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     Volume 4 Issue 69 | October 28, 2005 |

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Bridging the Gap

Mustafa Zaman

In the cultural domain the friendship between Bangladesh and Japan goes back a long way. It was Rabindranath Tagore whose personal friendship with Tenshin Okakura, an illustrious Japanese fine arts scholar, and Taikan Yokoyama, a master of Japanese painting, that sparked off a process of cultural exchange near about one hundred years ago. Today the tradition of exchange programmes instigated by personal initiative still continues. Artist and Director General of the National Museum Prof Mahmudul Haque says that in the arena of fine arts most of the programmes are held at the behest of artists who once studied art in Japan. "Bridge of Friendship" the recently inaugurated joint art exhibition by Japanese and Bangladeshi artists at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts is no exception. It is the result of a friendship on a personal level. Haque along with Toshiyki Shiroki, prof emeritus at the University of Tsukuba, and Mitsuko Saitou, of Chief Committee of Classroom Gallery, have played a major role in making the present joint show happen.

The the seven day long exhibition that was inaugurated on October 2, has created an opportunity for ten Japanese artists and ten Bangladeshi artists to display their work under the same roof. This is one unique feature of the show titled "Bridge of Friendship". There were shows organised by GS Kabir that brought in works of the Japanese artists to Bangladesh, but this is the only show where ten Japanese artists belonging to different generations has banded together. In the Bangladeshi camp too, the old guard has come together with the relatively young artists. Mohammad Kibria from Bangladesh and Toshiyuki Shiroki from Japan are the most venerated artists of this show. From the ten Bangla-deshi artists seven had been to Japan on higher studies. And the three were chosen as they had shows in private galleries in Japan.

As for the merit of show, it seems like a well thought out presentation that adequately showcases of the talents of the two countries. Yet presence of the Bangladeshi artists seems intentionally low-key. Only one painting represents Mohammad Kibria; that too is a piece that had been on display before. And the rest of the Bangladeshi bunch is represented by two paintings each, but it is with the size that one senses the presence of restriction. All works are smallish, which restricted the usual artistic fluency of many. Sheikh Afzal, one of the younger participants, is a case in point. He is known for his biggish canvases that represent either street or rural people. Here in this show his presence has been curtailed. Mohammad Eunus too has been robbed off his charm in the two small creations. Among the Bangladeshi artists, it is Mostafizul Haque who took the liberty to produce bigger works. His works, as usual, are dull in colour and unimaginative in content. Sayed Janhangir, Abul Barq Alvi, Mahmudul Haque, Jamal Ahmed are represented with their signature style.

In the Japanese camp, there are some delightful visual propositions to look at. They too are made up of both old and new guards. There is even a young gengmyou exponent, or a Japanese calligraphy artist among the participants. Shiroki himself is a traditional water colourist. However, the presence of artists like Toshio Sakai and Shin-chi Asada and Taichi Yonaha has made difference. Sakai has come up with a kind of photo-etching that did wonders for his brand of expression. His mono-coloured images are unpeopled, and have an haunting quality to them.

Asada is a realist with a metaphysical touch. His realistic rendition of rock, kindle or vegetable wrapped in a cellophane paper recall the works of American photorealists. His superimposition of digits or texts onto his realistic subject matters is a ploy to render his work conceptually loaded.

Yonaha comes from the opposite side of the spectrum. He thrives in absence of objects. His works seem like extreme exercises in colour field compositions. Each seems like a homage to tranquillity, precise and clinical in expression. In fact his works are so undisturbed by any thing other than the expense of colour that his two works seem like spaces dedicated to hi-tech age. Quite a few Japanese artists have taken this route, but Yonaha's imagery seemed to have mustered the simplicity that others lack.

Miwako Tomioka, is one exceptional painter who deals with a glut of images that remind one of the fairytale world. Though he tells stories where animals and vegetation become the main elements, the imagination doesn't seem to flow as freely as it should have to make his paintings works.

The rest of the gang is quite predictable. Shotaro Nakayama's three dimensional compositions, and Ikuo Niida's paint-splattered abstractions are what we see in many Japanese shows.

Subir Chowdhury, the director of Bengal gallery, has put his ambition in a nutshell; at the inaugural session he said, "This is the kind of exhibition that makes the viewers aware of where Bangladeshi artists stand in comparison with the artists of the world." If the recent show is any guide, they are at per with the Japanese counterparts.

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