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Unseen Art: A work that extols feminine objects by emphasising on its materials

Works by the Bangladesh-based artist Tayeba Begum Lipi, rooted in the troubled history of gender roles, bespeak the ideals of womanhood dovetailed with social hurdles.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Nov 30, 2020

The razor-sharp keenness, with which the Bangladesh-based artist Tayeba Begum Lipi approaches her works straddles conceptual framework and perceptible display. Her large body of work, including sculpture, photography and video art, is an observation of femininity as a discursive site to explore multivocal feminism. Giving a creative face to the everyday challenges faced by women, her contemporary works question the history of assumptions made about women’s role. 

Her famous sculptures synonymous with a shine of silver are carefully crafted with material that underscores the pain and violence endured by the women. If every cloud has a silver lining, then the silver shine of her works hints at the cloud of odds against which women strive to find their liberated identity. The materials have been of pivotal importance to Lipi’s art practice.

Speaking with STIR, Lipi talks about the work for the series ‘Works Never Shown Before’, which is not a deviation from what her art practices explores and expounds: forge a path of equality that could possibly celebrate womanhood. 

Residency Venue, Civitella Ranieri, Umbria, Italy in 2014| Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
Residency Venue, Civitella Ranieri, Umbria, Italy in 2014 Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

1. Please talk about your general practice. 

My works usually juxtapose the paradox of the personalised visual reality and political reality of the human condition, especially of the female condition in our society that nurtures countless odds without raising a need to rectify them. I try to respond to my experiences as a woman in my own way. 

Since I have formal training in drawing and painting, I love to incorporate these abilities, quite often, to create some works. The videos or photographs become part of several projects of mine as well.  Exploring various mediums in the past, I have now zeroed in on some particular materials, in most cases I use fabricated razors or safety pins to produce sculptural pieces while working in the studio.

Many times, the engagement between my work and the viewer becomes an obvious point of finding commonalities that pave the way for conversations. This is more of a possibility when I do projects outside my comfort zones, especially when I go for art residencies or indulge in long-term projects.  

  • Artist’s Portrait | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
    Artist Tayeba Begum Lipi Image: Mahbubur Rahman
  • Lipi with performance artist Barbara T Smith | Tayeba Begum Lipi | STIRworld
    Lipi with performance artist Barbara T Smith Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

2. When and in what circumstances did you conceive of this work? 

I did this work during a fellowship programme at the Civitella Ranieri at Umbertide, Umbria, Italy in 2014. Civitella Ranieri is a fabulous castle where artists, musicians and writers usually live and work for a period of a month or so. The fellowship is organised a couple of times in a year. My studio was at the huge premises of the castle, a four km walk from the main castle, and had a lot of daylight. With its high ceiling, the studio was used as the tobacco drying space in the past. I produced a few works on paper as well as installed some temporary site-specific pieces. The utter beautiful isolated architecture and its peaceful ambience gave me a breathing space to explore the extremely simple everyday materials around me. It was a very productive time to create a number of drawings, paintings, videos and a few site-specific works.

I was very much inspired by the venue as well as the group of well-known fellow writers, artists and musicians from across the globe. It was amazing to meet the first-generation feminist performance artist from USA, Barbara T Smith, who complied with my request to make a video of her work with a short interview. Two collaborative sound pieces were also made with Jazz musician Jamaaladeen Tacuma from the US and composer-sound artist Key Young from Malaysia during the fellowship.

Studio view | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
Studio view Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

3. What is the theme for the work? 

During the Civitella days, we all had to eat lunch together under the beautiful shade covered with natural leaves in its fabulous garden. The organic food, drinks and fruits were served every day. They have a celebrity chef who would make delicious delicacies. The lunch hour was the time when everyone met to have engaging conversations. A famous writer from San Francisco, Susan Steinberg, became a good friend of mine, and she is fond of mini-skirts. I love to observe women’s outfits and noticed that every time I met her, she only wore a tank top and mini skirt, no other sartorial attire. 

Video installation in progress | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
Video installation in progress Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

As I was determined to use the materials and object around me, I chose to do the work using all my used coffee bags to produce the piece that in fact depicted Susan’s skirt. It is a feminine entity to identify someone who writes about personal feminist issues. I was trying to respond to some strong female participants of the fellowship, who became my friends. 

03 mins watch Tayeba Begum Lipi working in her studio | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
Tayeba Begum Lipi working in her studio Video: Mahbubur Rahman

4. What process was used to make the work? 

I used acrylic paints for the upper part and painted directly on the wall. I have collected the coffee bags that we used for our breakfasts at the common kitchen. I used to share a wonderful apartment with Honor Moore, an award-winning writer from New York City, who used to have coffee with me every morning. Instead of using any other material, I thought of reusing those bags to create the skirt. 

Mini skirt inspired by Lipi’s friend Susan Steinberg at the residency | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
Mini skirt inspired by Lipi’s friend Susan Steinberg at the residency Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

5. Why do you think it has not been shown yet? 

The work was directly painted and pasted on the wall of my studio. Therefore, it was not possible to shift or showcase the work anywhere else. The artworks made during the fellowship were not supposed to be displayed in a white cube gallery space or anywhere else. I was more into exploring and experimenting with the everyday materials around me during a month-long residency. I tried not to think about the work that I usually do in my own studio back home. So, I didn’t think about making everything permanent. 

I had quality time understanding my inner self, slowing down and not rushing to meet any deadline, but using most of my time creating something in various formats. 

Visitors at the studio | Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art |  STIRworld
Visitors at the studio Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

6. What would be the ideal (most desired) format to display the work if and when given a chance? 

The work could be recreated following a similar manner either on a wall or on any other possible surfaces if there is an opportunity to reinstall it. The piece I created during the fellowship was not too large. But if I get an opportunity, I would like to think about enlarging the overall dimension of the work. I do not want to replicate the piece but could make a newer piece using similar materials. For example, I might not necessarily use the coffee bags but the tea bags for the skirt and top could be done with various materials besides the acrylic paint. 

With its high ceiling the studio was used as the tobacco drying space in the past| Tayeba Begum Lipi | Unseen Art | STIRworld
With its high ceiling the studio was used as the tobacco drying space in the past Image: Tayeba Begum Lipi

Unseen Art:
Curated by Rahul Kumar, STIR presents Unseen Art: an original series that features works that have never been shown publicly, created by a selection of multidisciplinary artists from across the globe.

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