Artist Interview: Art critic Giorgio Gaulielmino and artist Wakilur Rahman speak to Dhali Al Mamoon on October 28, 2012.

Art critic Giorgio Gaulielmino and artist Wakilur Rahman speak to Dhali Al Mamoon on October 28, 2012.
'Aponayon'installation 2012
Giorgio: The thing that strikes me about your artwork is the prevalence of political references, especially from western political ideologies of the 70’s. I’m curious to see if you were also influenced by the art movements of the West?
Dhali: There is no way I can avoid Western influence and there is much reason for that. For one we cannot escape the colonial history of our country. Even the terms of our art education, the making, even the aesthetic sense, and political ideas, everything came from the west. From our students day, we questioned these things but we could not go beyond that. Probably, this is the problem of every post-colonial country.

I have taught at the university for 26 years, and I have found many problems, for instance, nothing contextual, nothing is space and time-related. From the curriculum of the methodology of the teaching, we are just copying the West without questioning. That’s the real problem, which I try to address and solve in my works. I criticize myself and try to go beyond that.
Gorgio: Even though I’m not an expert in Pakistani art, it seems to me that Pakistani artist, despite a similar history of colonization, are quite good at using their roots as a toll to go ahead. Take for instance the rebirth of miniature painting which was heralded by a small group of artists like Rashid Rana, who used a traditional form to convey a conceptual idea. But maybe that is not the case in Bangladesh?
Dhali: This is an interesting debate. This development in Pakistan is very recent.It happened over the last decade. Before the partition, the art activity was centered in East Pakistan but now I think the Pakistani art is doing better. The question of influence becomes relevant at this point. If you look at the people who are making the changes, they are coming from abroad, they are educated abroad, and they are mostly members of the diaspora. So they come back, they look at the past and try to address it again with the new ideas, creating a discourse, even though don’t know what it is. The appreciation of art comes from the West, those that come back bring it with them along with the consciousness of how the West looks at us… as students, we were also preoccupied with the idea of identity and trying figure out what is the really means.

Wakil: From this aspect, I would like to add the generation of artists who founded the art institute in the 50’s had a different role to play from ours. They spent most of their and energy to establish the art college, but they did not continue to found a system based on intellectual practice. This is the case in the government academies in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Rajshahi. Some individuals can try to change things, to start something new, but they are faced with the opposition of the power alliance, which does not encourage intellectual discourse. That the major problem- that institutionally there is no tradition of intellectual exercise.
G: Let make a big jump. I think every art scene artist rely greatly on the support of the collectors. I think one of the issues, I don’t want to call it a problem, but it is definitely an issue, is the lack of committed collectors of contemporary art. What is your opinion on that?
D: I do agree with you but existing paradox is there is a lack of art professionals- museum director, collectors, and gallerists, whatever. In the development of contemporary art in the West, you can observe the relationship between art and society- you see how it is related to commerce, to commodity, to individualism. What we have here the reflection of all of this, and somehow it is not really focused it is blurred.

G: I think it is a pity because, from a very cold and market-oriented point of view, Bangladesh art is still very cheap compared to international standards, therefore, I am surprised there is no small group of collect that decides to invest, and maybe invest is not a great word, but to build a nucleus of contemporary art which honestly cost very little.

W: This word ‘collecting ‘has just become popular very recently before it was just on a very individual level. And even our government institutions they never collected with an object in mind. But a nation has a need to sew its pat. If we see a collection of the Shilpakala academy or national museum, we will not see any contextual historical point of view. This is necessary for our art praxis, for the development of our idea of identity. In the last 10-15 years, we see the appearance of a new generation, they are young, they are earning large sums of money and now they are interested in collecting art. But again the questionaries, what kind of art? In our student years, most of the art was collected by foreigners, embassy people were interested in landscape artists because they were collecting souvenirs.
D:But that is not art collection.....
W: that was the I see one or two collectors that are becoming calm and quiet and they say 'ok my house is full' and what was that mean? Now after 15 years they are becoming a little bit conscious.

