BACKGROUND: 100 spoons but I need a knife

As the promised December ’08 “return to democracy” elections approach, Bangladesh’s grand experiment is in dark waters. August 2008 was the 1st anniversary of the anti-army riots that exploded on university campuses last year– a tectonic disturbance that was the first sign of derailed blueprints. At Gallery Chitrak, I imagined a shadow commemoration of that August. The week before Ramadan is dead time anyway, no booked shows. “A show about mobile phone photos,” I freestyled to the gallery staff. “It can be our charity show,” he replied.

Month 20 living under a Caretaker Government (CTG) [Military-backed/Embassy Row supported/Good Intentions defeated by Brute Realities] , I can feel my dissident energy seeping away (in a text for Carlos Motta’s “Buena Vida/Democracy” project I wrote that I knew there would be no “Last man in front of Tiananmen tanks.”). As catharsis, I’ve been getting into arguments with old friends. This sometimes degenerates into shouting matches. Later we apologize over sms, email, gchat. On campus, it seems that everyone is strung on some narc. But maybe it’s just nerves. As our brains cook to a crisp from an un-ending political limbo, mass psychosis is tearing at friendships/communities/alliances. The CTG took power on 1/11 (’07)– a life full of numerology.

This project started from  a series of mobile phone photos I took in the aftermath of last year’s riots (and a few were re-imagined from other contexts). The show statement+press release couldn’t refer the riots (#1 priority was to make sure the show stayed open for 10 days), so I focused on aesthetics– the fetish for sunset imagery in local culture space.

“Something is making me queasy. We are inside an Asian century, and a local situation, that is producing endless beautiful imagery. But it’s all a little too gorgeous and refined. I get worried facing so much aesthetic perfection. Still need space for mistakes, rudeness, bacteria, and things that just don’t fit.

My work is interested in damage and panic. Politics come from the context in which image war happens. Mobile phone photos– blurry, low dpi, poorly framed, no rule of thirds, no color depth. Giving you quick access to make temporary provocations, without planning, intention or press card. As accidental as the boy snapping his lover on Dhanmondi Lake. Koi, amar kotha shune hasho na to

We crave more spaces for DIY. Yes, anyone can do this, and everyone should. No barriers, no high culture priests, no hierarchy, no gurus. Eventually of course, every rebellion becomes it’s own clique. That’s when we need to move on to the next space. Friction and creative chaos. Accidental images get in the way of blueprints. Some people want us to shut up and become a nation of shoppers. But we’re not quite ready yet to be Singapore.”

I spent time debating whether I should keep quotes around “a very trivial matter” (label for an installation), thinking that would be enough of a signpost– to the Army statement at a press conference about the riots. The problem with ellipsis is, in the time of brutal edges only a hammer is understood. With a few exceptions (Nader Rahman’s review in STAR), many did really think it was a show about mobile phones. Bread crumbs were eaten & lost. One older artist told me at the opening “you need to make it more obvious, subtle won’t work.” This comes back to the question of audience. Farah Ahmed emailed about the concern “public ki khabe” (will the public eat it). Public may not khabe, but dumbing down is brain suicide. Keep looking for paths, many paths…


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