Art: Bangladesh

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Pakistani market for visiting artists

Pakistani market for visiting artists

By 'Salwat Ali, 2006


With a number of artists from Bangladesh regularly exhibiting in Karachi and Lahore, Salwat Ali examines the reasons for this influx of visiting artists in Pakistan and the market for their work

A 21st century trend

Bangladeshi art was centre stage recently when three exhibitions went on show consecutively. The gallery calendar of the first week of May 2006 featured Mahmudul Haq at Chawkandi Art in Karachi, followed by Fokhrul Islam at Kunj Art Gallery and Jamal Ahmed at JI’s Gallery also in Karachi.

Is this the crest of a wave that has been rising slowly over the last few years? In the early nineties only two or three commercial galleries in Karachi stocked the work of Bangladeshi artists and it was largely confined to their storerooms where private sales were conducted. Public viewing was just limited to occasional group shows. The incoming art also was restricted mainly to modestly priced genre paintings with decorative value, often a mix of folk art, riverine landscapes, Bengal school realism and strains of cubism. Karachi being the hub of the Pakistani art market these paintings enjoyed quiet sales without much fanfare for a number of years. However when Hamail Gallery from Lahore joined the fray, a consistent stream of Bengali art began entering Pakistan. The gallery publicized their exhibitions which were supported with lavish, visually rich catalogues.

It was when these invitations along with the catalogues, and at times souvenir material like calendars, were mailed and circulated to art lovers in Karachi and Islamabad as well, that Bengali art began to reach a much wider audience. Hamail's promotional campaign went far beyond the publicity a normal gallery exhibition creates. This wide, well conducted advocacy impressed and familiarized audiences with the nature of this art and their affordable prices ensured easy sales.

Today other galleries in Karachi and Lahore are also accommodating Bangladeshi artists by catering to the growing demand for drawing room variety of art.

Impact on Pakistan’s art scene

The positive aspect of displaying foreign art, if it is innovative and well handled, is that it brings vitality to the local art scene. But when its quantity begins to grow and inflate then there is a possibility of an imbalance. A host of questions underscored with this concern are doing the rounds in the art community these days. Watch dogs are wondering if sale of Bangladeshi art is cutting through the art market of our local artists. And if so then what is the local artist, gallery, buyer and viewer response to this?'

While some artists speculated on this issue, popular Pakistani painter Mashkoor Reza, when queried, welcomed the new art and remarked that it can very well exist in tandem with Pakistani art.


The other area of concern is whether there is any reciprocity in this development? Are Pakistani artists receiving the same openhearted reception in Bangladesh -- or is it otherwise? Mashkoor Reza is of the opinion that Pakistani art is appreciated in Bangladesh but the art market there is limited, dull and bearish. Bangladeshi artist Fokhrul Islam, currently exhibiting in Karachi, however states that the market has begun to grow in his country. This can to some extent account for the inflow of Bengali artists with next to no outgoing exhibitions from here. It also points towards a professional mindset of one artist community and lack of ambition in the other.

A local art gallery interested in exhibiting Pakistani art in Bangladesh could not make much headway because of artist apathy here and stated that there was a lack of encouragement from their Bengali counterparts also, possibly because they are keen to guard their turf. However most of the Pakistani galleries are comfortable dealing with the Bangladeshi artists here because they are cooperative, work oriented and organized, have no attitude problems, deliver large collections on time and have their catalogues and promotional stationery ready for distribution. Our artists need to review this situation on two accounts, how other art communities protect their own territory and the need for professionalism to make tactical and aesthetic advances.


Another pertinent question being raised by concerned individuals is the quality of art that is coming in. While the prominent Bangladeshi artists prefer to exhibit in Indian galleries, it is mainly the middle order artists who are coming here. If a large amount of simplistic, decorative and commonplace art is being brought in displayed and sold here then why are our galleries not vigilant enough? If these commercial galleries are entirely sales oriented then innocent consumers / buyers need to be more discerning and should exercise their right to better options.

Such developments should be seen as wakeup calls for the art community to assess and review where they stand at the national and international level. ________________________________________

Foreign representation of Pakistani artists

Foreign representation of Pakistani artists If there is a clear cut government policy regarding foreign representation of Pakistani artists it is certainly not common knowledge in the art fraternity.

Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) was requested to issue a statement on this subject but unfortunately no response has been forthcoming as yet.