D:What is missing is understanding of art, in regards to the institute, the artists, the critics, even the art collectors and galleries. We do not consider our art as an art. As a generation, we tried but we failed, to create our own definition. But we are questioning, what is art? What is the role of an art?
G: But you do think that also the young artists are asking themselves these question?
D: I am really frustrated sometimes because I do not get these question from the younger generation because they are busy looking after their career. I hope some of them are.
W: Since you are a teacher you see it through your experience.But what I see that is the situation of students has changed very much in the last decade an or so.We can not compare it with our time.the question has also changed. Perhaps it's a generation problem and we do not understand them. But it is true, there is a lack of understanding of art.What kind of question do they have? I do not know, but I am not very much optimistic.
D: Maybe because we belong the same age, and to same contemporary group and understanding, I agree with Wakil, if you look at my painting, if you through my whole journey, you can find that there was a search for something. When I was painting, I was trying to incorporate the tradition, like the cinema banned and rickshaw art.From my point of view and understanding of the language of art, I tried to remix the local flavors with the technique.the same applies to my installation.
When you are sufferings from an identity crisis, it is like a disease. it is a complex. So if you are not free from it, you can not creat. It is a burden when I m looking for identity everything I do is preoccupied with that. But there are so many things in life, art is not only about identity, it is more than that. maybe for the new generation, because the whole global scenario has changed, this no longer an issue. You can no longer claim that contemporary art is from the West because the whole idea has shifted. And in the next 10-20 years, everything will be different.
G: I would like to return the question of identity. before coming here I was in Argentina, and that is another country with a huge identity problem. The attitude was similar to that which I found here.Galleries, artist, collectors, are all isolated and do not communicate with one another. when I went to Brazil, I found a people with a very strong sense of who they are and a completely different attitude. The art community- artist, curators, critics, gallerist, museum directors, are cohesive and work together as an army to move ahead as a whole structure. and that is something I did not find here and I wonder if this has something to do with the lack of understanding of identity and its strengths.

D: If you look at the scene as a whole, how people are appreciating, representing, discussing art, you do not see communication. But we have to move forward. As an artist, I have to keep asking myself in which direction. Taking in consideration history, genealogy, politics, genes, tradition, it all very complex.
G: Can we talk a little bit about the reinterpretation of history, since the exhibit is based on genocide. what I see happening in Bangladesh, is fervent nationalism which is negative. Is that something that you worry about?
D:Nationalism is an important element to me. I want to address this issue in a different way in the exhibit. in my recent works, I tried to create a vocabulary through images and objects because I believe that objects and images have the ability to create a dialogue with the viewers, and through them, I try to address this issue.
W: In the international context, every country, every nation goes through its phases. we fought against colonialism and then came Pakistan, yet another colony, Our nationalism was in the 60's and 70's.
Suddenly we are rethinking the definition and character of nationalism. Not only as a geographically defined concept but as an understanding that people have about themselves. Inthe 80's very consciously we started to celebrate the festival like phoila boishak, festivals that have no religious meaning and are completely secular.
Now they are selling to us a religious identity. For example, Airtel sent me amassage'If you want to see azan from mekha please push and pay' and I bank advertisement with a lady in hijab sitting at home with her bearded husband and their children.where do these people come from?I do not know.
Inthe context of Europe, it is very different. In the 80's in Germany, it was considered very bad to wave a German flag because it was related to the question of the second world war and nationalism. But football changed everything, for there was a wave of national pride.And there was a huge national discussion on whether it was good or bad.the British, the French, they don't have a problem but the Germany carry a shame because they have a shadow of the Nazi regime. That is their history.


