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     Volume 5 Issue 89 | April 7, 2006 |

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Unfolding Drama and Floral Symphony

Mustafa Zaman

There is art that soothes the eyes and there is art that challenges our perceptive ability. Fida Haq's work does both. His solo exhibition titled "Of Angels and Chariots" unfolds a two-fold drama. In one the artist is inclined to recreate traditional patterns, and in the other he attempts to examine fear, misgivings and other existential emotions and truths by means of uncanny tales. This Bangladeshi expatriate living in Australia has only been practicing his craft for the last three years. If his solo show at the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts is a guide, he has shown much gusto in using the contemporary language into his third year as an artist. Fida resorts to all sorts of postmodernist ploy. He makes use of photography, computer graphic and even video and text. However, this is only one side of the artist. The other facet is made up of patterns that the artists create using discarded drink-cans and packets to pay homage to the long-standing tradition of the subcontinent.

If the handmade patterns bring to the fore a sense of harmony, the photographic and computer generated images help formulate a commentary on modern living. Fida works from within the periphery of the postmodern idiom; as such he considers patterns to be a means to tap into the collective passion of a populace. If the patterns are brought to the light to express his claim to a certain culture, it is through his photographs that Fida examines human psyche by way of shedding critical light on their behaviour in a late modern society.

Animals brush teeth in front of river/mirror-1

Most of the photographs that Fida displayed in the gallery seems like glimpses from a parallel world, a world that can only be identified as skits of the real world. In that world where strangeness hangs in the air like invisible mist, mostly sari-clad women in tiger masks are seen in front of various sceneries striking pseudo modeling poses. Their choreography is determined by appropriating either the kitschy images that we often encounter in the works of the rickshaw painters or the popular images of Bangladeshi moviedom. But not all the photographic and computer generated images thrive in such low art sensibility. Though all his photographs eschew high art callisthenis, there are a few that mimic the language of advertisement.

However, the most poignant take on modern life looks more like a spoof on an advertisement campaign. It is called "Animals Brush Teeth in Front of River/Mirror". There is a text that supplements the image, and a part of it reads like this: "the act of brushing teeth afford us those precious moments of self-scrutiny -- our awareness of self brought to the attention if not heightened by our reflection on mirror." It is something to be noted that the impact of most of Fida's photographs is a psychological one; and they seem like a means to re-examine ones place in this rapidly changing world.

In the darkish series titled "Animals Brush Teeth in Front of River/Mirror", a couple in tiger masks poses with tooth brush in hands. Like the hero and the heroine of a typical Bangla movie, they even attempt to twirl around a light post in one of the photographs. However, in the end, these sarcastic takes on various subjects only provoke the viewers to become introspective.

Away from water on strange rock

All the photographs of Fida that look more like parodies of the real world are borderline images -- too kitschy to be of any use. The sari-clad women in "The TV Arrives" and "The Lion Speaks on TV" or in "Scene One by the Watering Hole" and "Away from Water on Strange Rock" are like actors in sarcastic drama. The cheesiness of the pieces is loud and clear; they all look like amateurish modelling photographs. In the post-modern idiom these are images that work as a means to reasses human habits, which, in turn, debunk a lot of truth about self.

If the series of masked women and men are modelled after kitsch, the photographs called "All We Need is Some Tension" closely follow the idiom of modern day advertisement. They imitate the exuberance and directness that is often the quality of the hoardings for drinks or fast food. The series addresses the pre-Christmas race riots that took place in

The TV arrives

2005 in Australia, where the artist has remained resident for the last thirteen years. However, his take on the subject seems devoid of the irony that ruled supreme in his other photographs. These images along with the ambitiously wide "BangBangOzBang!", where all sorts of emblematic images of Bangladesh and Australia has been amassed, falls short of the drama that make the rest of the photographic works thought provoking.

As models are used in his photographic works, they involve a collaborative element. This very approach is given a twist in the video projection that the artist planned on the occasion of his latest show. He chose volunteers from the visitors who came to attend his exhibition on the inaugural day and projected them as a jumble of faces juxtaposing one on the other. A photograph of the same vein records the features of numerous rickshaw-wallahs of Dhaka to zero in on the typical aspect of their portraitures. These works bring to the fore a realist tendency of the artist. They shun metaphor or sarcasm to straightforwardly refer back to his subjects.

If Fida's fantasy laden photographs are a way for him to critically engage himself with the goings on of the modern day world, his portraitures are a means to interact with the people. As for the floral motifs, they enable him to reclaim the tradition of Mughal as well as Buddists art. Though they remain far apart as they become expressed through three separate idioms of art, they all tap into the same reservoir, which is the collective psyche. If through patterns he brings into view the collective passion of a populace, it is through portraits that he strives to realise his populist dreams, and the kitschy imagery helps him address the vulnerability of self amidst all sorts of collective fear and misgivings in the modern world.

The exhibition titled "Of Angels and Chariots" was held from March 27 to April 7 in the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts.

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