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    Volume 9 Issue 6 | February 5, 2010|

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In Conversation with Artists

Fayza Haq

Mythical Queen-2, Lalarukh Selim.

We were at the home of well known artist Lalarukh Selim in Dhanmondi. Young experts including professors and senior teachers from the Department of Fine Arts, D U, Dhaka, spoke on the state of art , both locally and internationally. Fareha Zeba, Nisar Hussain and Lalarukh Selim spoke without hesitation, over a cup of tea and local cheese. Outside it was dark except the the few stars that glittered forming the backdrop of the hour-long coversation with The Star.

The Star: What should be goal of an artist-- To please the viewer or satisfy the urge of creating a perfect piece of art?

Prof. Lalarukh Selim: In the first place it is difficult to know whether what the artist has in mind is going to be perfect. Definitely his/her aim is not to please the viewers: It might strike a balance of what might be something which would be suitable to communicate. Perhaps if one wants viewers to be satisfied in the first place a piece of art might be a balance between what the artist wants to communicate with, and of course, what the artist wants to make. In a sense it could be what he/she thinks what is a perfect piece of art.

There is also that question of the artist being certain of what he is aiming at. Definitely it is vital that the artist concerned should not be dishonest about what the artist creates. For the artist what he\she creates is a perfect piece of art; the artist must try to combine his aim, education and imagination. His knowledge of what is art and what he\she wants to be a perfect piece of art.

The Star: Are not some of the so-called masterpieces actually "factory-made" and somewhat objects of derision?

Prof. Selim: This is the case when the artist is not hundred percent honest of the effort, the skill, and knowledge of what he has put into his\her concept of the art work .

This is a question of dishonesty, absolutely. This is because the artist is not aiming at expressing or communicating, but selling his\her work. Here one must make it clear that an artist must sell his work: There is no problem with that. The aim, however, should not be to cheat oneself, and make that piece of art. I mean, just because they were willing to pay millions for my work, I don't know, I might then may start making work which is trash. But, unfortunately this happens, at times.

The Star: Is it fair to dangle a carrot, for easy returns, before an artist. By this one means a big sale -- superb prices for which they are sold for; There are cases of popular and discerning artists who's paintings are sold even before they are hung in the gallery, as is the case of some well-known artists in Bangladesh, for instance? Basically who controls the art scenario?

Prof. Selim: I think that it's a double-edged sword; it's not a question of fairness or unfairness: it's a question of the artist's integrity. Will an artist sell: It's not a question of making art work or selling. Even if you dangle carrots it should not work in a negative sense.

Prof. Nisar Hussain: there is no connection between serious artists and financial gain. When an artist is seriously practicing, the question of financial gain is in doubt; financial gain is the present market. There is no connection between serious artist and financial gain. At one stage art is something personal. It is so personal that it might be unaccept- able for some. At one stage this might be that the existing market may not be able to value the art work, as in the case of Rabindranath Tagore' work. These were the most serious artwork of contemporary art world of that time. Even today there is confusion about Rabindranath Tagore's work.

When Tagore wanted to sell his paintings they were sold. When he tried to have an exhibition of his work during his time he failed to do so. They were not given the value they deserved. What was offered was not ever near what should have been. Tagore's aim was not after financial gain. If that was the case other artists of the "Bengal" group -- like Abanindranth , Nadranath Bosu etc. -- sold their work Their aim was credibility.

Divided-1, Lalarukh Selim.

Considering Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michel Angelo, and Raphael-- whom you referred to --- Leonardo da Vinci worked with snow; Michel Angelo worked in the Sistine Chapel, and certainly did not consider monetary returns. He wanted to paint; his challenge was to present his mastery in paints. He was given a false letter saying that he knew painting: In reality he didn't know painting that much. When he went to paint, he didn't consider his financial gains. One can get money by just hi-jacking planes or by smuggling.

Financial gains have no deep connection with any media-- not just fine art. For a dedicated doctor or a serious writer, financial gains have great allure. When the question of survival comes, fine art has absolutely no connection. Cave art did not have buying and selling elements attached to them. But the artist then felt that through this he could earn his livelihood through hunting /fishing. Earning his livelihood was no easy task for the artists at that time. I strongly object to the term financial gain.

When I work, I myself, haven't earned much, so to put it. What I mean is that my painting will not have great value today, at this point in life. I don't want a crass buyer who has no real appreciation for art to buy my paintings. I aim at the offer that my work will be kept in a museum. The value of a piece of art cannot be measured by financial returns. If a creative person has his\her focus on the market value, he\she must paint as the patrons demand. Often an artist will paint as the market value dictates. There are people who appreciate serious art, but don't have the financial capacity to buy them. Ninety per cent of art collectors don't understand painting at all. If you examine the collection of paintings in the homes, they will not merit any place in our art history. Most of our artists are gallery based.

