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     Volume 4 Issue 36 | March 4 , 2005 |

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The Archeology of Myths

Mustafa Zaman

Through the recent painting that measures 100x10 ft, Ronni Ahmed recollects myths and folklores by applying his own brand of imagery.

It is a meditation on Noah's Ark with a flurry of excitingly disjointed ideas interlaced in one dramatic tableau; it is the Magnum Opus of Ronni Ahmed.

This 100-foot-long saga, told in an exquisitely surreal language, is the stuff of imagination brought into existence to stimulate the imagination. It is a gargantuan mix of tales told in a hyperbolic code. It is a cerebral action painting that lays its faith on an orgy of seemingly disparate visual elements. A Biblical tale recontextualised to fit into a spectrum of ideas that harp on personal fantasy and collective memories, the acrylic on canvas is titled, "The Archeology of Noah's Arc".

Coursing through its body is the ever-powerful idiosyncratic current that Ronni thrives on. In his prolific and forceful hand all forms take on a different dimension. Even the tiger is twisted to the extreme to look like a cross between an exotic snake and the four-legged mammal, the ominous clouds that hover in the vast sky turn into rain-spewing beasts, the invading Ikhtiar Uddin Mohammad Bokhtiar Khiljee with his 17 armed men are like apparitions -- at once ethereal and beastly. There is even intentional anachronism; from the oil-lamp associated with one of the Arabian Nights' tale there is a rocket shooting through the clouds. Even Spiderman and batman appear in a cameos looking like hybrids.

Other innumerable hybrids aside, the protagonist, Noah, is a large, portentous head painted on an expanding red sail. It spreads over the mid-zone of the canvas providing it a point of focus. Hanging on the top of the lateral sails are three sons of Noah, transformed intomere logos. "They mimic the cubist way of deconstructing a face following a certain spatial order," says their creator. With the rest, the policy is plain and simple: faith in fluidity, or in stretching the forms to extreme to facilitate hybridisation.

Rony's art has an inner-dynamics that brings two seemingly conflicting ideas under one umbrella. The primordial in man meets the post-verbal-era considerations in his art. Then again, one must wake up to the fact that it is after we learnt language that humans were able to grapple with as well as properly define things that are irrational and absurd, -- emotions that go back to the non-verbal-era reality. Ronni brings on the magic of both the worlds, -- the visual strength of the world before language and the ever-increasing possibility of expansion of that world in the presence of language.

The art world of Bangladesh is stilted on the notion that text, or to put it plainly language, has no role to play in art. Ronni has proved that this notion is passé. By resorting to a Biblical theme and by introducing the folklore of different origins to help build his grand vision he has created a horizon full of possibilities. With Ronni the references are just plain cues to enter a fantastic domain.

No matter how the viewers want their references, Ronni will never serve them unscrambled. Though with "The Archeology of Noah's Ark", he could've been more politically motivated as he usually is. But this time around, he opted for the power of image rather than critical reflection on futility of knowledge and civilization, which has been the focus in his last show titled "Mythoronnia".

From the order of things expressed in the recent opus (where the Ark is like an object of contemplation) as well as from their constitutions, it becomes obvious that Ronni lays his hope in the world of subtexts, which is the domain of the mystics and visionaries. Through the plethora of images that crowds the huge boat and the couple of chunks representing the shores (one of which represent the Biblical mountain, Ararat) the desire to transcend reality is discernable. He says, "The boat and Noah have relevance in the present context. As we live in a turbulent time, perhaps a figure like Noah would ignite the hope for our salvation, or perhaps it is Noah's boat that is carrying everything from chaos to what we consider the source of goodness." If the second proposition of the artist is considered, then there is a greater need for a father figure, one who is lead us to deliverance.

The work took one month to finish. "It dawned on me that there is this tradition of art in Bangladesh that negates story telling. I spent almost six months thinking about the possibility to base my work on a well-known myth, I found that Noah's Ark provides me with the chance to incorporate lots of other myths, fables and axioms which would make the idea more capacious," Ronni relates. He deliberately chose the mode of the travelling salesmen who used to carry hand-drawn pictures to advertise their wares. Though the draughtsmanship that Ronni applies tries to emulate low-art sensibility, in the end, his proposition is a poetic adventure into the domain of popular myths and folklore.

