Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.— Banksy
‘SUBODH tui paliye ja’ – A threat? An irony? A command? Dwelling in the ambiguities of the statement, the implicit message becomes prominent — what is Subodh escaping from? More importantly, why? Is Subodh’s assumed escape not comforting for someone who has survived the same fate as Subodh? Is this graffiti disturbing for one who might be comfortable with Subodh escaping or perhaps responsible for Subodh’s ‘forced/suggested’ act of fleeing? The phenomenal graffiti in terms of its wide circulation on walls and online by ‘HOBEKI’ puts its readers, us, in a confrontational position with the current adversarial time through the blunt declaration in the visual — ‘somoy ekhon pokkhe na/ time is not on your side’.
We albeit know the time is adversarial as the Sun, a symbol of life and growth on earth, as well as a symbol of hope, which is caged in this street art. The caged Sun appears to be a personal possession of Subodh like someone’s caged pet bird. It could mean at least two things — Subodh’s life and its progress ceased in the certain but implicitly referred space of departure resulting in the caging or confinement symbolised by the Sun. But what does Subodh’s imprisonment signify?
‘Subodh is now in jail, guilt resides in the hearts of people.’— how did an escaping Subodh end up in jail? Jail as a regulatory or controlling system of the state in this instance is brought under critical scrutiny in the visual/s of Subodh graffiti series. Is it that the power (which regulates prisons as a corrective system for those who defy or contest its regulation) does not even let Subodh escape its hegemony? Or is it the Su (sound) Bodh (sense/reason) that has been imprisoned and consequently been postponed in the minds of people with no feeling of remorse (the ceasing of reasoning resulting in the postponing of the guilt)? Both of these questions lead us to the discovery of an omnipresent disciplinary force which is not visible as an entity but present with all its controlling mechanism which imprisons both Subodh and Su- Bodh — the first as a ‘biological base of existence’ and the latter as the metaphysical manifestation of the ‘docile body’ (‘one that may be subjected, used, transformed, and improved ... through strict regiment of disciplinary acts’) leaving both to the subjection by power. Michel Foucault, the French philosopher, in this case helps us to understand the nature of power that Subodh is being subjected to:
Disciplinary power, on the other hand, is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them. It is this fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection.
Therefore, Subodh as an entity, a body, which is made visible as a subject while power remains invisible (hides itself) behind the bars of prison. Even the very representation of Subodh in rags and raggae hair, a sense of defying the disciplinary apparatuses of power is hinted at. It suggested simultaneously a lumpen proletarian position of Subodh in society and a ‘mad’ man who has defeated society’s disciplinary reason and achieved unreason. Again, the idea of society as a disciplinary mechanism, as a prison, is manifested here through this portrayal, as Foucault illustrates the functioning of society as a ‘prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work that began elsewhere, which the whole of society pursued on by each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline.’
But could Subodh’s bodily representation also signify how the ‘ordinary’ people are perceived by the power/authority as a disempowered subject or, a possible rebel to its authority — a subversive body inflicting terror in power’s tyranny? Subodh’s resemblance with the stereotypical image of a ‘terrorist’ constructed by bourgeoisie/colonial culture is suggestive of this signification. And we can immediately relate to the visual representation of Subodh as one of our own because that is how the gaze of power constructs our self as its object of repression and discipline — as its other. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben characterises the regulatory gaze of the apparatus as, ‘in the eyes of authority — and maybe rightly so — nothing looks more like a terrorist than the ordinary man.’
Subodh embodies in its subjectivity the gaze of power and becomes an individual representative of the ordinary collective or the other who is a part of the Other of power. But does Subodh as an art and a discourse resist the regulatory gaze of power and destabilise power’s overpowering coercion in the body, space and time, if it resists at all?
With Subodh’s apparently ‘escapist’ narrative it might appear as a non-confrontational lamentation — ‘tor bhagye kichu nei’. But in a biopolitical state where power is everywhere, escape becomes nearly impossible, but it is the only resort to challenge and confront the biopower that does not want it’s subject to escape rather wants to regulate it. Subodh poses a threat to its authority by not only its counter-threat to escape power’s domination, but also by exposing its character as a repressive force that forces Subodhs to escape. Subodh’s escape consequently transcends the traditional idea of escape as an act of non-confrontation and becomes an act of resistance as Subodh’s proposed escape postpones the power’s control in space and time by breaking free from power’s operational space itself or its immediacy of control.
Subodh in its discourse proceeds beyond the binary opposition in a Buddhist manner by neither submitting, nor fighting rather postponing (attempted) the control of power through the transcendence of space — escape. Subodh becomes too invisible for power to control as power operates through the forced visibility of its subject while itself remaining invisible, unnoticed and therefore uncontested. Subodh contests the power by making itself visible, exposing it can be escaped and resisting through escape. For escape is not always a passivity, a non-confrontational cowardice in the face of a tyrannical power, escape is liberating and confrontational — it is resistance.
Oliur Sun is a non-philosopher now studying literatures and cultural studies at Jahangirnagar University.
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