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     Volume 4 Issue 47 | May 20, 2005 |

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Relation-4, tempera, 2005

The Natural In Humans

Mustafa Zaman

The primordial in all its visual glory, this may sum up the world of Rokeya Sultana. And to express the primordial, colour, it seems at first glance, is her main proposition. The rest gradually surfaces as the shocks of blue, brown, red and yellow give way to suggestive human forms and other elements that are relegated to secondary stimulants.

Colours come in various shades in her work and humans are embodied in their simplest of forms -- child-like, yet having a presence that speaks of the symbiotic relationship they have with nature. What is natural to man, the symbiosis as well as the beauty, is what makes Rokeya lay out her imagery sometimes in unusual colour combinations: brown with blue, red with moss green. Sometimes the conventional combination of red and yellow or burnt sienna is used to its full potential. Though colourful, her paintings seems unobtrusive to the eyes. They are quiet but not as quiet as a painting by Mohammed Kibria, one of Rokeya's favourite artists.

Her works gives off a sense drawn from a certain engagement with life and nature. This sense or sensibility stirs into action in most of her work. She is best when she is searching for a place for her humans mostly women in her canvases. Humans to her is an integral part of nature, they even mutate into more sensual forms. That Rokeya is free from representational fidelity is something that stems from the attitude she has towards her humans as well as nature . "I try to capture what is transcendental in man and nature," explains the artist. And her recent solo at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts is aptly titled, "Dreams of the Elusive."

Relation-23, tempera, 2005.

The symbiotic relationship of humans with nature is the focal point in her work. And to emphasise this she presents them in the simplest of forms. "It is only after I have become an accomplished draughtsman that I have veered towards such drastic simplicity of drawings," says the artist. She is emphatic about the fact that in order to try out transformation that brings down the forms to its bare minimum one needs to have a good academic background. "Without the ability to represent reality one cannot go to such extent," she adds.

Rokeya's forays represent the inner makeup of a mind that craves to go beyond the bounds of social structures. Perhaps that is why she seeks to revive the communion of humans with nature. The sense of pantheism that flows like currents through most of her works is not forced. They are an expression of the creator's mind. The spontaneity is evident in most of her tempera on canvas works. Both in execution and thought, she is free of any academic constraints. However, the laws of abstract expressionism sometimes do get in her way.

Inspired as she is by the formalist idiom, most of her works do bring into existence an atmospheric, and at times, expressionistic attitude.

Relation-3, tempera, 2004.

Rokeya is prolific, in her late 40s, she picks up the brush everyday "even to put a dab of paint on a canvas." Her steadfastness has paid her dividend. She went through phases in both subject matter and mediums. There, in fact, had been three phases in her career as far as her subject is concerned.

At one stage, after completing her masters in 1983 in Printmaking from Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, she had a fixation on sceneries. Later her madonna, a series depicting a mother with her child, gave her the prominence she deserved. However, her third phase is characterised by female duos, couples and lone women in the midst of nature. In her previous solo at Bengal Gallery in 2001, her attention turned to "Water, Earth, Wind," and that was the occasion when the artist as a mother of one daughter, came of age; she started acknowledging her child as a grown woman.

" In my recent paintings I often depict two women. It has to do with the fact that I now consider my own child as a companion. And as for woman I depict her as all - consuming and all - conquering," relates Rokeya, hence the projection of women as a natural force in her art.

The emotive force is what Rokeya tries to employ behind her drawings of figures and it renders them child-like. As for the atmosphere that her works thrives on, it is the result of the way she applies tempera, conventionally used as oil-based medium. Rokeya has been using it with water for the last decade or so, and at present it is the water colour-like application that lends her works the signature brio.


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