Amit Kumar Jain
Howzard Zinn inn the foreword to Michel shank’s essay titled ‘Redefining the Movement: Art activism ‘defines the role of an artist as transcendent. He implies that the role of an artist as an activist is ‘to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the world of establishment,   to transcend the orthodoxy, to get beyond. It is the job of the artist to transcend that –to think outside boundaries’. The artist activist the role as a citizen artist due to the social and political scenario that surrounds him/her, as uses artistic medium to directly confront the nation state or indirectly assist marginalized groups through non-conventional means and capacity building workshops. The art of Mahbubur Rahman is situated somewhere between the two.
Born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Rahman consider himself as ‘anti-establishment’ as well as ‘anti self’. Education in the Academy of fine Arts in Bangladesh, Rahman charted hid own path in a developing nation, bringing to the forefront the bureaucracy and power struggles of a relatively young country. Rahman voiced his anguished against the failure of the nation to recover from a colonial past, from the impact of two traumas-the partition of 1947 and the Liberation War of 1971-and from the military rule(1989) in independent Bangladesh. Amidst the growing distance between the wealthy and poor, Rahman transcended the run orthodoxy in fine arts to create his own language by the use of his own body . By adopting younger mediums of installation, video, performance, and constantly merging the boundaries of high and low art. Rahman created a platform for like-minded cultural practitioners to align themselves with similar movements in the subcontinent. This essay concerns with Rahman’s performance and his body or the ‘dust’(as mention in the literary work of the Ecclesiastes 12;7- a book present both in the Torah of Jews and the Bible of the Christian)as  tool for political and social change in Bangladesh. 

Rahman’s frustration with the rapid and unplanned urbanization in Dhaka is seen in nature Salutation (1997), a spontaneous performance at the Patenga sea Beach in Chittagong. Using the serene backdrop of the sea, Rahman explored the process of physical and spiritual death that had taken place due to industrialization, forest cleaning, and mass consumption in Bangladesh and thus, resulted in the slow but sure death of nature. No longer a silent bystander, he represent both the city and nature through his body, which he eventually submerge in the ocean as an act of releasing the body and soul in the vastness of nature.
In Spell weeping (2003), Rahman commented upon the bureaucratic academic structure that ran the fine arts department in Chittagong and had a resulted in a limbo like situation which halted the artistic development of the youth foe five years. Unable to take a decision on the appointment of new candidates for teaching fine arts in the two institutions in Chittagong. No new students were accepted in the fine art colleges and the ones already enrolled were not allowed to sit foe their examination, delaying their graduation for half a decade. Rahman himself a product of academic orthodoxy, documented the frustration of the young artists through photographs and interviews, which were showing during his performance as cutouts, sounds and video. Using a medical drip, he released own blood on his forehead, summoning his third eye (like shiva’s) to respond to the massacre of artistic freedom and the right to education.

A performance that foregrounds Rahman’s sensitivity towards the social structure of Bangladesh and it colonial past based on the poetry of Syed Samsul Haq. Titled ‘Transformation’ (2004) the artist used his body to narrate an episode from colonial Bangladesh where rebilling indigo farmers, Nuruldin and his father, were stripped off their belongings including the buffalos that ploughed their fields. Rahman, wearing a mask made of jute relives the anguish/plight of the farmers as he suffocates and struggles for his right to survival. Rahman transform into a half human – half animal creature, which burden by the politics of the state is unable to move forward or backyard. The performance was also a commentary` on contemporary social structure in Bangladesh which according to Rahman has been stagnant in its growth for many years. In 2014, he re-enacted ‘Transformation’ outside the Bangladesh perlament. Dressed in the headgear of a buffalo and confined ato cage, Rahman invited a group of artist to collaborate and recite ‘Nuruldiner SaraJibon’(a recital on Nuruldin life’s). The performance was done at the same time afence was erected around the national Parliament for the first time since independence, and made  a direct association with human uprising during distressed times. 
Rahman presents an artist is aware of his personal, political, social and religious another  performance titled Enjoy the democracy(20040,Rahman commented upon the religious fundamentalism professed by promint political figures of the time. He along with three other artists, draped themselves in a costume made from the scarves that is worn mostly with the Palestinian national dress, an accessory by religious fundamentalist at that time. The Bangladeshi Government itself was formed the coalition of four conservative parties and was following policies which were affecting the freedom of expression.
In Artificial reality (2002) Rahman used cowhides to explore the social structure in his country drawing comparison between the victims of gender discrimination and cows that are destined to be slaughtered During Eid, Rahman dressed in cloths of the groom, navigated through his installation , in search of the ‘perfect’ cow that bought can be subject to social and religious slaughter. A spontaneous performance, Rahman once again used his blood as he enacted a slaughter of selected cow with a kitchen knife, signifying the domestic violence.
Much more recently, Rahman introspective performance titled Rudally(2012) locked at personal memory, identity and morbidity. The performance can be seen as an extension of another work titled Pink roses fall down along with me (2007)where he commented upon gender politics as well as narrated anear death experience while he was in his mother’s womb. Amidst the backdrop of traditional folk role music from Mandi community, Rahman showered with his own blood before cutting his hair, blood and the rose become the main protagonists in this performance as they transcend the boundaries between gender, death and beauty. By cutting his hair during the performance, Rahman was also letting go a memory of his mother, whose features he could see in his own face. The outburst of tears and fears of losing a memory placed Rahman beyond the limits of his own political practice.
Rahman’s involment with art and activism and his commentary on political and social conflicts result from a hunger to search for a genuine Bangladeshi identity in the twenty first century. His search his taken him across medium, transcending boundaries that were created by orthodox academic institutions and fundamentalist political ideologies. More often than not he has used his body in public spheres, a space, as Habermas has mentioned, that intervenes between the nation and state and the public, creating and area for political activism and reforms. His politically charged sites act as agents of reforms, providing a platform to activate a two-way dialogue between the nation state and its public. From his body to the society and from the society to its government, Rahman’s patient practice surfaces as gentle reminders that change is inevitable; and he will keep trying till his dust settles.

Courtesy: Bengal foundation  

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