The Asian Art Biennale

In the current debate concerning the exhibition of Pakistani art in Bangladesh one has to take into consideration that our artists have been participating in the Asian Art Biennale on an official level. While at home we are still resolving issues to hold our national exhibitions regularly the government of Bangladesh has been organizing the Asian Art Exhibition biennially since 1981. One of the most prestigious events of their art calendar the biennale opens up a cultural dialogue by bringing together art and artists from many different countries in Asia and beyond. Unfortunately this participation goes relatively unnoticed in our art milieu and has not generated any exciting follow-ups that could lead to meaningful art exchanges. With regard to 2006 artists have complained that there was no prior publicity of the event and the invite was not availed to advantage. A request to the PNCA for correct information regarding Pakistani artists' participation in the Bangladeshi Biennale of 2006 has gone unanswered and the matter remains shrouded in mystery.

Were we invited? Did we avail the invitation? Who were the artists designated to represent Pakistan?

Pakistan at the Asian Art Biennale

Previous records reveal that Pakistan has officially participated in the biennale in 1981, 83, 86, 89, 91, 95 and 1997. In the 6th Biennale in 1993 artist Ali Imam from Pakistan was on the 5 member Jury Committee of the exhibition and Ms Mehr Afroz from Karachi was the recipient of the Honourary Mention Award while in the 7th Biennale in 1997 Pakistani artist Anwar Saeed was the recipient of this award. This limited official representation and recognition has not been able to create opportunities for meaningful dialogue and exchange of art with Bangladesh while unofficially through private means low grade Bangladeshi art continues to pour in and is exhibited, promoted and sold in Pakistan giving rise to the present questionable situation.

The government by defining its policies regarding fine arts can help establish parameters within which art issues can be steered. ________________________________________

Kunj exhibition: Subtle and sophisticated

Unlike most Bangladeshi art in circulation here, the Kunj exhibition in Karachi by Fokhrul Islam was thought provoking. The work was distinctive on account of its singular imagery and chromatic economy. Instead of regional or cultural references pertaining to Bangladesh, the artist had opted for a non specific vocabulary falling under the broad definition of global art. Simply titled ‘Image’ the collection was haunting and melodic, hard hitting and exuberant by turns.

A gamut of moods can be expressed through a fiesta of colours but it is challenging to conjure emotive content with a limited palette of bleached whites, mellow ochres and sooty blacks and an even more reductive vocabulary of just dots and lines. Using paint almost like watercolour, Islam sponges and wipes it, lets it run in chancy dribbles, stains the surface or just spreads the colour in undulating waves to create a host of atmospheric effects. Sweeping strokes defining rain swept landscapes or severe geometric drawing and brushwork of an abstract order or ambiguous organic manifestations were some diverse styles he could juggle with ease. Similarly he manipulates linear intensity, size and character to produce needles, tears, rips, splinters and gashes to impressive effect. His dotted forms as pin pricks, perforations and punctures are cleverly modulated to evoke the sensation of pain, exuberance and calm. In clusters they appear as leopard spots, seed bursts, festering wounds and coagulating pulpy masses and when spread apart they become effervescent sprays, dreamy mists and vaporous clouds.

Due to its abstruse nature the work is open to interpretation. However, in the context of Bangladesh the paintings could have been inspired by storm swept landscapes so common to the cyclonic regions as well as to the artist's personal sensitivity towards destruction and desolation and the need for a balanced equation in life. Subtle and sophisticated, Islam's expression demands engagement. — S.A. ________________________________________

Mahmudul Haque’s polychrome palette

The Chawkandi exhibition in Karachi of artist Mahmudul Haq, DG Bangladesh Museum, was a robust outpouring of abstract art and a refreshing change from the familiar home grown variety of expressionism. A polychrome palette of strong vibrant hues was manipulated in a variety of styles that enlivened the viewing experience. Hard crusty applications of colour, soft smudged effects, thin striations, smears and crevices gave the works an engaging physicality that could be read on many levels. Collectively the works came out as a chromatic extravaganza while individually the paintings could be attributed temperamental characteristics, moods and attitudes.

Abstract Expressionists do not emote through documented narrative but largely through their method of execution. Thus the nature of relationship between three elements: the raw materials, the manual and mechanical processes, and the intention of the artist determine the out come of the painted object. Haque has made creative use of the palette knife to evolve his technique of layering colours on top of each other. Some areas were deliberately left uncovered to reveal the underlying hue to add complexity to the composition. He layers with aplomb to create a plethora of fragmented forms and colour fields which are spread apart or densely packed together. Similarly his sponged on, dripping, closely hatched, speckled surfaces on flat expanses of plain colour were another interesting take on abstraction. A dyptch, a pair of two narrow vertical canvases was an attractive play of chromatics and style in which two black squares imprinted with colourful daubs and stubs were placed between plain rectangular expanses of flaming orange and yellow.

It is this language of colour and vocabulary of intuitive forms that transform Haque's felt experience into engaging visual fact. However, abstract expressionism worldwide, is well past its hey day and this show was more in terms of an evocation of the past rather than an interpretation of current trends, themes and styles.— S.A.

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