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    Volume 9 Issue 27| July 2, 2010|

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Ethnic Backdrop for Avant Garde Ideas

Fayza Haq

Nasir Ahmed's gigantic bird's nest installation.

It was a long nurtured dream of Britto Arts Trust to open a centre at Khagrachhari where artists could work with the different ethnic communities to carry on research and their own artistic quest. But tensions in the Hill Tracks prevented such a dream to materialise. Thus Britto organised two workshops, one at Potuakhali and the other at Rangabali. “We got together with Rajshahi's Orao community. At Potuakhali we shared ideas and moments with the Rakhain,” says Mahbubur Rahman, a member of Britto.

April this year, the Rakhain workshop consisted of nine participants. “As there were no arrangements for guests we stayed in and around the Buddhist temple, and we did our experimental art work nearby, ” relates Mahbub. The artists built toilets for themselves and made themselves comfortable for over a week. “As the Water Festival coincided with their stay the artists wanted to join in and help the local people celebrate it,” says Mahbub. Earlier on, as the community was a small one and comprised of only 70 people they could not celebrate with much enthusiasm. The artists got together and helped the local people in making decorations, cooking food etc. As a result, people from neighbouring areas too, came to celebrate in the Open Studio of the visiting artists.

Mahbub Rahman's dramatic garb made quite an impression.

The artists created objects of interest and the Rakhains and Orao participated in this endeavour. “We went to Tufani Char and here too we did art based work in which the environment and the ethnic people were included. Natural materials were used in the objects that we created,” adds Mahbub. Masoom Chisty with rainbow coloured balloons made a visual harmony with coloured balloons, which floated with the airflow and the water rhythm. The ethnic people also welcomed the appearance of brightly coloured balloons, which hung from the branches, roots and among the water shrubs. Rainbow coloured umbrellas too decorated the place like giant flowers_- in the sand, with the shrubs. The umbrellas were put upside down with the handles sticking up, and made to float on the river water.

Fazlul Karim's artwork on the walls of a house.

Emon, with mud plastered over his body, walked over the area, walking like a predator, digging ditches. His performance was a big hit with the children. Bibol, with the help of the local people, made an object of the woven dry leaves. This appeared like his own shadow when spread out on the ground. Sanjida made some animal forms with clay like cattle and horses. She then placed them on a boat, the home of pigeons, branches of trees and photographed them. Lucky did some portraits with clay masses and some giant shapes like human eyes and placed them amidst nature: grass and twigs.

Top: The workshop coincided with the colourful Water Festival. Bottom: Floating umbrellas in rainbow colours delighted
the visitors (Kabir Ahmed and Masum Chisty).

Nasir collected the dried leaves of palms and made a hollow egg- shaped structure. There was an entry to this installation and people could go inside it. Inside the structure was placed an instrument for grinding rice. One could go inside, lie on the floor, and see the sky against the weave of the structure. In this way it looked like crisscrossing dark lines against the sky. The artist also used the twigs to make a bird's nest, placed some white egg -like forms in the container, and floated it. Toys for children were made from straw and placed inside a container made from straw. Other items could also be inside the container including a mirror to see the viewer's face.

When the tide was low, one of the artists placed seashells in such a manner, embracing two dead clumps of trees and a live plant, so that this created an abstract design. The white shells themselves created dramatic designs against the black earth. Wali, from the Rajshahi University, dug a small ditch in which he placed large as life human figures made from clay. He used some red and black animal figures to decorate the homes of the people of the community. Mahbub himself made an impression with his garb that included horns of buffaloes and ropes woven into a flowing robe. They made some scarecrow type figures with straw from rice plants with faces made from painted clay pots. In a dried up “taal gach” one of the artists performed, appearing like some crucified Christ. Hira added some prints with roller and ink like murals. A member of the Rakhain group also did some similar prints.

In all, more than 25 artists participated in the Britto project, which turned out to be a spectacular show of very innovative approaches to art.

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