On my to do list of readings has been to read again, the brilliant John Berger who recently passed away. (YouTube Link to John Berger: Art of Looking / PDF version of the book online) – I realise how difficult it is to write a review of my own work – so, bare with me! 🙂
I wanted to reflect and review ‘At Kamalapur’ the current exhibition of portrait drawings at the Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London.
As the artist whose work is being exhibited, I have struggled to be a little removed from it – to have until now to think about what it means to me to get to part of the process. I recently managed to visit the Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London- it left me intrigued, perhaps in a way I was not expecting – the image that continues to play on my mind is the one ‘Claude Drawing’ it struck a cord in me – and reminded me of a drawing I did of the children drawing at the station, ‘The site of Drawing’ : a slight deviation, but reflects for me quickly – influences and inspirations that continually reshape the work we do and the meanings we take from them. Time provides, always some scope for critical reflection.
A lot of my occupation within this strand of life, of self exploration as artist in a situated environment has been to force myself to ‘look’, and ‘see’ and ‘hear’ with quite possibly a rudimentary tool set – pencils, paper, charcoals, Chinese ink and sometimes oil pastels. Why these set of tools? because they are simple, they are honest materials to work with in depicting lines, movements, marks, scratches, shades of light and dark onto paper, they allow for abstraction and focus and the potential to re-work until what I draw, connects with what I think am seeing. Its tough.
‘At Kamalapur’ exhibition finally provides an opportunity to hear about how other people – the public- look and see these drawings, removed away from the site of Dhaka’s main station. What is it that the artist wants to present, and in this case – represent? ‘I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them’. (Lucian Freud)
The curated space, with eight A2 drawings, (2 figures, 6 portraits) framed strongly in black; and the selection of similar drawings provides the potential to have a conversation. I left it to the viewer to imagine what the life of each drawing maybe about. It has led to interesting dialogue.
I did not have any interest in recreating or curating the experiences of being in the station, as such it was not curated to be an immersive experience. As a snapshot of a project spanning now two years, in various shapes and forms, it really simply acts as an introduction for me, to really think about the purpose of art and drawing and also the intent to exhibit. The obsessions of technique, of aesthetic qualities, of proportion is slowly being left to one side- yet, the significance of them not being lost. Perhaps we are not being critical enough – of its intentions, the ethics and mortality, of such ideas. The number of times I have left the space emotionally vulnerable has beguiled me, yet, I go back. Wanting to continually push the ways that I see.
Within this particular drawing process, the abstraction to a white paper space, to limited interference – reduced to the face, to the eyes or sometimes the figure. I continue to question how I look at people and what it means to be. The sitters are people, as much as you and I are, and its that human quality, through the technique of drawing, that I am keen to understand. What does it mean to be a human being? especially on a piece of paper? the question to challenge the potential of the art making process. The drawings are often transitory, of a moment in time of a person’s life. Sometimes, larger than life, often, they still feel romanticised. A failure on my part, perhaps?
However, when work is presented in a restaurant space, in a street filled with so much activity, and madness of culture and consumption, does it work? Or is it that, the romance of the idea – of being lost in such spaces – of having other things to do, despite it being carefully placed? It being the backdrop to a busy canteen of people of eating and chatting? So, how much abstraction and curation is required here? Does the art command itself to be seen? and how will people know? Do I care so much about that? What makes me feel uncomfortable? What prods me to continue on asking and potentially making? Can it be more than emotive? instinctual? The potential to see a truth, an outpouring of love? it is hard to say. Even so, I tried to summarise, the context of presenting these drawings in a space on Brick Lane, in a simple way. In order to allow the viewer to see exactly what it is that I am focused on. Perhaps, I also need to ask others write a review, and a continual conversation to take place – as build up to a potentially larger exhibition and publication.
The exhibition is free to view and runs until 22- January 2017 from 10am – 11pm, daily.
@Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RL
Frames were made by John Baker, who runs Workshop 53
Photo credits: Enamul Hoque
& Facebook link to more images
Walls were re-painted by amazing help from Salam Jones, Heiner Salomon, Kazi Arefin, Maher Anjum, myself & Shahid bhai.
ABOUT: AT KAMALAPUR
‘At Kamalapur’ is an on-going art project by Ruhul Abdin, and forms as part of a series of portrait drawings of people at the Kamalapur Railway Station, in Bangladesh’s capital, the megacity of Dhaka.
Drawn from life, in conte charcoal and pencil on A2 drawing paper and studies across sketchbooks, the portraits express what the artist sees, and feels at the time. There is a rigour of revisiting the site, and re-drawing the same sitters, if chance permits.
There are very limited conversations, or even time for such an activity with his sitters, and therefore, a lot of the portraits will only be a memory of seeing. Those portraits where conversations have taken place, it is in confidence and in respect to the sitter, to not then expose those stories.
Concentration is the main challenge, and so is the ability to let go of the drawing, when a sitter decides that they do not want to be sitting for the portrait drawing anymore.
It is up to the viewer to imagine what the life of each sitter may be.
Dhaka, it is one of the most dense megacities in the world, with a population of over 17 million people. Kamalapur Station is the largest in the country and the most important terminal for transportation between Dhaka and the rest of Bangladesh.
Oitij-jo Collective, a platform for UK’s creative talents of Bengali and the British-Bengali Community ranging from Literature, Art, Design, Fashion and Music. This exhibition is part of Oitij-jo’s up and coming ‘AKHON/Where is Bengal Now?’ festival.
www.oitijjo.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAM BANGLA 68 Brick Lane, E1 6RL
Authentic Bangladeshi fish restaurant speciality fresh water fish from Bangladesh. It is the first restaurant to specifically cater for the need of the Bangladeshi community particularly amongst the young professionals.
