Sunday, July 14, 2024

Desperately Seeking Breathing Space

Exhibition at Goethe Institut highlights a distraught Dhaka
Walking into Goethe Institut in Dhanmandi, Dhaka, one notices a fairly large structure of whitened bamboos — with shoes and mirrors hanging randomly from the intricately positioned arms. What is more unsettling about this piece is that little plants with tiny green leaves are sprouting out of these shoes. Little cups and kettles put on an accompanying table are also growing plants. Ronni Ahmed, in whose work absurdity is a constant feature, created this installation, titled “Mirror Image of Grassroots Green Activism and Safe Future for the Mass People”.
The exhibition, “S.O.S-Dhaka Seeks Solitude!”, features installations, paintings and digital prints by Ronni Ahmed, Rokeya Sultana and Mustafa Zaman. The artworks all over the institute will be on display till April 7.
Ronni’s installation and digital prints manifest his keen sense humour, artistic playfulness and are ripe with symbolism. “Since we have destroyed or used up every space that could be used for growing trees, why not try planting seeds in our shoes?” — he suggested, laughingly. His installations and images where iconic places and art objects of Dhaka have been playfully incorporated into classic masterpieces of art, may suggest overtones of Dadaism (the early 20th century cultural movement that challenged conventional art forms). The artist, however, is reluctant to let his works be labelled as “Dadaist”. “My work sharply differs from the kinds of works that are called ‘modern’. Rather, there are elements of avant-garde post-modernism in my work,” Ronni said. Case in point: he has used Madhu’s Canteen (on Dhaka University campus) as the background of “The Last Supper” with a serpent slithering on the table.
The concept, “Dhaka Seeks Solitude!”, is prevalent in all the works on display. The issues of ever-growing lack of serenity, open space, and green in the city have been engaged in the artworks.
Mustafa Zaman’s installations titled, “Caught between Smoke and Air” and “Constructing Openings According to Dhaka Underground” are efficient forms of spectacle. “My work maps the zeroness of existence by tracking the physical structures of the city that we have so tactfully named Dhaka,” said Zaman. He has cut holes on canvas and put black round stickers on the floor that create illusions of holes to a startling effect. “I tried to create a sense of absence, gap and emptiness that has disappeared from our lives.” Because we are “full of us and, we as us are destabilising reality by robbing it off its moments of oblivion.”
Zaman evidently tried to relate the physical existence with essence of his work by referring the voids in the nether regions of Dhaka. “We have apparently occupied every inch of this city. The only place that has not been properly utilised (pun intended) and has emptiness is the underground,” he said.
The images, titled “Zero Level Delirium I and II” by Rokeya Sultana, Professor of Printmaking at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, are strictly minimalist and capable of communicating with the audience easily. Her works mostly speak of the “prevailing monstrous situation in Dhaka,” in her words. “There is no space between two subjects or any two mediums. And when you look up into the sky all you can see are high-rises; the trees are all gone.” Referring to the pollution and choking atmosphere, she says that she can “visualise Spiderman creeping up the walls, or King Kong walking over the lined up cars on the streets.” Her reference to the tremendously busy space of the media that incessantly bombards viewers with images of celebrities is splendidly satiric.
The exhibition, curated by Murshida Arzu Alpana, opened on March 10. Helmut Holzheuer, the Chancellor, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, inaugurated the exhibition. Also present as special guest was prominent art critic Mainuddin Khaled.


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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