Amit Kumar Jain reflects on The Artist as Activist, a joint exhibition by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman
The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened a landmark exhibition on two leading Bangladeshi artists, Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi, earlier this month. Considered as the forerunners of contemporary art practice in Bangladesh, Rahman and Lipi are also well-known for having co-founded, and currently running, the Britto Arts Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting young artists, since 2002. Their first major museum exhibition, The Artist as Activist brings together an extensive body of the duo’s collective work under one roof, which has “emerged from their shared journey as a husband and wife, and reflect their continual interchange of ideas and pursuit of like-minded themes,” according to curator Caitlin Doherty.Doherty transforms the museum space effectively, by dedicating a gallery to each artist and showcasing works from various periods of their career. Lipi’s section is designed as a quiet, intimate and personal space, making the viewer look inwards to the role of the women in the Bangladeshi society. Her works look at the domestic, and how the woman negotiates the constant tussle of her personal ambitions and societal demands. As one moves through the gallery, one moves through her body, culminating in a womb-like, protective environment, where she secludes her innermost desires and emotions from the taxing outer world. This is the space where My Daughter’s Cot, an empty cradle made of stainless steel razors, signifies the vast contradiction between the personal and the societal, and gives a sense of longing in what is supposed to be a beautiful, but threatening symbol of motherhood. Contrary to Lipi’s gallery, Rahman’s artworks speak for the abject, dissatisfied man, beginning with a self-portrait series of charcoal drawings that depict the artist screaming in frustration, in response to his own helplessness and inability to fight the political and social failure of his country. He approaches activism through social commentary, highlighting the plight of the indigo farmer through an ongoing performance piece titled Transformations. In Sounds from Nowhere-8, Rahman symbolically captures the pain and the loss that followed the collapse of the eight-storied Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which caused death and injury to thousands of garment factory workers. He navigates his own identity in the contemporary political history of Bangladesh, a nation still recovering from two wars. Rahman’s gallery becomes more vocal and versatile as he adapts to multiple mediums in highlighting the struggles he shares with his fellow citizens in a postcolonial, developing country. The last gallery brings together the works of Lipi and Mahbub under a common endeavour. Through their non-profit organisation, they initiated a project to work with the transgender community in Dhaka. Reversal Reality, a solo project by Lipi, compares the living realities of the artist and co-collaborator Anonnya, a transgender woman, while focussing on the struggles of the latter. While Lipi’s project takes on the individual, Rahman’s video project Time in a Limbo looks at the transgender community through their rituals, dialogues and practices. The museum has proposed to use this gallery with the LGBT community of East Lansing, and hopes to bring Anonnya to the United States to share her experience.
The Artist as Activist is the first major exhibition from South Asia at the Broad Art Museum, and will continue till 7 August 2016. Previously, the museum had showcased a project by Mithu Sen and an exhibition of works by Imran Qureshi and Naiza Khan.
—Amit Kumar Jain, Curatorial Consultant for The Artist as Activist
The Artist as Activist
Featuring: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman
5 March – 7 August 2016
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Michigan State University
547 East Circle Drive
East Lansing, MI 48824