Ephania Visuals explore different dimensions of sexuality and human relationship existing in our society. To mark the international human rights day, they have arranged Artivist December 2018 — an art exhibition consisting of artworks of artists from eight different countries.
With a view of giving platforms to local and international activist artists, Epiphania has launched a micro-gallery in Bangladesh for at-risk artists whose work has no space at the traditional white cube gallery setting. There, it has curated a closed door exhibition for invited guests and community members. It has strives to continue to build a strong artist community carrying the spirit of activism.
To mark the international human rights day which is celebrated annually across the world on 10 December, Epiphania started the initiative titled ‘Artivist December-2018’. The call for participation met overwhelming response from artists all over the world. The first phrase of this month-long exhibition started on December 1 and will continue till December 10 from 3pm-10pm every day.
Participating artists in their work dealt with issues like religious fundamentalism, social and political crisis, non normative sexual practices or gender discrimination, freedom of expression, human rights among other things. On these themes, works of 40 artists across the world will be displayed in the exhibition. The works of artists exhibited in the current exhibition include: Nicola Mette (Italy), Camilo Villa (Columbia), Imke Zeinstra (Netherlands), Mario Montoya (Spain), Mohammed Abd Alwasi (Iraq), Raul Rodriguez (Venezuela), T A (Bangladesh), Archan Mukherjee (India), Arnab Ghoshal (India), Maruf Adnan (Bangladesh), Dipti Datta (Bangladesh) and Sanjoy Chakraborty (Bangladesh).
Mainstream curators of our country have an apparent lack of interest in art-activism. They are often reluctant to link art with activism. It is this void that Ephiphania hopes to attend through its curatorial residency programme. Sadya Mizan and Papon Karmaker are the curators of the cuurent exhibition.
Nicola Mette’s artwork is named ‘Romeo and Juliet exchange clothes’. This performance responds to the prejudice against homosexuality in Verona, Italy. In this artwork, the artist plays with the roles of the figures in a mass wedding in the city.
Columbian artist Camilo Villa described himself as effeminate and trapped inside a male’s body. And for this reason, throughout his life, Villa has to face derogatory remarks that constantly reminded him of socially defined norms and expectations of a man and woman derived from heteronormative ideologies. In response, he has created a graphic art consisting of small notes answering the questions he had faced — ‘why are you talking like a woman’, ‘why are you so soft and meek’, ‘why do you walk like a girl?’ He writes his responses on the background of a rainbow — the colours that represent the diversity of sexual orientations. Perhaps, most striking and thought provoking message is conveyed through the art work of a Bangladeshi artist, Dipti Dutta. Her artwork depicts an erected phallus to question whether it represents the idea of modern state. This artwork draws inspiration from the political debates that focus on the difference between the state and country. Conventionally, the idea of femininity associated with caregiver whereas masculinity is associated with control and dominance. Should we consider the differences between country and state, it becomes clear. Country is the source of unconditional love;on the other hand, state controls ruthlessly and demands unquestionable submission. In this regard, modern states are, as conceived by Dutta, nothing but thoughtless controlling and governing machine that shares significant resemblance, at least characteristically, with manhood — an erected phallus.
Iraqi artist Mohammed Abd Alwasi art work talks about the lives of people in war torn Iraq that people there have more bullets than food. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003, people’s imagination and cognitive space is scarred from the trauma of war. As a student of fine arts, his work depicts the sufferings of people through a set of photos and number of red strings. His exhibit includes picture of a plate full of bullets instead of food and excessive use of red strings representing the reality of forced disappearance and other forms of violence.
Similarly, a Venezuelan artist and a good friend of Epiphania, Raul Rodriguez’s work too deals with war and military violence. Living under a military government, his artwork, named ‘RED’, speaks against brutality and repressive atmosphere of a military regime. His video art uses a lot of red shades in a number of occasions indicating bloodshed and violence perpetrated by the military government.
Imke Zeinstra, a performance artist from Netherlands associates herself with forniphilia — a practice of creating furniture with human body and eroticising it. In her artwork, one would find photographs of herself posed and treated as furniture. In her words, she found out that her natural sexuality is forniphilia and explores it through her artwork.
Indian Artist Arban Ghoshal documents the transitional-sex change period of Ratish Saha, a Trans modelin 2017. Through a set of photographs, Ratish, an Indian young man is seen in different stages of surgery to be transformed into a woman. As sex change is a long process, the artwork shows the changes in the body as the entire metamorphosis is yet to be completed.
Archan Mukherjee from India tries to observe homosexuality through eroticism and sexual exploration. This art includes a magnifying glass indicating that minorities are so scarce in our community that they need to be found through magnification of our vision. This does not mean minorities are not there; rather, they are simply excluded from the mainstream community.
Bangladeshi artist and faculty of fine arts Sanjoy Chakraborty’s artwork — Ma, a forgotten past — a red book on a stand and shwcase and is presented under a red light and on a red mat. In this work, he endeavours to explore the relationship of maternity and violence with womanhood. To illustrate the idea, he uses a number of paper cuttings and drawings as well as dramatic lighting.
Mario Montaya’s video poem ‘Inside’ is displayed in a box. In this work, the Spanish artist works with the politics and poetics between body and nature.
Maruf Adnan, a Bangladeshi artist, displays his artwork with a set of boxes and without a concept note leaving it open to interpretation. His work shows different hairy male body parts covered with pink colour. T A, another Bangladsih artist’s work ‘My Name is Fear’ is a documentation of agony. He is the only activist of this exhibition who is not from fine arts background. He used to draw in his traumatised, silent moments of fear, in this series, he showed how he discovered art as an alternative language as he is losing freedom of speech.
Dipa Mahbuba Yasmin, a keyorganiser of the initiative shares the story behind this initiative with New Age Youth. ‘In Bangladesh, organising an exhibition of artivists dealing with such socially sensitive issues, we had to consider security issues of artists and organisers, particularly because our focus was on Bangladeshi non-heteronormative community. So, we sent an open call to international artists focusing on activism and the response was overwhelming, that now we have to divide the exhibitions into four phases to accommodate their art works’.
The threats and harassments that the LGBTQ community faced in recent Bangladesh compelled the organisers to make the exhibition invitation only, it made space for the particular community at risk, but sadly (for obvious reasons) not open to public. The artworks displayed here tell the story of diversity of sexual orientations irrespective of culture, religion and nation-state. As a nation, we might not reach the stage to accommodate practices of non-heteronormative sexuality, but we cannot deny the fact that they are part of the society.
New Age Youth desk
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