Outside of social bondage: Mohammad iqbal

Outside of social bondage: Mohammad iqbal

gallery kaya, dhaka
22 august – 5 september, 2015
photos: courtesy of mohammad iqbal

The recent images of a two-year old refugee fleeing war in Syria and washed up on a shore in Turkey shook the world. Like thousands of others fleeing fighting, this child was in search of a better future away from strife. Heart wrenching as these images may be, they cannot prevent one from pondering humanity’s responsibility for such predicaments. Greed and hunger for power have prevailed over the human race for ages but to what end? Mohammad Iqbal’s ‘Outside of Social Bondage’ at Gallery Kaya in Dhaka asks that very question. The innocence of children and the havoc that uncertain times wreak on them is juxtaposed with the simple life of mystics who shed off worldly possessions to advocate a life devoid of material attractions.

Born in Chuadanga in 1967, Mohammad Iqbal completed his studies in Dhaka in 1989 and went on to earn his M.E in Painting and PhD in Fine Arts from two distinguished institutions in Japan. Currently, Iqbal is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. In 1971, he was only four years old. Yet, he could not escape the collective feeling of fear, panic and anxiety of the Liberation War. Those traumatic experiences continue to define his thoughts and work today.

Outside of the S ociaf Bondage – 2 . Oil on canvas . 2015

In this exhibition, Iqbal showcases thirty-four works which are principally oil, acrylic and water¬≠based. As one walked into Gallery Kaya, one’s attention was immediately arrested by two works of art, Facing You – 2 and Outside of Social Bondage – 2. Facing You – 2 is an oil painting on a large canvas with a larger-than-life size portrayal of a child’s face. The painting features the entire countenance of a child, drawing special attention to the eyes. As they steadily gazed back at the viewer, the large pupils bore an infinite sadness, as if they bore a grudge and a lot of hurt. “I paint what I perceive as the ideal face of a child. I place no stress on their young, innocent faces,” said Iqbal. Yet, as one reflects on this portrayal, one cannot help but think that this as much about innocence as the loss thereof.

Viewers will be drawn by the lucid and observant eyes Iqbal paints and feel the agony and anger in those eyes. Iqbal’s strength lies in the way these emotions transcend the canvas – we are as much in awe of the sleight of hand as we are about the way Iqbal can render us so vulnerable. The artist leaves us deep in thought about our own actions which so often perpetuate violence and abet injustice.

The emotional journey continues with Outside of Social Bondage – 2 but with an entirely different protagonist. Set on another large canvas, it has a deep reddish background featuring a collection of mystics, sadhus. In different sitting and standing positions, the sadhus in the foreground form a melee. A popular part of Bengali folklore, sadhus have been emblems of asceticism and sacrifice as well as representatives of a mystic lifestyle. In Bangladesh, they have been subjected to a stereotypical treatment – always intoxicated, emanating a force of dark energy. Iqbal, however, triumphs in bringing forth a deeper picture, a finely poised balance between fragility and strength. These sadhus often give up their own belongings and lead itinerant lives, living on the alms of those who pass them by. Sometimes they are ridiculed for their scanty clothing and sometimes threatened by zealots for what the latter consider an unholy existence. Iqbal, on the other hand, finds purity in every aspect of their lives, and is compelled by the purity he finds in their mission to find a greater truth and their desire to be at one with nature. He also finds sadness – for the life and choices of an ascetic may not be an easy one, no matter how strong his resolve. The canvas is, indeed, replete with all these aspects and Iqbal skilfully highlights their focus, determination and sense of reflection beautifully. To him, the mystics are unlikely heroes embracing Mother Earth, promulgating a return to nature and innocence. The parallels drawn between the pained child and the contemplating sadhu are well-articulated. Both protagonists seem to be on the receiving end of injustice – persecution for the child and bigotry for the sadhu. Both seem to ask us what pleasure humans derive in hurting each other and polluting the environment. The artist’s works are an assault on the senses. They are technically versatile and aesthetically appealing in many ways. Each painting is also a complement of one another – one portraying a victim of injustice, the other representing an unlikely champion and redeemer of faith in humanity. But the strength oflqbal’s works lie in the way they provoke the beholder. Each work is a bold challenge to the viewer to ruminate over one’s personal choices that in turn affect our collective psyche.

Leading Image : Facing You – 2 . Oil on canvas . 2015

gallery kaya, dhaka22 august – 5 september, 2015photos: courtesy of mohammad iqbal The recent images of a two-year old refugee fleeing war in Syria and washed up on a shore in Turkey shook the world. Like thousands of others fleeing fighting, this child was in search of a better future away from strife. Heart wrenching…

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