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     Volume 8 Issue 89 | October 9, 2009 |

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Tales of Tranquillity

Fayza Haq
Right: Kantha Kahani-8, Colage on Canvas, 2009. Left: Kantha Kahani-9, Colage on Canvas, 2009.

Fahmida Enam Kakoli, in her recent exhibition at "La Galarie", Alliance Francaise, is no longer the angry, young firebrand --- fighting against the atrocities that afflict people everyday. She has not quite forgotten the stories of rape, acid throwing on women, death-inducing bomb blasts, child labour and oppression -- themes of former works in her stark sweeps of paintbrush in raw colours. She is now more optimistic. This is even though her medium remains down-to -earth plastering of mud and collage of old grey and black quilts. Added to them are crudely cut glitzy photos of actresses in gaudy costumes; burnt, dried leaves, and stray feathers. They delineate the lives of the uncomplicated people -- who take pleasure in the average, uneventfullness of life -- "far from the madding crowd". Kakoli's inspirations in her latest endeavour, "Kantha Kahani", are simple and uncomplicated.

Kakoli sees the complacency and contentment of country life -- even though, at times, she mingles this with tales of suicide and ill health of children due to lack of hygiene.

Who will buy these art pieces of torn, grey "kanthas"-- even though they carry the valuable reminiscence of a generation of a life together? They are not the neat, decorative "nakshikanthas" done with boats, peacocks , fish and elegant fauna that one finds in trendy handicraft shops. They are stitched from old saris, and are meant to tell a tale of quiet simplicity, definitely not aimed at decorating the living room with sparks of buoyant colours. Kakoli's choice of images and colours remain muted and subtle. She dwells on browns, beiges and greys -- finding peace and rhythmic harmony in the simple things in life. This she confronts in her visits to the countryside with her photographer husband. The occasional touch of silver glitter-- which one may almost miss-- lend variation in one or two pieces. Black and white paintbrush strokes, along with a few more pastel squiggles and swirls, appear to have been laid on in a casual and artless manner. The sombreness and naiveté are elements sought after by the artist herself.

" The way I've used acrylic before were through swift stokes, which dry quickly. My protests had never been through meetings and processions. They've been through canvas and colours, like so many artists before me, throughout the ages, in so many countries. In 'Chitrak', in particular , I'd protested against terrorists in our society, like Bangla Bhai , whom even the government, at that time, could not stop. I'd cried out against the hypocrisy of the cleric too, who stoned women in the villages and had no compunctions about abusing little boys, sent to them to study.

Kantha Kahani-7, Colage on Canvas, 2009.

"Since then my lifestyle in Borguna, Barisal, has brought peace and tranquillity into my existence. I met many village women, whose lives I now depict. I've focused on 'kanthas' made from old saris, which is a traditional craft found in most homes. At times, I've photographed the individuals I'd meet; and out of my association with the villagers, I created a world of my own. This is a sharp contrast from the city life I'd portrayed with passion in my earlier works. Then, as a Dhakite, when I merely stepped out into the streets, I faced many everyday niggling problems, like bag snatching and automobile accidents," says Kakoli. Later, the artist moved on to England for a while, at a turning point of her life, and also enjoyed an offer of a fellowship in Korea for six months. These sojourns too added facets to her persona. They lent her hope and sustenance.

One of the "kanthas" is muted green, and has been stitched by two sets of grandparents. A few sketches, a leaf and a border of homely village sayings set off the piece, e.g." Buri, buri koi jao, Natir laiga ki nao..." Another is a gift to a young couple, whose photo with their radiant smiles has been included in the piece. Strokes of pastel chrome yellow and blue prop up the image of harmony. Unassuming, content with their lot, the "kantha" speaks of this conjugal bliss and harmony -- which perhaps can be sought where people are not forever striving to excel.

In a third canvas we see a coloured, glossy photo of a boatman, resting -- wrapped in an old "kantha", stitched by his wife, and dreaming of the comforts of the hearth and home. "This is the season, in February, when there is little fishing to be done, and so the fishermen take a break," says Kakoli. Figures of the fisherman's family are included in the distance -- in orange, pink and green sketches.

Alongside is a paper cutout of a glamorous film actress, cloth toys hanging from a string, and a few draping feathers on the side. This ushers in the poignant tale of a girl who was raped and who resorted to suicide, as the only way out of the disgrace that would ensue in the small community that she lived in. Thus the songs emanating from the "kanthas" are not all rosy idylls. There are prickly thorns along with the blossoms in this metaphoric garden of Eden -- away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete city jungles. "I've used the image of the cinema actress to introduce a dramatic element," says Kakoli. Sometimes, also seen on the edges of the canvases, are clay toys, paper images of pet animals -- which are often to be found in courtyards of sun-drenched days, when "kanthas" are stitched in the village homes. Hope, joy, contentment, with occasional mishaps, are the undercurrents of Kakoli's new canvases.

Fahmida Enam Kakoli, has five awards to her credit, four solos and numerous joint exhibitions. Her works have been exhibited in Newcastle, Beijing, Kathmandu, Kolkata and Soeul.

The display is on till October 14.


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