The language we speak is the product of a male-centered society

In conversation with Dilara Begum Jolly

The language we speak is the product of a male-centered society

In conversation with Dilara Begum Jolly
In conversation with Dilara Begum Jolly
Dilara Begum Jolly is a Bangladeshi painter and new media artist whose work has made an impact on successive generations. She is also one of the forerunners who explore the society via the lens of gender. Translating her interpretations and perspectives into stimulating paintings and installations, Jolly has garnered wide applause from connoisseurs from around the world. She is a recipient of Bengal Foundation Award.

Starting with painting, Jolly ventured out to experiment with different forms of art and worked as a print artist, sculptor, installation artist, and painter. The most astonishing aspect of her art is that she’s excelled in all of them. She, along with Tayeba Begum Lipi and Nazia Andaleeb Preema, is part of an influential feminist art group that includes many internationally recognized artists including Mona Hatoum, Lalla Essaydi and Shirin Neshat.

Recounting her stories from the earliest time of her career to the present day, in this interview Jolly opens up about her own work.
How did you begin as an artist?
I studied in Chittagong Art College and before getting into the institution, I had had no idea or plan whatsoever about painting or art for that matter. It was surprising for me to see how the atmosphere of the institution took me into the artistic realm, thanks to mentors of the college and their interactive teaching methods. I must mention there’s someone who had inspired me more than anyone else and he was Bonizul Haque. Everything he did through teaching was to inspire us to do better at what we were doing. He is still a constant source of inspiration for me.

After earning my degree from Chittagong Art College, I moved to Chittagong University for a short period before enrolling in a master’s program at Dhaka University. A year and half after finishing my master’s, I got married and went to Shantiniketon for another two years of study.
Where did you study painting and how much your alma mater shapes your thoughts about art?
Obviously, the institutions I’ve gone to planted the love for arts in me. But I am also privileged to have a few wonderful personalities in my life including Dhali Al Mamoon, theatre activist Milon Chowdhury, renowned author Shahaduzzaman. The ideas we discussed during the evening addas, have eventually shaped my artistic choices. The multidisciplinary approach, which is so prevalent in my current works, evolved during these addas.

The market oriented projects that we usually undertake to make a living do not necessarily provide us with the opportunities to exercise our own thoughts in our works, but gladly, the medium I chose provided me a canvas of my own with the power to express my thoughts it through my artwork.
How do you think your painting has evolved over the years from painting to installations or cross-media artworks?
A mere painting, as per my belief, is not enough to holistically illustrate a subject. This is why I am more comfortable with several works and putting them together in a series.

My experience as a woman in society has also contributed a lot to shaping my ideas and overall philosophy. The subjugated social position that women are given in our society has moved me so much that I felt the need for capturing or describing women’s experiences. This led me to work on two of the most notable works by Syed Waliullah, Lalshalu and Chander Omaboshya. This was followed by some others on women’s issues, mostly dealing with the representational bias of women in media, including advertisements and calendars.

Then I went on to focus on more social issues through my paintings. The adverse reality of our society jeopardizes not only women’s lives but also those of their unborn children. Tired of fighting the same losing battle, women at times opt out of giving birth to their unborn children amid all this chaos and injustice. This has prompted me to do Bhrun Prottahar, a series on feticide.
To tell women’s stories through art, I created another series titled Jana Ojanar Golpo. Meanwhile, I came to the realization that the language we speak is the product of a male-centered society. Then what’s actually my language? How can I, as a woman, express myself without falling into the codes of a language favoring patriarchy? Eventually I worked out a solution to the problem: I found out that nakshi kantha is the only medium that is still free from the patriarchal influences of storytelling, that it is here that a woman can express herself freely and reflect on her very own sense of aesthetics, joy and sadness. So, I took up kanthasas my canvas and started illustrating contemporary issues in these kanthas.
Before 2012, my works were limited to two-dimensional paintings. But after that I got acquainted with performing arts. I realized that the drawbacks of a two-dimensional art form can be mended through performing arts. The expressions here are more holistic and enriching, as I can use an array of additional tools, such as my body, and sound and lights to articulate my thoughts. I transformed my performing arts into video works on contemporary social issues. Bhetor Bahir, Shilara, Tazreennama, and Ghore Baire are among the installations that I did over the years.
What prompted you to work on the installations on the Liberation War, which are quite famous for the engaging way they’ve featured the war?
After successfully completing my exhibition on the Rana Plaza collapse in 2014, I was searching for new issues to work on. The trial of one of the war criminals, Mir Quashem Ali, was going on back then and I suddenly felt that despite living in Chattogram, I never really visited Dalim Hotel, the torture camp where the war criminal and his aides had tortured freedom fighters during the Liberation War.

However, there was no specific purpose in my mind when I was visiting the torture camp where a bunch of families now live. But listening to stories from the tenants and how the bloodstained walls of the building still terrified them at night, I determined to take a walk back down memory lane. I remembered I was just 12 years old during the war when the Pakistani army had taken my father away. So, I took out my camera and started capturing photos of the once blood-soaked walls, which were later transformed into the project Torture Cell.
What are you working on now, installations or paintings?
I am still working on the Torture Cell project and planning to take it to the next level. During the last Dhaka Art Summit, I’ve projected photos of the torture camp at Dhaka Physical College through an installation. Besides, I want to illustrate the stories of abortions that women had gone through during or after the war, but as you know, it is nearly impossible now to find the ultrasound pictures from the time. So, I searched the internet to find available ultrasound pictures and transfer them into photographs and am currently working on them. These works are yet to be exhibited. I am planning to arrange an exhibition sometime soon and there will be animations as well.
WRITER: Abu Naser Rayhan