THE QUEST FOR THE ROOTS

Review by Shawon Akand
October 15, 2013

 

S M Sultan International Art Camp 2013
Bangladesh 

Nahad-Ul-Quasem Orchid , September 15, 2013 

It was a beautiful dawn in Narail, a south-eastern town of Bangladesh, revered for the internationally acclaimed legendary Bangladeshi artist S.M. Sultan (1923-1994). Nilanjana Nandy from Gurgaon, India and Shakti  Nomaan from Dhaka, Bangladesh – two multi-disciplinary artists of 2013’s SM Sultan International Art Camp started their journey for site-specific performance art. Artist Nilanjana’s performance art titled Dichotomies of the heart, Floating-Fleeting was set in Badha Ghat; a unique landing stage on Chitra river built a century ago by the local Jaminder of Narail. Her performance art on this site engaged local people and spectators in reflecting on the ambiguity of aspiration and desire. Pruning off water lily buds in cyclical fashion and floating them on calm river stream with oration exhibited a serene yet engaging art. 

Artist Shakti Nomaan’s performance art titled Guilty was set around artist S.M. Sultan’s burial place. This performance took account of the lack of the practicing S.M. Sultan’s philosophy in art nowadays. Nomaan’s piece involved symbolisms of judgmental measurement and expressions of agony and guilt for the current state of affairs revolving around artist S.M. Sultan’s legacy. 

This year’s edition of S.M. Sultan International Art Camp called for artists globally to take part with the theme The Roots. The Roots originated from artist Sultan’s philosophy. It was jointly curated by artist Shawon Akand from Bangladesh and artist Satadru Sovan Bhanduri from India. This international art camp is organised by CRACK Bangladesh as a corollary program of annual Sultan Mela organised by S.M. Sultan Children Arts and Crafts Foundation. 

In this multidisciplinary art initiative, the form, character and tendency of Roots and the potential inhabitants of such an existence were brought forth for creative interpretation. Artists were encouraged to do artworks in different mediums, especially site-specific and environment friendly artworks, utilising local materials. 

Apart from the two mentioned already, other participating artists were: ABS Xem (Dhaka, Bangladesh),Afsana Sharmin Jhuma (Chittagong, Bangladesh), Aishwarya Sultania (Delhi,India),Anadi Boiragi (Dhaka, Bangladesh), MrugenRathod (Baroda, India), Polash Chowdhury (Dhaka, Bangladesh), Saiful Jarnal (Dhaka, Bangladesh),Samyak Manandhar (Kathmandu, Nepal), Satadru Sovan Bhanduri (Delhi, India), Shaheen Mahmood Reza (Khulna, Bangladesh), Shawon Akand (Dhaka, Bangladesh) and Sundar lama (Kathmandu, Nepal), a total of 14 artists from three countries.

Artists from India, Nepal and different parts of Bangladesh arrived in Narail on August 23, 2013. The camp residence was set in the Narail Shilpakala Academy. The Initial few days were spent on exploring the local milieu and visiting places memorable for artist Sultan’s art practices. Participating artists set out their individual journey to discover different dimensions of the theme Roots and at end of each day, they shared with each other what they felt and discovered. This scope for effective regular exchange of thoughts benefited all participants in enriching their interpretation and artistic inspiration. Then artists started developing their artwork idea with the sharing from curators who in turn were also developing their own artwork thoughts. 

This art camp’s open-day was in line with Sultan Mela on August 30 and 31, 2013. After a week’s deliberation artist produced a number of artworks in different mediums. Performance and site specific installations dominated the league. 

The open day started with performance arts at Badha Ghat in the morning. First experimental collaborative performance Floating Sky was conceptualised by Satadru Sovan. Artists Shakti Nomaan, Satadru Sovan, Nilanjana Nandy, Sundar lama and Samyak Manandhar participated in it. Then they made a second group performance at the stairs of Badha Ghat titled Buoyant of Chitra River which was performed by the same group of artists. 

Later Artists Samyak Manandhar, Aishwarya Sultania, Sundar Lama and Afsana Sharmin Zhuma had individual performances. 

Samyak Manandhar’s performance art Rediscovery revealed the artists improvisation on the materials we tend to relate with origins and living. 

Titled as Bhanwar (Whirlpool), Aishwarya Sultania’s performance art at the Badha Ghat stairs exemplified both the centrifugal and centripetal forces induced by the thought of roots. She utilised water lily collected locally to act out the derived forces. 

Sundar Lama’s performance was titled Mukti. With red hands and feet he slowly emerged from the river, after a few movements on the Ghat floor he returned to river to complete the art by floating handmade paper figurines there. 

Afsana Sharmin Zhuma’s performance art Where is the artist? engaged the spectators by drawing responses from within. The blue ball jumped backward and forward from her hand to the audience, so were the words. People participated in this interactive performance art. It invoked a sense of artist’s journey for discovering her own place. 

