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    Volume 9 Issue 1 | January 1, 2010|

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Blending Angst with Nostalgia

Fayza Haq

For Rokeya Sultana -- whose solo exhibition is scheduled to be held at the Bengal Gallery in February in 2010-- both prints and painting are dear to her heart. Sometimes she feels her painting is more satisfactory, as she can play with colours, as she wants to her will. With prints -- she says, she's not always sure what the result will be -- although that has a thrill of its own. Even for her gauche she has to keep in mind her commitment to the home -- and not just the gallery (where her display is schedule) or her patrons.

Earlier, she usually went in for etching on zinc sheet, dealing with soft backdrops. At present, she has bold, decisive colours, which gives the wash a scintillating effect. On them she works with bold felt tipped marker pens , which give crayon- like images. At one time she had a press of her own, which was kept in the extension of the house. However, she gave away her printing - machine to the Jessore Charupit, as she felt that needs were greater than hers. For the last 12 years she has been concentrating on tempera.

"Since life is a continuous journey, something new does not pop up all that frequently. Yet, there are changes in situations, environment, and I, myself, go through different phases. Earlier, in our tradition, we went in for browns and pastels, if one studies the master painters of only Bangladesh. Some then artists broke from this concept. and I hope that I'm one of them, as I tend to fill my canvas with vibrant colours -- with variations of a single primary colours in each piece. When I go in for prints now, I work in the Department of Fine Arts, DU. In the last two years I've done some dry point, lithograph, woodcut etc. Yes, there are changes in colours, image, and form with time. This time I'll be dealing more with colour combinations, that bring in the effect of water, earth and air-- which bring in the poetry of the Bangladeshi Nature poets-- like Jiban Ananda Das. They are variations of abstractions in my work, and bring in the different seasons of Bangladesh. They also reflect different aspects of our culture. At least these are my intentions and focus.”

“Some have criticised that Rokeya has gone in for the use of a single tone ,of say of one blue, red or yellow, in gauche ie. The figures superimposed on them are with black marker pens. She has gone in for raw colours." I have not used contrasting or supporting colours. Thus my work is gauche --- all in ruby red, or variations of blue or emerald green. My fauna and flora have been earlier suggested --with dots, dashes and splashes. In them you can find the boats, rivers, trees and even flowers-- if you only care to observe and appreciate. . I don't necessarily have to change the tint to bring home my vision. I've tried to bring in the beauty, poetry and charm of existence in Bangladesh, in my earlier pieces " she says.

Rokeya's many inclusions of women's figures have the focal point on women's position in society. Being an artist -- who has the east in mind-- a well-traveled individual like herself, believes in the "Second Sex "and such European concepts. She attempts to present women as a mother, a female deity, a daughter, grandmother or a female relative / friend / acquaintance. Her focus on women is not just an obsession. The artist wishes to bring home the female role found in many myths, legends, religious books or historical records. Women have often played a coveted part in both past and present, as she understands. Hence the repeated occurrence on women's appearance with extended bosoms and derrieres on the canvas. This has been repeated. The intentional effort is to bring home the point that her focus on woman is not necessarily a hang-up on lesbianism -- or whatever distorted concept any art critique might have had.

Rokeya does not go in for just stories that she can recollect-- of past, present, future or whatever, she does not present the beauty of life; she amalgamates tenses and times, symbols and suggestions-- various "isms" flow into the artist's blood.

This artist is so well-known that the story in town is that her canvases sell overseas-- even when they have not been presented to the local art connoisseur.

She has not just won awards/ accolades -- national and international. She has every right to view the world, as she wishes. She has faced the " slings and arrows" of life so far -- as a mother, wife, teacher or what you will. She tries to tread gently-- but it is not quite possible or possible -- each and every time. She does her best and that should surely be enough. Other women of this origin, such as Novera Ahmed (who still lives in Paris, as the story goes) has tried to combat her life in the best possible. But such women do not live in the east -- where the world is not necessarily cosmopolitan. One has to keep in mind the time and the place of an artist. Other women, "in this day and age", of oriental origin, i.e., surely do not have to "face the music" in each and every corner. Her professors, like Professor Abul Barq Alvi and Professor Mahmoudul Haque, are bursting with pride over this particular pupil of theirs. Her students, both overseas and local, adore her gentle ways of teaching.

Talking about Santiniketan-- where she got her last degree--Rokeya being a professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, DU-- she'll tell you categorically and sweetly about the peaceful and inspiring ambiance of the place in India. She does not leave out a tiny fragment of the scenario of Santiniketan. Rokeya is nostalgic about the gently swaying trees, softly singing birds, exotic flowers and the emerald shaded grass. Who can forget this unforgettable place? She brings in the backdrop of the Santals, who live nearby, as any artist who has been to Santiniketan. Hence her student days in India were an unimaginable idyll -- as all Bangladeshi artists, having studied there, will tell you.

Just looking at the photography exhibition, presented at Alliance Francaise, in December, and not merely speaking to the artists of all ages an gender-- one realises the impact of the peace and harmony of which Rokeya rests her mind -- when seeking repose. The cement jungles of Dhaka does tend to confuse one and cramp one's style -- specially those of a creative person-- who has to try to keep in mind the home and the hearth.

One presumes that one has to take Rokeya as she is. Picasso too surely had his problems and confusions-- as all artists have done after the two World Wars. Rokeya cannot bask on her glory, as she has "promises to keep".

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