by UtkarshJul 16, 2020
A studio situated in the middle of nowhere, literally. Just on the outskirts of Dhaka, in Bangladesh, in the vast expanse of green fields, a quaint straight-line structure, with a small pond next to it is the space used by Manir Mrittik for his art practice. A functional ceramic studio is primarily used for tableware production but his own practice is mostly oriented around image-based art. Some of the most striking works use historic masterpieces that are put out of context with his intervention that appears satirical and deep at the same time. I had the fortune of spending a day with Mrittik at his studio. A man of few words, we spoke of his concerns and process. I saw some of the most fascinating cyanotype prints, and his signature tapestry of interwoven images that combine his own along with that of a historic significance. And did I mention that we caught fresh fish from the pond for our lunch?...the afternoon could not have been better!
Here is an excerpt of our conversation as Mrittik revisits his works from 2014 during the current pandemic crisis.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Through your image work you talk about history as being “two-dimensional images and compact words”. You call it an “effort that condenses an entire way of life into limited frames”. Please elaborate on this ideology that you work with in your practice.
Manir Mrittik (MM): Let me put it simply. In our art history classes, we encountered the arts through the ages in the form of printed images and texts. As a visual artist, I work with images – mostly two-dimensional images. I try to express my artistic journey in limited frames. That’s all.
RK: In your series titled Alternative Masterpieces, what references are you intending to make through the metaphor of web and multi-dimensional interconnectedness?
MM: To me, the metaphor of web and multi-dimensional interconnectedness is self-explanatory. Let me quote from a concept note printed in my exhibition catalogue: “Invisible webs connect us all. They connect us with history and to those who made history. These threads of connection can turn a two-dimensional image into a many-dimensional experience. The webs can be used to see familiar things in new ways. Sometimes they can reveal layers that were hidden away. This work, Alternative Masterpieces seeks to explore those webs. The webs that reach through time and space, the webs that help us find meaning and purpose. This work is an attempt to shed some light on threads that are usually invisible.”
RK: Further, what are you trying to achieve and how would you like your viewer to see the intertwined images, one of a historic significance and other contemporary and personal? How do you deal with the idea of authorship in such works, say for instance in the work titled ‘Sunflower is mine’?
MM: Let me ask you a counter question: how Marcel Duchamp dealt with the idea of authorship, in the year of 1919, when he drew a moustache and beard on a postcard of da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’? In my photographic performance series titled The Sunflower is Also Mine, in a Way (2016)I ‘appropriated’ Van Gogh’s series painting Sunflowers,whichis pretty obvious. I haven’t ever seen any of his ‘sunflowers’ in person, but the history and the significance of his flowers carry a certain fragrance, a fragrance that is impossible for any artist with a good nose to resist. So eventually my project sprouted from a single seed. It took me three months to grow a sunflower garden. It was quite an experience walking in those old boots, sitting in that garden full of blazing flora. I tried to experience the whole journey and could document only a few moments in different mediums.
RK: In your attempt to recreate masterpieces of the past, you speak of our desires being “hazy, messy and scattered”. How are these works contextualising the idea of beauty?
MM: You are referring to my photo tapestry series Venus Shattered (2017). In the West, Roman goddess Venus is widely celebrated as an icon of ideal beauty. It is also a well-known fact that the very concept of ideal beauty has been questioned throughout history. In my photo tapestry series I didn’t try to depict a new Venus from a different perspective, rather re-created Botticelli’s Venus in different situations – nude and clothed; and sometimes I even merged my self-portrait with her image. In my work, body – male or female – becomes pixelated. It is not only the beauty of the human form that attracts me, the beauty of the process of weaving is also very important to me while working in this particular medium, which is evident in my appropriation of Mona Lisa.
RK: In this time of unprecedented pandemic that faces all of us, it is interesting to revisit your 2014 work, titled Spirit Wing. How are these images reflecting on the idea of mind and spirituality in relation to the nature of water and consciousness? Why is this relevant in our immediate contemporary time?
MM: Spirit Wing (2014) can be easily renamed as ‘Self Isolation’ in this time of unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. This series is somehow interconnected with my other photography series titled Self Discovery, in which I, an introvert person, discovered myself to be an inseparable part of nature.