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Book Review

Arriving at Depart

Nader Rahman

More often than not Mustafa Zaman's art pushes one to respond, one can very rarely just stroll through his shows and accept what's on display, take it in and process it later. His work demands a response and as such his latest creation, the quarterly arts magazine Depart is more than a collection of articles on art, it is an inspection into the deeper question of what art can be, rather than what it is. While he never overtly raises the question of what art can be, everything in the magazine points to the unasked question, and rather than looking for the answer, the magazine spells out what litters the artistic landscape in search of the answer.

As Editor of the magazine Mustafa Zaman could now be called part of the establishment, something he would surely take as an accusation and a slur, but unfortunately that may just be the case. As gatekeeper of will and wont be published, he now holds the unenviable title of artist turned critic, but if his journalistic writing is anything to go by, his unbiased work should be well appreciated by the literati who often froth at the mouth when they see their fellow artists comment rather than create.

Truth be told the magazine seems something of a response to the stilted artistic ramblings of Dhaka's pseudo-intellectual masses. A cynic might be tempted to say that Depart is an addition to the wooden conversation just through a different medium, but it manages to bypass that road by attaining a quality which other arts publications are devoid of, imagination. It is through the use of that imagination that the magazine sets itself apart from its predecessors, there is no linear use of pictures and large white spaces breathe easy beside their often weighty contents. While the lay out is anything but simple, it does not distract one from the main purpose of the magazine, its carefully selected and well edited articles which range from the theatre of Bengali folk tales to a study on Quamrul Hassan's evolution as artist.

The editors note in most magazines is something one can afford to skip, yet the premier issue of Depart has an editors note so readable and relevant that without it, the magazine would fall flat on its face. More than creating the space for a magazine like Depart to exist, the Editors note seeks to re-imagine the artistic world in such a way that the magazine brings the very fringes of artistic debate into the light. It would be hurtful to say slighted topics and issues are brought into the mainstream through this publication as the label 'mainstream' is something they seek to steer clear of, hence the name Depart.

Interestingly the first major piece in the magazine is a translation and reprint of a lecture by Rabindranath Tagore, in Baroda in 1930. While the piece titled 'Man the artist' is eminently readable and obviously tough to get a hand of, it feels a bit like a cop out by giving it such prominence at the very start of the magazine. Under the section 'archaeology' it is a perfect fit and a great read, but could have been saved for the latter half of the magazine. The first piece one can really get their teeth into the article by noted theatre personality and scholar, Syed Jamil Ahmed. With an introspective look into female driven folk takes from rural Bengal he uses Freud to deconstruct and demystify the treatment of females in the stories. The article is well researched and written with great care as at times complex and differing opinions come together in the same sentence.

Naeem Mohaimen's essay is an interesting and at times personal read on the Turner Prize nominated artist Runa Islam, who's image 'stare out (blink)' also graces the cover of the inaugural issue. Mustafa Zaman, then takes on the life and artistic times of Quamrul Hassan as he traces out his evolution and eventual shift away from modernism. Ebadur Rahman then takes on Md Atiqul Islam's sculptures with a fine comb and comes away with a sour taste in his mouth.

Interestingly in the first issue of Deaprt there are two interviews, which depending on your point of view are either enlightening or dead weight. I would probably stand between both judgements, because for the most part the interviews and/or conversations with artists Dhali Al Mamoon and Wakilur Rahman and poet and scholar Farhad Mazar are interesting reads, but one feels the magazine could have done with one or another. While they tackle wholly different issues, the fact that in the end they both come out in a straightforward question/answer format leaves one under whelmed. That being said in their own right the interviews/conversations were fluid and lucid in a way one would not normally associate with a question and answer session.

The bite-sized reviews towards the end of the magazine are the real hidden gems. Simple, succinct and readable with a little analysis they really provide one with food for thought. The obvious stand out is Ebadur Rahman's brilliant review of Nirmalendu Goon's exhibition last year along with Shahman Moishan's sceptical review of Shahabuddin's so called 'new' exhibition last year. The only complaint is that the reviews do not come in any real order, most recent exhibitions coming first or anything along those lines. The fact that there are no reviews past October 2009 is also an issue that irked me a little.

Its little imperfections aside, the first issue of Depart would have to be viewed as a success. Sure there were some pages that seemed like an after thought (the pages on Noazesh Ahmed and Naib Uddin's 'Amar Bangla') but they were few and far between. The major essays were unusual and readable, a step away from the road they were supposed to have followed. As this magazine clears out a way though the woods for the first time, they are sure to leave a trail that cannot and will not be followed again. That's why arriving at Depart is such an enjoyable experience.

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