Fareha Zeba: I fully agree with Nisar. A contemporary artist, at one time, cannot work both for himself and the market. What is done for sale in the market is aimed at the market. This attitude to please buyers is rampant in Bangladesh today. This applies to any focus: Mainstream or otherwise. Buyers, galleries, ex-pats, and get-rich local people-- the collectors are the aim of these artists. What I feel today, even the art students, are being "derailed", or carried away by wrong influences. In our days the artist in the garret was the ideal of students of the then Art College. We were ready to struggle in our time: Today the art students' attitude is different. Video art etc, is put into mélange, and called art. Students today, working on the Internet easily, feel proud of making a fool of the viewers But whom they are fooling, is something that they don't know themselves. And this pathetic state of affairs.

The Star: Isn't success of an artist a combination of several factors: Education, luck, practice, guidance by parents, influence of friends etc.?

Reminiscence-2, Fareha Zeba.

Fareha Zeba: The teacher's guidance is very important. The teacher under whom I'm working is vital. My own teachers included Shaheed Kabir, who was ideal. He taught us knew techniques; each of his class had a new flavour of independence; we were keen to learn something. Others who have guided me in my work were many teachers: This included the late Mahbubul Amin, Mohammed Kibria, Abul Baraq Alvi, Mahmuodul Haque.

These professors were incredibly driven and dedicated. They guided and encouraged us patiently. In case of Professor Safiuddin Ahmed, he taught us good techniques of graphics. Students today don't know the basics of fine arts. So how will they create the best of fine art? Today, even before they know the rules, students break the rules and create ad lib. -- Their goal is super success. They copy and cheat to their heart's content. there is nothing to arrest this crazy wave. This is truly sad.

Nisar Hussian : The creativity struggle is such that he has to forget his own existence.

For him the reality is not overwhelming. These creative people are often poor and somewhat misunderstood and branded crazy. In Bangladesh today, for instance, the serious artist is way ahead of their contemporaries. He \she wants to create something far more in depth than his\her peers. What is available in the market is not the world he\she desires to live in. He\she wants to move on to a different and a Utopia of his\her own. The quest for the ideal is a must for each and every artist, the world over. The ideal artist is not in search of appreciation of the viewers \patrons\critiques.

When there are millions of Renaissance European artists, why do we remember only masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo and Raphael ? The truly talented artist of the time has some contribution of his own -- and this was beyond the contemporary artist of that time and place. He was way above his peers. He wished to create something nonpareil, which left an indelible mark on the mind for all time to come.

The Famine of Bengal of the 1942-1943, which inspired Zainul Abedin to make his unforgettable sketches were not appreciated or sold in his time. There were no articles on the Bengal Famine. Yes, the Leftist" People's World" did carry these vital images. However, this daily newspaper was not a paper of aesthetic work. The literary newspapers, as they were called at that time, carried any write-up or photos on that subject. Nevertheless, we know that the best pictures of the Famine were that of Zainul Abedin.

Lalarukh Selim and Fareha Zeba

The master artist, Zainul Abedin could not sell his dramatic black- and- white sketches and nor did they get the position of readers, which they deserved. Undoubtedly the best pictures of that time were these pictures. These pictures were not sold and nor did they get any appreciation.

Yes, today, Van Gogh's pictures are greatly admired by all. But today, we have many more different paintings to keep in mind. These are new and innovative. We don't repeat Van Gogh's pictures. Why did Zainul Abedin progress beyond the Bengal Famine pictures? He wanted to create something different and unique. He may not be able to achieve this, perhaps. Abedin himself said that he could not go beyond the position of these sketches. He just held on to that fame, and didn't go beyond that. Trying to do that he was caught up in a whirlpool, so to put it. In his drawing "Monpura", it was the Bengal floods and cyclones that he focused on (done in the 70's). He turned back to the life of abject poverty that prevails in our country. Why did he have this flash back? It's because the language of the drawing, the quality that he wished to get, was something he wanted to go beyond, at that juncture in his life.

Rabindranath Tagore too faced a similar situation. When he was writing, he felt that his new stream of thoughts was something he couldn't achieve in his writings. He felt that his writings had achieved a satisfactory point. He turned to a new media, pictures. Through his doodling, sketches, drawings and paintings he obtained a perfection that couldn't be criticized adversely by any critique. He felt that he did fear that his writing may not go down with one and all.

He didn't want his reputation marred. Hence with creative people there arises the confusion of " to do or not to do". He \she feels that his\hers established work has been achieved. He\she wants people to say that he has captivated us once more.

The regular fascination that one gets through the work of a creative writer\artist, or what you will , is what the true artist's vision.

The Star: What is the work of a true critique ?

Fareha Zeba: The responsibility of a critique is enormous. A complete art movement may be changed . If he\she is a sincere person, he \she will be with the artists, study their work and environment, and will present his appreciation or criticism. This responsibility cannot be minimized or belittled. This is being done in other countries but not in ours. Take the case of Selima Hashmi , in Pakistan, who has promoted female artists : After selection and working on the duty as a curate, artists, both male and female have reached their zenith. In case of India, Subramaniam and Gholam Sheikh have encouraged their students in a nonpareil manner. they themselves are both painters and art critiques. In Bangladesh I don't find critiques developing and guiding artists in the right path.


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