Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 13 | September 17, 2004 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Slice of Life
   A Roman Column
   Human Rights
   Time Out
   Straight Talk
   Book Review
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home



Sightings from Above

Urban Sight-28, mixed media on canvas

In 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 this.

In 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.

The 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.

It 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."

The 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.

His 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.

This 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 2, 2006.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004