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     Volume 4 Issue 20 | November 5, 2004 |

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Lending Our Ears

Mustafa Zaman

Cocking up one's ears to listen has many different implications. One interpretation would be to give in, -- surrender to the will of the speaker. We are all subjected to this, even if we are not willing, as we rely on the ubiquitous media for information. Television delivers what we all crave for, and by paying attention we obey. Perhaps, this unwitting obedience is one aspect that the artist Tayeba Begum Lipi tries to covey in her latest show titled "Even the Walls Have Ears".

Her centrepiece is a video installation that draws from TV news footage. It is like a trip through the channel-surfing, news-probing brain, but the pace is stepped up and a few added ploys have given it a customised look. The big blinking eye of the artist herself that pops up before the start of every other news footage is an element of surprise. Other than this the rest seems like relays of war footage randomly chosen from news channels. But Lipi chips in with few of her own footage that she and her artist husband Mahbubur Rahman took of the grenade attack scene after the carnage was over on 21 August at Awami League rally. The unexploded grenade that surfaces from time to time is one of her own additions.

Back to the subject of obedience. Lipi has put a series of ears in grid. The smallish portraits of speakers in etching too were assembled in grid. The medium-sized etchings were displayed in a row. All this evokes the disciplinary principle of the army or a school. Repetition, superfluity and order, these are the external configurations that lead one to the core, where lies the manipulators. And once in the gallery and past the video projection on the partition put up in the middle, the conference of the powerbrokers is on. The big rectangular canvas, confirms the presence of the grand manipulators. Untouchable and secure, they convene the meeting that affects all but them.

"My intention was to project the scenes of Afghan and Iraq war, the rest came in as the idea evolved," says Lipi, whose intention, as she confirms, was not to install things that would prove her artistic might but will address the issue of war and terrorism in the media. "War that I have seen through BBC/CNN and had the opportunity to compare with a channel like DW," she adds.

She is conscious of how media manipulates or sometimes even manufactures the truth. In her video she incorporated the scenes of the August 21 massacre as well as from the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 to stretch the boundary.

The video projection has become trite in the west by over use. Faced with the question of why she had gone on to use the same media, Lipi defends her cause. "I've dealt with how I was personally affected by the media after the twin tower tragedy, how we all have lost belief in the western media regarding their capacity to stick to the facts. So, I couldn't conceive of it without the element of the video projection," she exclaims.

Once amidst the installations, if the grand arrangement of the double-sided projection fails to inspire any viewer, the chimes at the entrance may provide a respite. Even the etchings with their informal application of craft and the monochrome blandness may also revive the spirit.

Lipi's well thought out presentation puts a lot of emphasis on arrangement. As her idea was to turn the proverb "even the walls have ears" inside out by addressing it out right, as she does while explaining, it called for a more direct an approach. "I wanted to say that, however discreet they (super powers) are in planning their plans, the truth finally comes out. There are meetings behind meetings, and in the end we come to know about it, nothing remains hidden," she explains. Her work seems to want to address that in a round about way. Perhaps the arrangement could have been less sprawled out than it is in the present show. We did, in the past, experience Lipi's ability to boldly heap up things in one platter in her Toys Watching Toys installation, which hits us right in the face. This time she has played around with the idea of revealing things sequentially and in a grandiose manner.

The exhibition was held at the La Galerie, Alliance Francaise, Dhaka, from 21 to 31 October.


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