"The Archeology of Noah's Ark" is full with Ronni's own interpretations; it was open for public viewing from 18 to 28 February at La Galerie, Alliance Franchaise, Dhaka.

Composition, 2004.

Morphed Nature

Teeming with riveting lines and forms, Golam Faruque Bebul's exhibtions of a large number of smallish paintings is a feast for the eye. They are works where the retinal experience is transposed to images that stimulate vision. This 40-plus artist fittingly calls his exhibition "Nature and Life". Though most of his works veer to abstractions, Faruque is not a purist Abstractionist. His works amass a lot of elements that spring from his direct confrontation with his surroundings. "I have based my images on experience of looking at nature, rural Bangladesh plays a crucial role in my art," the artist was heard explaining to an admirer while coursing through the rooms of Gallery Chitrak, where his exhibition was launched on the February 18.

If his tendency to use biomorphic forms in a certain order is a guide, Golam Faruque's art is embedded in the tradition of the 70's and the 80's. It is during this time that few regional artists, taking their cue from Shafiuddin Ahmed and Kazi Abdul Baset, made an effort to reconcile European Abstraction with the natural splendour of Bangladesh. That indigenous tendency has gelled in Faruque's art. He is the latest name to have aligned with the few who comfortably straddle the line between modern formalism and bio-derived art form.

Faruque is most eloquent in black and white. "I received a good grounding in printmaking, and every artist with a background in printmaking usually reveals the qualities often associated with the mediums that they learn," says the artist. Technically it is efficacious in printmaking to use one colour.

It was in 1980 that he completed his BFA from the department of Printmaking, Institute of Fine Arts, Dhaka. Then he went on to study further in the same principle in Beijing, China. After returning home, he took up the job of teaching as an Assistant Professor, Department of Fine Arts, University Rajshahi. His works remained unexposed for several years. "I continued doing these akibuki (sketches) whenever I had time and whenever I felt like," declares Faruque. Yet his works suggest that a lot was invested in them both in terms of labour and attention.

Consummate dexterity with signs of serious contemplation, this is what lends most of his works the joie de vivre that they announce in a soft, well-modulated voice. Dexterity alone may not have made his mostly "ink and wash" and "acrylic" works imbued with such emotional fervour, his engagement with them certainly has.

--Mustafa Zaman

Sunny Side Up

All things in their unspoiled child-like characteristic look tender and touchable. So is the world of 45 year old Russian artist Liudmila Yakovleva. She had her first show of batik at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture at Dhanmondi.

In the midst of all the images that bear the distinct smack of the fairytale world, one cannot help resist the wave of nostalgia that inundates the senses. The Russians were once famous for their fairytales. In the 60s and the 70s they flooded the world with publications that opened a door to that wonderful world, and Yakovleva's work keep that fading trail alive at least in visual terms.

In person she too seems to exude the aura that garlands the world of fairytale. With her limpid eyes and child-like simplicity she embodies the peachy-cheeked heroines of fairytales. "Whatever I do it always stems from the ancient art of Russia," she explains.

It is understandable that Illia Repin, the late 19th century Russian artist famous for his realistic depiction of Cossack life, is someone she is not comfortable with. For her, Giotto, the early Renaissance Italian Master, and the natives--- Serov, Korovin and Lentulov provide the antidote.

"Batik is not the only medium that I work with. I studied textile art, but I also practice water colour, acrylic and printmaking" says Yakovleva. And it is apparent from the pictures that were on display in the gallery that her background in textile art dictates her pictorial dictions. The bright yet soothing colours come from that experience. Another aspect is the distinct depiction of all elements that make her works look spacious. Each work is like a window framing a scene that has this illusion of depth of field. In batik this is an accomplishment.

Yakovleva tackled real world in the same dream-like manner. Her works on Egypt and Greece only reaffirm her affinity with the world full with heroic figures pursueing righteousness. Strife is the last thing in her mind, as she has the knack of giving voice to things that are tender but secure in the deepest recesses of our mind.

"I have been travelling around. It is my first visit to Bangladesh I would like to come back to have a show of my graphic works," she enthusiastically adds. Once back home she intends to work on a series of batik based on Dhaka. Yakovleva's show was open to the public from 17 to 23 February.

Mustafa Zaman



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