A look back at National Art Exhibition

Akramul Momen | Published: 00:00, Jul 21,2019 | Updated: 14:17, Jul 21,2019

Akramul Momen, National Art Exhibition, National Arts Exhibition 2018, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, 23rd National Art Exhibition

Artworks at the National Arts Exhibition-2019. —Nirob Tahsan

Returning from the 23rd National Arts Exhibition-2019 at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Akramul Momen shares his experience with New Age Youth

THE 23rd phase of biennale exhibition is a challenge to exhibit the work of 310 artists, but the efforts were mostly under acclaimed due to the lack of proper curation.

My journey at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy had begun with the National Theatre Hall, then I became frequent at the national dance and music department and later all of my attentions have marched towards the National Fine Arts building.

But authoritarian character of the state is almost same in all the arenas. It seems most of our contemporary artists may have left the state-run institution to save themselves from clutch of this biased system.

My hope to see a little change might have driven me in the heart 310 artists at the 23rd National Arts Exhibition-2019, which is staged across eight galleries and its sphere is to present a snapshot of nationwide practice of contemporary art in Bangladesh.

Now the question is that whose contemporary art are we talking about? And is it really a true representation of what’s going on in context of Bangladesh and its people?

This year, 850 artists applied to participate in this exhibition. After an initial selection, a five-member committee had selected 322 works among the 1500 artworks. Among them, 159 are paintings, 45 are sculptures, 50 are prints, 17 are crafts, 8 are ceramics, 37 are installations and video art and 7 are performance art.

There are several works decorated with award ribbons. The decoration misleads the way of arts representation in a national-level art exhibition. It is definitely not right to make a visible difference among the artists and their works. I have also found glasses of paintings broken and some are lying on ground.

Gender Bird-2 by artist Rasel Rana

Many recent issues, such as road accidents, Churihatta fire incident, deaths from gas cylinder blasts, rape and violence on children, crisis of ready-made garments workers, tragedy of jute mills, risks of the Sundarbans, consumerism culture, non-binary gender expression have been reflected in this year’s exhibition but a long-running practice of self-curating has made the efforts failed to diversify the show.

It has also some good potentials but it could not relate between time and space. The installations of artist Soma Surovi Jannat and Md Nayemuzzaman Bhuiyan, titled ‘Duerarching chain of connections’ and ‘Point of View’ respectively, are nicely curated by them, but the works of artists Rasel Rana (Gender Bird-2) and Md Imtiaj Islam (Journey of Transformation) demand well curation due to the similarities of context.

Among an array of artworks, it is not possible for all to discover the relationship between the two works to make a conversation over them.

Judiciary Imbalance by artist Jannatul Ferdous

Regarding to the curation and the art exhibition, prominent contemporary artist Razib Datta said, ‘There is no sense of curating in the show. The authority has no attention over the synchronisation of the works. Most of the works are crowdedly put together. Some works are prioritised and some did not get any attention. Dhaka based artists are usually more prioritised on the basis of popularity or non-popularity. The colour of the wall has faded. Sound of a work also causes disturbance to other works. The exhibition can be organised across the third floors but works are gathered together roughly using two floors.

The selection of the works for awards is very conventional and in various sectors, same artist is awarded every year for same types of works. It is also frustrating that they still do not recognise photography as a medium of arts, even in the Asian Art Biennale, it is not recognised as art. But it is a good sign that they have recognised performance as art. The arrangement of a talk along with the artist is good initiative without any doubt.’

Artist Tahmina Hafiz Lisa has expressed her disappointment on the social media for negligence over curating of her painting ‘Metamarphoses-1’. They put a bigger name tag besides the painting which drew all attention at first, obstructing audiences to concentrate on the work. It indicates that, the authority has no concern about detail of a work and they just issued an order for same-size name tag for all artists to minimise their loads and cost.

Another artist, Kamruzzaman Shadhin, has removed his work from the 23rd national art exhibition protesting at the decision of the academy for not using the second floor.

Most of the works selected on the national art exhibition has made focus on the techniques, genres and mediums under different categories rather than concentrating on the freedom of the artists. The well-lit art works just have made varieties but no social, political, economic, cultural or individual aspects are discovered in them.

Artist Anisuzzaman Sohel (Camuflage), Ratneshwar Sutradhwar (Burn Face-1), Jayatu Chakma (Mirror of Society), Sunanda Rani Borman (Mask), Shimul Saha (Road Stays Along With Tales), Ruhul Amin Tarek (Complexity of Time & Reality), Subrata Das (A Special Story), Habiba Akter Papia (Pain in Carrere), Tazrian Tabassum (Ruddoshahsh), Zahida Akhter (Struggle for living), Nargis Poly (Cold Blooded (murder) Drink), Niaz Uddin Ahmmed (Self Portrait), Sagor Dey (Speechless Theatrical Memory-3) cover multiple issues from national to global.

Journey of Transformation by artist Md Imtiaj Islam

‘The whole exhibition has a reflection of the political and social unrest of the local contexts as well as the global challenges. Works on gender, consumer culture, disability or child sexual violence are not only made the exhibition diverse content wise but also a very bold way of expression in our visual arts arena’, said Tanvir Alim, an activist and freelance artist of Bangladesh.

‘Though the content has taken it in a different level but the curation is still very conventional and same every year. The organisers could use more space in the second floor for display as the set up was conjugated where only some of the works have their titles in English. Also Bangladeshi artists living abroad can be an interesting addition to the exhibition.

‘It is inspiring for you young artists that this Exhibition recognised their hard work through awards however award categories like video art, interdisciplinary approach et cetera will encourage them to experiment with new media which is important if we consider global context.’

The installation titled ‘We are Going Fast’ by artist Sharad Das is a satirical representation of recent time. It reflects inner contradictions of every self, living under the people’s republic of Bangladesh. Sanjoy Chakraborty’s ‘Scary City-1’ also reflects the relation between the fear and freedom of expressionism through his painting.

The selection of multiple paintings, as like as ‘Judiciary Imbalance’ by Jannatul Ferdous, has sparked criticism over the process of selecting art works. It is a matter of wonder that how the members of selection board had chosen a painting where the artist compared justice with white birds and injustice with black birds along with a blindfolded woman with an iron scales on her hand. It is not only a sign of colour racism, but also violates women’s right.

Most of the performances in this year’s national art exhibition make no sense about what performance art is. Rather they have made some dramatic movements and seem expecting spiritual peace.  Among seven performances, the video of artist Sumona Akter (Love Letter) may not be screened as I did not find it anywhere during my visits for two days.

Jewel Chakma has made a strong appearance with his abstract performance ‘Uttaron’ by hanging from a tree to showcase his realities.

Sujan Mahbub’s performance, The Summery of Oil, has nicely reflected his struggle as a government employee of state-run organisation. Donating oil in every stage, he moves forward towards a throne and collapsed suddenly, to represent all techniques of a dependent people and its consequences, served by the sophistication of its own production.

So, is the exhibition a true snapshot of contemporary art? It certainly looks like art we know. But where the show really succeeds is where it creates a dialogue between works.

Akramul Momen is an author, artist and journalist.

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