It seems a bit far-fetched to think to about reflecting on relationships, especially as I have only lived 30 years of it so far. Yet, it is plausible that the experiences we have can and does shape the way we think, behave and react to the world around us. Today, I sat at the station, and was drawing again, some of the usual people that I draw, and then a young mother with her new born child was about, I was somehow able to ask her to sit for a while with her child for me. here is a link to the drawing:
More importantly though, the past few weeks – my relationships have been tested. The idea of friendship, family, love, siblings, mentors, colleagues, partners etc. It seems I was somehow lumped into a space filled with the potential of all the relations becoming quite volatile and all happening at the same time. It made no sense – had I attracted somehow this negative charge of emotions and an eruption of despair appeared? Maybe. I look deep within me, as I reflect now on today’s drawings – the most interesting of which, was the mother and child. I stop to appreciate again the very ability to have debates, discussions and arguments with those that I care about, even have giant differences with. The ability to love, and appreciate spending quality time with people that I care about. We never know really what will happen tomorrow, so cherishing today is important, as much as forward planning is. I have never been fantastic at forward planning – I do a lot of it though it seems. However, when the world turns upside down, and all these dynamic relations seem to have become charged, I realise that there is little I can do, other than be true to myself.
Love comes in quite a few guises, recognising them all takes time – and will continue to take time. Yet, conversations regarding emotions and feelings have been the theme of my last few weeks with friends and family. Quite possibly, a re-routing of the soul, or perhaps a liberating set of actions have been put in place. It is too early to tell, unwittingly, I am again exactly where I felt I wanted to be last, in the comfort of Dhaka. In familiar, chaotic sounds and spaces.
In the challenges that have been faced, I recognise one thing, that my willingness to hit the self-destruct button – OR, to put it more bluntly, put up a wall against any further emotional conversations (or potential damage) has not been activated – it came close a few times. A passive aggressive trait possibly I picked up being in a relatively conservatively dysfunctional south asian family. I recognise better now when there is attempts to throw in the mix emotional blackmail, guilt tripping the self, and more importantly, to jeopardise the souls potential growth by giving in to these quite horrible activities. In the moments of sitting and drawing today, I realised that, some friends are right, that this too will pass. A new mantra that I have been able to pick up from a good friend – be grateful, be kind, be mindful – seems to do the trick a bit..
I sat, in awe of this young mother and her child, quite in my own head unable to process what it genuinely means to bring up a baby in the world in this environment. How scary it really must be. And what the fuck can a young mother, barely a child herself can do about it. I cannot ever understand really the nature of the mother in this instance – I can only reflect on my own chaotic relationship with my own mother, her struggles to bring us up as good human beings, and her sacrifices that she perhaps didnt have a choice to make at the time. I was accused of not caring enough many a times in my last trip to London, from friends and family. I perhaps don’t know how to express that care in a tangible manner – for that, I know a blog post is never enough. It seems words are meaningless and empty at times. The labels we carry – the son that left the house, the friend that doesnt care, the sibling that is neglectful, leave marks, one stroke at a time. I can’t possibly express in words ( as ironic as it sounds ) what it is to feel all those emotions of rejection all at the same time.
What would I want to feel? I imagine as all human beings – to be wanted, to be loved and to be cared for and to be able to do the same for others. I get it in abundance from my friends and family, so I dare not even think about complaining OR comparing.
Yet, here I am contemplating and reflecting on ideas of extreme unfairness, that a young mother is forced to bring up a child in a public environment, with little to no social protection, health care or support – with potentially little hope of a future for her child… I generalise. It brings forward dilemmas for my soul, in the directions to push.. The role for the artist seems quite twisted. I am not here to write a fundraising application to develop a social protection programme for those at extreme risk – yet, I can question, why isn’t that happening? Why aren’t those at extreme risks being cared for by the giant number of organisations that seem to expend huge amounts of aid money to do good – and what is i that I would want them to do? and who am I to demand such a thing in the first place? another do-gooder from abroad attempting to impose an idea about something or other, ultimately to fail and disappear back to where I have come from – licking my wounds.
My education, my social status, my gender, my passport – all play a giant role in my perceptions and experiences of the world and especially, in the small cosmos of the communities that I have interacted with in Bangladesh. This check balance is difficult to maintain and I struggle with it in my own way. My ability to articulate an idea, my inability to sometimes recognise my blindspots, or empathise, and more importantly to connect at the right time, means there is potential for uncomfortable encounters too. What can I do about that? I can do my best to be true as possible to myself and continue being reflexive in my work and personal life. Nothing more, nothing less. As I said to a young cousin a few months back when he questioned about my purpose in life – my answer was that it is to do good honest work – and we have been, on the whole, doing some wonderful things in our own way.
Its difficult to summarise, yet I will try. Relationships on the whole are extremely dynamic and requires energy from all parties to work. When walls are set up, often they are difficult to take down – especially from my own experiences with people in my own relatively short past. I have put up plenty of walls in the past, although there maybe little appetite to take those ones down – I don’t want to continue putting up walls in my soul ( How ironic, considering I co-run an architectural practice). I am learning to accept that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, and being honest to yourself is important, and a lot of the times, things happen that are beyond your control, and thats OK too. I do what I can. This too will pass.