovers a script, or a scrap of it. It reads, "you
are seeing only the half of it…" It is part of
the unpainted newspaper in this vast collage.
exhibition titled "Urban Sight" that took off on
September 3 consists of a series of works of similar titles.
In this show Salahuddin re-examines the reality portrayed
through the media. He also puts a twist to it. By projecting
a glut of chosen bits and pieces from the print media in closely-knit
patterns resembling urban landscape seen from above, he addresses
the urbanites' dilemma as well as that of artists.
has dawned on Salahuddin that the reality he himself is a
part of has reached a stage where it seems almost like a maze,
making the observer's understanding turbid on every occasion.
As for his change in the work-process and style, Salahuddin
says, "Monirul Islam once wondered why young artists
of Dhaka harbour fear to venture in different directions.
If you are young, this is the time to try out many different
things. I took his words to heart and this is the result."
artist has started doing collages since couple of years ago.
The sweeps of brush that used to build the spectacles akin
to landscapes -- which were his signature imagery -- have
now disappeared. Considering his latest forays, one may say
that he has made a swift journey from 'landscape' to mediascape,
where all things collect in a harmonious whole.
ideas, as usual, take off from the visual ground, and once
they reach a final stage they end up being visually intricate
pattern-like paintings. The present mode of his art can plainly
be referred to as collage. Though the system of putting a
layer of newspaper and then gradually dividing the picture
plain into segments marked by dark borders, seems unique.
The process makes his work look more like solved puzzles with
all the pieces in the right places.
time around, the 'swirl' of what is real is what the artist
has striven to encapsulate in his mural-like all-over pieces.
As for the viewers, they are subjected to spontaneously selected
ads, news items, cartoons, and most of all, photos. None of
these retain their original character; none are even left to
communicate what they were originally meant to communicate.
Instead of leaving them alone, Salahuddin tampered with them
to construct his grand theme, which is the map that resembles
a city seen from above where areas are replaced by his partially
painted or unpainted collage elements.
The present show is his 17th
solo, and is scheduled to last till September 20. In this,
each painting draws on the interminable appetite we have for
information and how the media appeases that voracious hunger.
In many a piece the reference to eating pops up, as in Urban
Sight-17 and 26. Whether it is a mere ploy on the part of
the artist to make the pieces look filled with playful engagement
with the subjects the artist sets out to tackle, the question
of being served and enervated by the sheer glut of it all
is brought to the fore.
If reality doesn't stand on
its head in the mirror that is the media, it at the least
it considerably altered. Salauddin harps on this principle,
he also alters the very reality presented by the media. Not
that he is out to shatter the myth of the media as the purveyor
of truth. While looking at Salahuddin's recent work, that
is the last thing one will be bothered with. Rather, the very
'chaos' where facts, fables and other real or textual maters
are disintegrated, is where Salahuddin fixes his eyes upon.
He draws on that chaos and churns out works that tend to marry
that idea with a compositional solution that he developed
over the years.
If in his last show Salahuddin
was inclined to make his landscape look like a complete picture
seen from the vantage point of a cartographer, at present,
he tries his hand at constructing a capacious diagram, where
pages of newspapers, magazines and even scraps from discarded
paperbags are used as art elements.
Does the artist live in an
aesthetic delirium of the sources he works with? Does the
artist question the idea of representation, or does he only
show what we are bombarded with on an every day basis? Even
if Salahuddin intends to amass elements from the media to
serve his own aesthetic ends, each of his pieces carries the
baggage of the emotional ambivalence born out of the conflicting
relationship we have with our surroundings. Reality and its
perception are never the same; they, in fact, are two different
domains. This realisation may not inform the recent pieces,
but with their superfluity of extraneous items lifted from
newspapers, they veer one's attention to the futility of remaining
informed. Thus the relation between information and the one
who craves for it is examined.
Salahuddin's world that had
previously been subjected to the realities of Old Dhaka, the
place where he resides, has been invaded by the print media
with the same forcefulness he used to wield his paint-heavy
brush while working on his landscapes. As he lets that tide
take him to reach a new destination, he also enforces his
hand-picked elements to maintain a certain order. This order
is manifested mainly in the black lines that divide the picture
plain into a myriad of components. It is the circuitous lines
that in the end contribute to the final look.
Cityscapes they are not. Yet
they seem like camouflaged top-views of a city revealed frame
by frame. This is the mystifying element that one finds in
the artist's recent work, and the rest remains as revealed
as reality to the naked eye.
Urban Sight-12, mixed
media on paper
This exhibition will travel
to England and India, where the works will be on display respectively
in Spitafield Art Gallery, from December 6 to January 10,
2004, and in Jehangir Art Gallery, from December 27 to January
(R) thedailystar.net 2004