And we have our own history which is dealing with and even for the intellectuals, it is still ambiguous. What does it mean to be Bangladeshi?
D: If you look at the mythology, nationalism is the spirit of the community so it can be a positive force, it helps you to reconsider the past or the reality. it can be used as a reference. The whole issue of nationalism for the Bengali is strange because there are Bengali's living in India and theyIndian. We are Bengali, but we live in the Bangladesh. So is it based on language? Do we have to create our identity based on Islam? But what about the other people, the minorities, the other cultures and languages that exist here? So that is the real problem and real question of nationalism.
W: Maybe that is another question when you are economically and intellectually fulfilled, you have no need for identity. maybe that is the cause of an inferiority complex.
G: In the moment you start questioning yourself about identity, you have an identity problem.
G: On a lighter note, let's talk about your exhibit. I saw that you mainly have installations and some drawings.These are two very different mediums, but are they totally different mediums and unrelated aspect of your work? Or do you use your drawing as a sketch for the installation? what is the relation between the two?
D:Thanks for this question.I do not think they are so a human being, I think we have many different layers.the drawings have their own personalities maybe through this process I try to address a kind of sensibility which I understand through an action and an academic tradition.The installation is different from the drawing which has a traditional method and language. But it does not have to be stuck in that. I can even create drawings with objects, I can discard the paper and draw on the wall. But I think the relationship is the sensibility, only the process if different.
W: Can you tell us about your childhood?where you born? studies?The geographical condition where you lived? The personalities you encountered?

D: I was born Chadpur, in my childhood, my father introduced to art. he was the first to tell me about Picasso.In our family, there were people related to music and theater. So somehow there was a link to the creative process. My father started to work on Kolkata University and there he started to go to see exhibitions. And so he encouraged me when he noticed that I was drawing portraits of writers and scholars.


G: This is unusual, in most cases you have young people wanting to study art and parents discouraging them.
D:My father was not like that. I admire him greatly.He built up my mindset, he taught me to value the human being, the positive aspects of humanity, he never talked to me about religion or any kind of identity.That is why I am grateful to my father.And finally when I came to the art institute, I studied but I had no idea about art because I was involved in the student's underground politics of the left. We believed we should bring quality to society.I was a teenager so this was my romantic dream. I even made explosives, now that seems silly. Then my leader died., and I stopped being involved in politics and I become focused on art but somehow the politics made their way into my art.Around the time we created the group 'Shomoy'. We thought that we would look for our identity through our experiences with art.
W: To understand our work and where we are coming from you have to look at the events of the time. We studied closely the international events, taking a special interest in Latin America. We followed the Vietnam question. We had a few idea about the 68 movements in Europe.So to understand why we were thinking the way we did, why we were connected to the left, you have to look at these world events of the time and the situation of Bangladesh, which was under army rule.We were young and we should have had the utopian dreams. And the question about art and identity were very natural as well, it would have been wrong if they had not come.
G: I think it would be good to speak a little about the installation that is you going to be you present
D: I have been working on it my mind for the last -23 years. I read the history of Bangladesh written by Sarmila Bose and I had a strong reaction to how she is questioning the number of people that were killed. What about the number?That is not the issue. there was a genocide.This had a very strong impact on me and so I started to work. Most of the victims were women, of course there were many men who lost their lives but women were victim in very different way It is shameful and awful.
In71 I was living in Chittagong and so return to my village for 9 months.When I went on the river, i saw the beautiful lotus flowers but soon I found the dead bodies.And the contrast really moved me and I have not been able to move past it. I found my art to be full of that violence so it is one of the ingredients of my works.
for this installation I tried incorporate hair, movement, human body parts, to create the vocabulary for what I am trying to address, I have no intention to create a particular meaning; I want to create phenomenology of the senses. It's not only about genocide but about the human condition and the environmental issue.I will try to do my best but I do not know what will happen. I am even confused, is it art or not? I don't know.

W: To knows the gallery space defines the exhibition.What you think about the venue?
D: I tried to read the gallery space. When an artist walks into the gallery, he is like aprisoner because space is limited and confined but there is an opportunity to create within it.
W: WIll the context define everything? Eve question of identity?
D: We live in such a time that we do not need to bother about identity as human beings.I'm fond of Bakunin because he said that the whole globe will be borderless. I think that is the basic issue as a human being, I do not need to care about identity, as a human being I think the Homo Sapiens, is also Homo Esthetica.
W: The question of globalization, is it a special third world dream?
D: Being people of the third world, we have only the inspiration as a dream.
Because we live on this due to our dream, but the reality is such a thing, it does not help you to live.

Artist Dhali Al Mamoon

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