Artist Nilanjana Nandy created another performance art titled A dot that went for a walk. Group of children from local theatre participated in it. The training, props and the design was forged by Nilanjana. Her artwork was exhibited as a work-in-progress. It portrayed the inherent dynamic character of singular static entities. 

Artists Polash Chowdhury and Afsana Sharmin Zhuma  collaborated on a site specific installation (Transformation of Pain) and performance(Give the Pain to Release the Pain). The site was an ancient tree that is locally believed to possess a power to relieve people’s sorrow. People come here and hang a stone or brick in the name of their agony and it is aspired that their sorrow leaves them with the tree. Polash created a sitting man posture with shattered glass mirror that he hung with ropes from this tree’s branch, which also had bricks at its bottom while Afsana hung numerous little handmade earthen objects at other branches of the tree with blue strings. Later she hung herself by strapping a cloth around her waist. The site situated beside a main road attracted a lot of people during this hour-long performance. Artists endeavor to manifest their own interpretation of roots in its local milieu transformed this collaborative artwork into a strong statement of soul searching. 

Bangladeshi artist Afsana Sharmin Zhuma’s performance art One dream has to be drowned to make another one true... was set in Badha Ghat beside the river Chitra. Here, the artist juggled with dreams and aspiration in a dynamically fluid and mutually exclusive manner, as if our dreams are out there struggling with each other for being realised at each other’s expense. 

Artist Satadru Sovan’s site-specific installation Abandoned Love was set in Narail ferry ghat beside Chitra River. The drawings on paper and polypropylene sheets were wonderfully placed on the deserted ferry jetty, which only serves as boat landing stage nowadays. People crossing the river through this ghat witnessed this artwork on their way and halted to look more closely. It connected the audience with the emptiness of deserted affection and desire. His second site-specific installation at the same ferry ghat was titled Water Liles. It was synthetic prints of blue graphic collage, assorted over water hyacinths at the deserted jetty. These lovely prints intrigued audience who came closer to inspect them. 

The human Imprint (Chhaap-e Dhora Maanush) was a site-specific installation by Indian artist Nilanjana Nandy at partly installed at Narail Ferry Ghat. She took samples of people’s unconscious urges depicted in various wall writing and created a conscious assortment of the excerpts. This deliberate sampling caught up the nature of core human urges to express themselves. The other part of the installation was set up in the local Victoria College (est.1886) games room. There it became an interactive art with audience reactions being instantly incorporated into the exhibition. This was quite an engaging piece for the locals. 

The site-specific installation Memento of S.M. Sultan by Nepali artist Samyak Manandhar was set around Sultan’s grave. This artwork with self explanatory title was created with bamboo and light-bulb of different sizes and colors, including water lily buds with electric lights inside. The occidental enlightenment of artist S.M. Sultan was depicted nicely in this installation. 

Satadru Sovan’s performance art titled Old Kingdom, at the archaic drama stage of Victoria College, was co-performed by Shakti Nomaan. The feudal notions of power was revisited in it, and because of its theatrical setting, audience found similarity with its language. 

Different mediums were engaged by various artists in the camp. Artists Polash Chowdhury, Anadi Boiragi, Shaheen Mahmood Reza Rajon and Saiful Jarnal got engaged in discovering the meaning of Roots through mystical Baul songs. They performed with traditional music instruments and shared their experience of root through songs. 

Indian artist Mrugen Rathod’s piece National Carpet was a fish figure created with bamboo mat and covered with ethnic Bengali towels in red (Gamchha). The audience were drawn inside the display room with a blood stained white cloth leading to its resting ground. At the end the cloth was left to float in the river. It resonated a commonly held figurative connotation of fish out of water that ultimately returns to its origin. 

Roots in a Motion was Nepali artist Sundar Lama’s site-specific installation and performance. A collage on the wall with hundreds of drawings, images, text excerpts and his live performance in front of it, evoked a sense of motion in the context of roots. 

Shadow Casting by Bangladeshi artist Saiful Jarnal was a performance art that involved shadow play. It engaged audience in rethinking the notions of humane male-female relationships at its core. 

The open day ended with Loop – an experimental performance art conceptualised by Bangladeshi artist Shawon Akand. The site-specific performance was held on the fairground, just beside fair’s cultural programme stage. All of sudden, artists Polash Chowdhury and Saifu lJarnal rolled out a thick rope loop from within the crowd and created an amoeboid blank cordon with it. They tried hard to undo the rope loop with thin, paper made hammer and nails. This experimental piece portrayed the perceptual loop that human beings often wants to break free, yet ultimately fail to do so while fighting with its intangible properties. 

The multiple layers of interaction among participating artists and local art practitioners created a healthy exchange of ideas and germinated new grounds for collaboration. Art is a complex process and it cannot be separated from life. Every form of art has inter-relation with life and it is necessary to develop vigorous inter linkages between every field of culture to create a favourable environment for progress of artistic practice. On this note the S.M. Sultan International Art Camp was quite a fruitful event for the participating artists and the local audience alike.