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     Volume 5 Issue 106 | August 4, 2006 |

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The Search for Beauty and Truth

Mustafa Zaman

Haven't seen such green grass, mixed media, 2006

Laila Sharmeen is a romantic whose search for beauty and truth informs her art. She aligns herself with the romantic poets of the past centuries (both of Bengal and Europe) in her effort to determine what is valuable in life. Like the English Romantic poet John Keats, she too feels that the concept of truth is interchangeable with that of beauty. It is this attachment to the romantic notion of life and nature that helps her distance herself from the scourges of modern life, which are manifested in loss of faith, alienation and most of all in loss of the romantic vision. It also helps her exalt in whatever simple ideas she lays her faith upon. In her work she never gives into pathos, it is with a sense of exaltation that she approaches her life and work. However, the joy that imbues every aspect of her works is not only a reflection of the romantic soul that she possesses but also the result of her ability to build her imagery from mere fragments.

Although Sharmeen is conceptually anchored in Romanticism, her works are fragmented, a trait that any Romantic poet would have deplored. In each piece the artist assembles her elements with the zeal of a creator for whom every creative action is a way to view the present -- where humans have been pushed to the periphery to make way for consumerism -- in the context of a past -- where humanity used to hold the centre stage. The collage, the squiggles and the coloured patches as well as the white embossed areas that come from zinc plates, and the watercolour washes and teeny weeny drawings that are astutely used to complete the final imagery, all these go to create a coherent monologue that appeals to an unsuspecting audience and in turn remind them of the fact that the artist is in search of beauty and truth at a time when the situation is adverse to such a concept.

Though it is the harmony of disjointed forms that Sharmeen lays her faith upon, she does not propose her imagery as a respite from the drudgeries of the mechanised world. If it were so, she would have preferred depiction of natural scenery with the potential to course the spectators through a virtual experience of being in proximity with nature. Instead, she composes her pictures out of scraps and squiggles to elucidate the fact that today we have no other option but to be contented with whatever fractions of the truth and beauty we are left with. Works like “Shantih Shantih Shantih," and "Datta Daydhvam Damyata-2," testify to such craving for a 'whole' that the artist feels we have lost to modernisation.

Spontaneous beauty-1, mixed media, 2006

It is to re-enforce her belief in Romanticism that each of her image accompanies a text. In most occasions the text is a simplistic reflection of nature and life and is chosen from the verses of her favourite poets. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,” “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” these are a few example of her borrowings from the romantic poets.

There are images that accompany a whole stanza of a poem. In her amazingly balanced yet informal compositions the texts easily go with other elements that encourage closer inspection. Among these elements what can be considered her emblem is the line of miniscule boats she draws in strategic places. The dots and lines that adorn her composition also add to the miniature-like quality of her work.

Sharmeen's quest is for spiritual enrichment. Personally she feels that for any one seeking spiritual fulfillment there is no alternative to resorting to all the knowledge of the world. To demonstrate her allegiance to all the thinkers of the world she brought together the dust jackets of philosophical as well as creative works of writers who matter in our civilisation. She makes them part of an installation, of which the most interesting element is a fortune teller who sits in the exhibition hall with his paraphernalia: from the parrot to

Shantih Shantih Shantih, mixed media, 2006

the fortune cards hidden in a set of envelops. For every viewer willing to try their luck the parrot picks up a card. However, to the astonishment of the viewer the words written on the cards are not the usual revelation on their own lives but facts that enlighten them on certain anomalies of our civilisation.

A woman sleeping in a bed with silver and golden magic wands lying at her feet and head respectively is also part of her installation. Prof S Monzoorul Islam interprets the sleeping beauty and its adjoining arrangements of the fortune teller and the magic mirror that distorts whatever is reflected in it as a commentary on contemporary state of knowledge as well as on our eagerness to replace rationalism with fairytale solutions.

If the installation seemed like an attempt at making sense out of this chaotic world where hierarchy of things collapses on a daily basis, the series of mixed media works are her homage to the world where the simpler pursuits of life are seen as the most consequential actions of all. Sharmeen's ability to express her emotions is aptly encapsulated in her paintings. The installation could easily have been an altogether different exhibition. It is for her mixed media works that she will secure a place in posterity.

The exhibition at the Bengal Gallery Fine Arts lasted from 19 to 28 July.

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