by Meghna MehtaNov 06, 2019
A series of colourful clothes, stitched together with intricate and traditional Bengali kantha embroidery technique, could be metaphorically dubbed as a large map of different regions brought together to form a distinct, yet unified piece of geographical land. This installation titled Haven is Elsewhere by multi-media artist Kamruzzaman Shadhin stands tall enough to bespeak the history of Bangladesh and its people. Like Shadhin’s art practice that builds on the collaborative and participatory nature, the installation is a collection of abandoned clothes by Rohingya refugees, sewn by the internal migrants settled in the parts of Thakurgaon district in Bangladesh.
Not limited to a single art form, Shadhin’s practice oversees the performance and video art to engage the viewers and open a world of immersive experience for them. Talking about the importance of collaboration in his creative journey as an artist, Shadhin expounds in an interview, “The numerous dimensions of the relationship that is at play between the artist and the communities at different levels of the collaborative artistic process fascinate me. For the past few years, I have been travelling extensively within Bangladesh, developing projects in collaboration with various communities around Bangladesh. Collaborating with communities has made me see the world around me from whole new perspectives. I am constantly learning through these collaborative experiences, and while these experiences are constantly challenging and changing my thought process as an artist, at the same time, I feel more and more ‘rooted’ every day.”
The scale of his works including The Elephant in the Room, Haven is Elsewhere, Boat to Heaven, Relocation, is an artist’s response to human calamity caused by migration, settlement and relocation. The frequent use of the textile material by the artist also hints at the transnational possibilities of the textile industry in the post-industrial economy and migrant labour in the Global South. Talking about the inevitability of empathy, when it comes to the recurring motifs of migration within his art practice, Shadhin says, “I always find myself talking to people how they have arrived at the place that they are in now. These are intriguing stories, spanning generations, every single time I find myself moved by the accounts of how facts that we read in history books or current news have changed lives in such extreme extents. My artistic process is based on the engagement of people, I try to create something with them that will tell their stories in a way that they can feel a part of….Art helps us to look critically through a humane lens and find where the system failed us….”
The Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts - awarded Breaking New Ground at Art Spectrum Awards: South Asia (ASA:SA) 2018 at the Serendipity Arts Festival - was established by Shadhin in 2001. It is an attempt to introduce national and international artists to the agricultural, religious or cultural practices of the indigenous communities of Thakurgaon. Interestingly, in language Santhali – an Austroasiatic language spoken by more than seven million people in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, ‘gidree bawlee’ means baby's babbling. The multidisciplinary artistic exchange between contemporary and indigenous artists is encouraged by the foundation to preserve the language and intangible practices of fading village traditions. Laying importance to the alternative school of thought, Shadhin adds, “Gidree Bawlee is situated in the remote village of Balia, where I grew up. It was founded to promote community-engaged art in Bangladesh. I personally feel that alternative public spaces give you immense opportunities for new ideas and experimental creative engagements. Be it rural or urban, the common aspect of these spaces is that they all encourage socially engaged art practices. They break boundaries.”
While watching his work one cannot escape the blend of survival narrative and emphasis on the play of comradeship. Lending creative face to the human despondency – led by politics of river lands and migration – Shadin’s artistic narrative is not a one-stop-destination but a long on-going journey.