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     Volume 10 |Issue 07 | February 18, 2011 |


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Off the Beaten Path

Fayza Haq

If one is blasé with the run of the mill expositions, one has only to look at Tayeba Begum Lipi and her husband Mahboob Rehman's efforts through the years working out their UK-centred Britto projects. They are not as harsh as some which one has witnessed in Dhaka, at the Institute of Arts, DU expos in the form of delineation of private parts, or physical distortion of the human body – which has been in vogue in the US, China and Cuba. Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rehman do not go in for such tortuous extremes for their “off beat paths” of visual art to drive home their message of disenchantment with the socio-political and economical situations at home and the rest of South Asia. The aim of Britto is global harmony as is that of most artistes.

Britto's presentations have been seen throughout Dhaka, and at exhibition centres such as Alliance Francaise, Drik Gallery etc. Even for Old Dhaka, the “Off the beaten track” exhibition in 2008 remains like some breath of fresh air, for those weary of stifling ambiance of the metropolis's gridlocks.

When Words Don't Come Easy, 2008, by Raihan Ahmed Rafi, Britto New Media Festival, 2009.Photo: courtesy

Some of the experimental works, seen in Dhaka, as else where, depict cockroaches, headless human bodies and other gory details etc. as seen even in Bengal Gallery. This shock technique may not appeal to all. About these extremes of protests, Lipi says, these are methods of shaking one up from one's composure, as seen in communist countries like China and Cuba. “One cannot deny, ignore or wipe off the revolting elements that has wrapped up our societies so much so that we feel like vomiting,” she says. People are politically and socially victimised. These artists want to depict the extremity of one's endurance. Our section of artists maybe presenting the same views and feelings – although in a finer way so as not to jar the sensibilities too much. There are performance artistes, who for instance, torture their bodies and this is to prove a point. In one of our international workshops, there was an artist from Iran, Amir Mobed, who had a square box around his head. He asked shooters with fake bullets to aim at him. Certain standing areas were demarcated and labelled as “I hate you" and “I love you”. This was a strong and angry mark of protest. Ultimately the protesting artist had to be hospitalised. Another artist, at Sonargaon, wrapped himself with a red cloth to a tree. He stood there for five hours, with his hands behind him. That artist wanted to depict man's integral relationship with nature.”

The Britto “Off the beaten track" leading artists, Lipi and Mahboob were asked to touch upon their experiments in Lahore; in Old Dhaka; and in various far flung districts outside Dhaka. What exactly is behind the experiments and who are the people drawn into these thought-provoking ventures?

Nillofar Chaman's Summer Song of Cicada, Time Line 1900-2010, Off the Beaten Path, South Asian Exhibition, 2008. Photo: courtesy

Mahboob says that in every media, in every dimension, experimental work has taken place. The people working on 3-D surfaces have not been identified or encouraged. Beyond conventional modes of art, one has not seen much progress. Experimental artists have still to be recognised and absorbed into mainstream art, says Mahboob. Even our traditional crafts–in metal, wood and clay have not been developed as they should have been, he adds. Experiments can be more diverse, and we, artists, felt this need, for quite some time, at least by the Britto artists, he says. If more venues are opened for enquiring minds, visual art can progress much more, says Mahboob. Britto always seeks new concepts, and looks for different platforms of expressions of visual art. The workshops that Britto conducts look for different and varied expressions of art. The art practises of Britto are not market-oriented. The results of the endeavours of the arts working in this group aim at artists working in an unbridled manner. They think freely and have to please no one, but their own enquiring minds. The artists develop a “dialogue” with a material, place or situation and themselves. It is a new language that the artist develops, says Mahboob. This he says can be nature, a segment of landscape, buildings and people around the artist. The platform for the fresh experiments and the manner of seeing and feeling the elements around the artist is vast. The art market is ignored and so the shackle that restricts other average artist is not there, one realises. It is the artists who are given the most importance. If after this, says Mahboob, if anyone wants to buy the piece of artwork as a consequence of the experiment, this is a thing apart.

“We try to have interaction with other people such as the Hill Tracts people, and the people from the villages of Barisal. These people have never had the opportunity to come to the Gulshan and Dhanmandi art galleries and yet we have been able to share our thoughts with them. This opens up many avenues of thoughts for the artist." Mahboob adds.

While completing residency in Lahore Lipi had felt that the socio economic and political scenario in Pakistan and Bangladesh were similar. Her work was a reaction to the prevailing situations. The curtain of steel blades was shining and attractive. When one went closer to the installation piece, one felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic: In fact it was diabolic, she says. There were 3,500 blades, says Lipi. Within the veil, on the base was a recreation of a corpse in the form of painted board.

Mahboob , in his latest project is working with cowhide and goat hide, pigskins. He is also experimenting with brands such as that of “Coca-cola”. “By looking at the brand name we know what it might contain. Earlier I showed guns being held. Now, I am only depicting the logos of the guns. Ammunition are a part of our lives. But we don't want them: We crave for security instead. One kills evil to protect the good. Yet, how do we know who are the good and who are the bad ones?” says Mahboob.

In the “One Square Mile” project Britto artists focused on Old Dhaka. Well-known artists and film –makers were invited to this multi-faceted endeavour, to capture the lifestyle of Old Dhaka, with films, paintings, videos and installations. The work was done in eight countries and ten places were chosen for the experiments, says Lipi. This was scattered world wide, as in UK, China, Russia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the time slot was a year, she says. The main organisers visited Bangladesh and viewed the different work in progress. The funding was from British Council, UK. The organisers had examined the Bangladeshi scenario before e-mailing us to send proposal for participation. The subjects, says Lipi, included bio-diversity, environment, and culture. Forty artists participated in Bangladesh alone, she says. The area selected in Dhaka included important historical buildings, she says. Rokeya Sultana, Naima Haque and Torun Ghosh were among the senior artists who had taken part.

Molla Sagor, a film maker, Amirul Rajib, photographer, of the 'The Daily Star', Mahboob, Lipi Mainul Islam Paul, Saleh Mahmood, Rasheda Huda and Suleikha Chowdhury were there too. There had been numerous venues of Old Dhaka that had been selected. Some chose a building; some a street ; others an auditorium–like that of Bulbul Academy; Ahsan Manzil; Shakhari Bazar; Beauty Boarding ( the oldest boarding house); Lalkuthi; Victoria Park; Hostel of Muslim High School; Shambazar. Some have focused on children; others on the public, in general, some had made films on the life on the banks of the Buriganga like Molla Sagor , who made a film on the pollution of this area. Molla Sagor had chosen a Hindu ritual on the banks of the Buriganga to depict how the river is an integral part of the life of that area – despite the dirt and congestion.

Next the students of Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA) were shown, some learning how to dance, others practicing the violin. This was done by Torun Ghosh and was his first complete films. Helal, says Mahboob, did a film on how the cinema halls in Old Dhaka are slowly seeing extinction. This brought in owners of cinema halls, operators of the cameras etc. Old films are included in this, one is told. Ahsan Manzil had interactive presentation (creating a web site which is information based and this is geared at the public), installation and performance. Thus new interest is created. Buying and selling the lifestyle in Shakhari Bazar Streets and Dholai Khal (where spare parts and machines necessary for automobiles) have been captured.

Thus, in the creations and recreations of One Mile Square project one had a carnival of people and places forgotten The diverse, dense life of Old Dhaka, its people, houses, boats, animals and scenes are held up in a kaleidoscope to be seen, felt and appreciated before it all dies away in the name of progress.



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