New Media: A new vista in Bangladeshi art

Ranjan Banerjee

New Media: A new vista in Bangladeshi art

Ranjan Banerjee
Ranjan Banerjee
It was at the turn of the 21st century that global trends in interdisciplinary approaches to art started to make their marks in Bangladesh. Though viewed with suspicion by many at the beginning, works of installation and new media have continued to emerge ever more strongly since the 2000s, fusing different traditional forms with technologically advanced artistic articulations i.e. video, photographs and performance. It was indeed an uphill battle for creative artists who refused to believe in the so-called boundaries between genres of art; deviating from mainstream art practices and institutions, they started something new, something that is one and many at the same time.

Beginning roughly in late 1990s, new media as an art form has now gained wide recognition among artists, collectors and enthusiasts. Taking a good look at the enormous body of works produced in its roughly two-decade-long existence, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the largest breed of talented artists today work under the header of new media. Quite a good number of them have crossed national boundaries and proved themselves in the international arena with solid sparks of their talent. In fact, now the list is too long to be dealt with in the span of a short article.

It was in 1997 that Dhali Al Mamoon and Mahbubur Rahman made breakthroughs featuring works of new media in two separate exhibitions. It was for the first time in Bangladesh that photography and video clips were used in creating a piece of artwork. Rahman’s piece, I’m Talking with Myself, was exhibited as part of Young Art Exhibition in Chattogram while Mamoon’s works were displayed at Jojon Gallery in Dhaka’s Hatirpool residential area.

Mamoon’s installation made use of ready-made products, light-boxes and a huge video projection which showed a diverse crew of people from different races and nationalities milling about in an airport, predicting perhaps the inevitable tension and violence to stem from a neo-liberal capitalist order. On the other hand, Rahman, trained as a sculptor, incorporated performance and video components to take issues with man-made actions degrading nature and environment, among other things.

In a solo exhibition held in 2002 at Gallery 21 in Dhaka, Nissar Hossain displayed The Red Chair and Portrait of the Killer, both of which challenged the mainstream norms and conventions of art through a juxtaposition of photos and objects. In Chair, a chair was placed at the center around which pictures of objects like plucked chicken were arranged while Killer showed a mirror reflecting performance photographs to imply the dormant potential of violence in men.
The most significant turning point in the history of new media was the formation of Britto Art Trust by artists Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi under the aegis of Triangle Art Network. Britto unrelentingly promoted works in new media including installation, performance, photography and digital video clipping, creating and thus connecting a wide range of artists seeking newer forms of expressions. The workshops and residencies offered by there paved the way for more and more innovative works in new media.

More and more practitioners tilted towards photo and video installations. Tayeba Begum Lipi’s installations, done with an impeccable combination of videos and photos have established her as one of the exponents of feminist art in Bangladesh as well as in South Asia. Her works also show a global awareness of new media art by women. Her remarkable works include Little Learner, Amader Chhoto Nodi (Our Small River), I Wed Myself, Agony and Home.

Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Niloofar Chaman, Tanzila Tushi, Nazia Andalib Preema, Sumona Akhter, Marzia Farhana and expatriate artist Runa Islam, among many other female artists, have presented viewers and authorities with works of outstanding height.

The new waves influenced a lot of painters, printmakers, sculptors etc. to turn attention to cross-media works. Among many others, Dilara Begum Jolly, Ronni Ahmmed and Joya Sherin Hoque have made remarkable contributions to installations.

Ronni Ahmmed, who’s also a famous painter, came up with authentic video installations filling them with streaks of absurdum that also informs his painting.

The first breed of artists emerging from new media workshops included Imran Hossain Piplu, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisti, Raihan Ahmed Rafi, Ashfaqul Alam Rony.

In 2004 Abu Naser Robi set up Porapara in Chattogram where Mahbubur Rahman conducted a workshop on kinetic sculpture. In 2003, a year earlier, an organization called Santaran had embarked on the art scene with the same aim of promoting new media artists. These events altogether helped create a host of artists working in new media.

These new media promoting community networks continued to grow with many of their member artists enrolling in courses on digital media at famous universities across South Asia. Rafiqul Shuvo, Mithu Sen and Anisuzzaman Shohel are few names among them in the early 2010.Video installations and video clips were increasingly becoming prominent in their works.
Though Britto continued its generous support to young artists along with other communities in Dhaka and Chittagong, Dhaka-based international festival Dhaka Art Summit appeared in the scene offering new media artists a much-needed platform that not only acknowledged their talent by showcasing their works to international audience but also connected them with a network of artists working in international arena. Chhobimela and Asian Art Biennale are two other get-togethers of international artists with a special focus recently on new media and photography works by Bangladeshi artists.since 2012 there has been more groups formed by Artists them selve even without any institutional support or prominent funding, And most of these groups focused on more and more exploring of the new media practice, sometimes as a site specific activity sometimes gallery base or they may sometime make their own den to express their new experimental works.

Following these much needed initiatives, there is now an explosion of new media artists, working independently or through association with a group. Naeem Mohaiemen, Yasmin Kabir, Sagor Molla, Feroze Mahmud, Hasan Elahi, Imran Hossain Piplu, Pramathash Das Pulok, Shimul Saha and Ashim Haldar, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty, Raihan Ahmed Rafi, Niazuddin Biju, Alamgir Hossain, Ahmed Nazir, Afsana Sharmin Zhumpa, Zihan Karim, Zahed Ali Chowdhury Yuvraj, Shaela Sharmin Swaty, Sharad Das, Syeda Farhana, Ayesha Sultana and Niaz Uddin Ahmmed, among many others. The list is getting larger everyday.
At the very outset, there was widespread doubt about the worth of new media artworks. However, though institutions continue to turn a blind eye to new media, the explosion of new media now boasts of an ever-increasing number of artists practicing the crafts of combining several mediums into one. Coteries such as Britto, Santaran have played a central role in introducing and popularizing the crafts of new media. Then came as blessings international festivals i.e. Asian Biennale, Chhobimela and Dhaka Art Summit where new media artists got the biggest exposure showing their works to artists and curators from across the world.

New media has planted itself strongly in the topography of Bangladeshi art and it has done so without posing a threat to works of painting, sculpture, print-making and other genres of Bangladeshi art. Not to ignore that there are always ups and downs to these new practice and specially until there is a establish commercial value of these new media works in Bangladesh the conversation about the new media will remain a debate in many stages of Art Market.
Ranjan Banerjee