Depart The Other Voices on Art
Any magazine on art in Dhaka must always see the light of day with the foreknowledge that amongst the art enthusiasts there are only a few who are versed in the critical and theoretical aspects of art. In Europe, complaints are now being raised that the polemical attitudes are being set aside so that the market can thrive undisturbed. Bangladesh, though seemingly on the verge of a new era in art, is yet to catch up on the battles that had already been waged in criticism and art history in the previous century – ones that had gone through jerks and movements to arrive at certain discourses on modern, post-modern and even post-post-modern art. Here in Dhaka, the social sphere is yet to come alive with discourses and textual underpinnings that are necessary for both art making and art staging. There is a prevalent ambivalence as to the usefulness of criticism; and as for theoretical rigour, it is often seen as plain superfluous.
Depart, an English language art quarterly, targets a growing audience with the goal to underline the issues of aesthetic import and to make visible their wide-ranging implications through the mist of the above-mentioned ambivalence.
The quarterly is about to complete its third year. The obtrusively pink jacket of its 10th edition signals a revamped layout, and once one takes the plunge, the content offers an array of interesting reads. In a series of essays it attempts to provide contextual interpretations of art and architecture, setting them against the horizon of both past and present trajectories. A whole range of subject matter from architecture to photography, to issues around Kitsch to the current-day artistic genres practiced in Bangladesh are touched on by the writers.
Within its 116 pages, there are meditations on artists who have had a lasting impact on the art scene of this region. A homage to the recently demised abstractionist Fokhrul Islam and a summary on the Indian maestro Somnath Hore, the artist whose dehumanised humans once served as a psycho-social register of the historical failures of Bengal to institute a revolutionary social change, provide grounds to rethink their contributions. These articles share space with some aptly written reviews on recent exhibitions shedding light on the diction used and methods appropriated by artists of the new generation and that of the recent past.
The 10th issue also put us on a journey through elaborate reflections on an assortment of thematics, which include cultural diversity, social significance of Kitsch, and architecture, space and their social situatedness. Among the most interesting subject to have received a thorough treatment is Mughal spatial design, of which the garden is subjected to historical and theoretical assessment by Seema Amin. A couple of outdoor sculptures become the object of interest in relation to Dhaka's public space through Shahman Moishan's historicising. To complement such historical-social themes, the current issue courses us through the recent yields by artists who are out to overwrite the existing styles by way of a brief summation on the first-ever Dhaka Art Summit and three extensive pieces of critical appreciation on three exhibitions that ran parallel to it.
Though the language, through which these themes are brought into the public domain, seems too laden with jargon and specialists' points of views, as one plods through, it becomes easier to fathom that writers like Syed Jamil Ahmed, through his thesis on cultural diversity debases notions of nationalism in its monolithic construct, and Ronni Ahmed and Golam Mortuja together take on Kitsch from a non-hierarchical position as they are out to overturn some mainstream misperceptions. The article that encapsulates the theses on architecture, ten in all, which appears without any attribution, bases itself on a series of antitheses on modern architecture, which is touted as an 'international' style and is regularly being replicated in our own clime without much thought to context or assimilability.
The reviews on recent exhibitions are, as usual, packed with trippy yet nuanced narratives, the result of a reading that foregrounds critical scrutiny. The take on Naeem Mohaiemen's new film based on Japanese Red Army's shenanigans seems to navigate through the film's overlapping landscape of sound, image and historical and personal accounts with a sharp eye on the crosscuts and the experiment with interchanging audio and visual elements which make it a stunning hybrid.
Depart's aim is to recalibrate our knowledge on art and culture, and by way of showcasing some significant exempla, the magazine certainly serves as a portal to art in Bangladesh as it captures the recent tendencies sweeping the South Asian region between its covers.