Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have craved power. The power to control their environment - be it natural, social or material. This intrinsic thirst for control eventually gave birth to chaos; chaos that still reigns supreme to this day and was only succeeded by the paradoxical destruction of the natural world, and worse, the escalation into war.
And war has indeed come. You need but look Westward, you see a Ukrainian lover weeping over their loved ones. Eastward you can find, a dusty Palestinian girl welcoming you to her palace of rubble.
It is the same blood-soaked palace of rubble and ash, the one you saw at Rana Plaza or Shezan's factory. Most of us could not do anything. For we can only address the paradoxical helplessness of our predicament as a simple bystander.
Veteran artist Kazi Salahuddin Ahmed felt the same way. Over the years, he would become heavily influenced by the tragedies, its influences left an indelible mark on his creations as well.
Unsurprisingly, the Inspiration for 'Inside Outside' - his most recent art-installation exhibition - follows and elucidates the same thematic veins. The exhibition held in Dwip gallery primarily used X-ray plates as the medium and used duco paint, spray paint and ink as his medium. The exhibition started on 26 February and ended today.
"Not everything can be expressed through 2D paintings. To better showcase the insurmountable problems of our society, we sometimes need three-dimensional objects. Installation art helps to communicate ideas more through better visuals and provides an immersive experience for the viewers," shared Salahuddin.
"As a child, I witnessed the terror of the liberation war. I saw everything around me falling apart. But what's the difference now? I grew up in Shyam Bazar in Old Dhaka. The area's history is rich from an archaeological perspective.
But that glorious history is fading away as many ancient properties are being supplanted to build modern apartments. That's why destruction and pain are a constant theme in my art. Even though I don't want that," said Salahuddin.
When asked why he chose X-ray plates as the medium, he shared that X-ray plates usually reflect the diseases that we have inside. Thus, he decided to merge the pain we feel internally in juxtaposition to the circumstances of the external world. From ethnic cleansings to natural calamities to optimism in between darkness, the conceptual breadth of the 56 exhibits were diverse .
"The X-Ray plates you see were collected from different hospitals, shops of Nimtoli, Chawk Bazar and also from friends and family. Artists should not have any limitations on their imaginations. Any object can be turned into a piece of art. In 2008, for my first installation art exhibition, I used sound and light as the mediums, which won the Honourable Mention Award, 13th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, Bangladesh," he said.
Kazi started working on this exhibition in 2020 when the pandemic became global. The circumstantial vulnerability inspired and encouraged him to undertake this project.
Kazi Salahuddin Ahmed completed both his graduate and post-graduate studies from the department of International Relationships at the University of Dhaka, 1989, but his calling was to be an artiste. With his family's support from the year 1992, he has been working professionally as an artist.
He initially worked with oil paintings but then diversified his portfolio by showcasing his excellence in installation art. The conceptual artist's installation art exhibition titled '11 Gates to Visual Basics' was one of the highlights of his career. The rusty metal sheets of Dholaikhal was his chosen medium.
He further added what he thinks of the current scenario of the art industry and claimed, "We as artists have amassed enough appreciation and respect both nationally and internationally. The younger generation is doing great as well. However, there is no financial support system for us and very little encouragement. If the wealthy and successful valued artistry more, people wouldn't think twice about pursuing art as a career."
He added that even though our government ordered the large organisations to allocate approximately 10% of their budgets on cultural aspects, most of them shirk this responsibility.
The curator of the exhibition Mustafa Zaman shared his insights as well "The coupling of found images in the form of X-ray sheets and hand-drawn elements that refer to debris and man-made catastrophe makes the installation look aesthetically visceral.
Losing someone close to you can either break you or invigorate you to do more in life. The death of Salahuddin's mother compelled him to express his grief via what he does the best, art. As a result, his paintings also immaculately depicted the distress his mother faced battling between life and death.
The artwork of 'Inside Outside' invites us to broaden our views beyond those rectangular x-ray plates to contextualise grief and optimism in relation to nature, poverty and disaster.
1. An Area of Disaster
This piece is a symbol of a disaster that transpired in a region, which has turned many people's lives upside down.
2. Intimate Exposure
Medical diagnosis explains our condition from inside but when disease reigns over our body it tends to change our perspective towards the World. This piece captures that internal metamorphosis caused by the pain.
3. Towards the Light
In the midst of unwanted cynicism towards the chaos of our lives, we need to explore a galaxy of hope to stay calm. This piece aims to evince a silver lining of hope amidst the negativities.
4. Eco Cartography
This piece was inspired by the geography of the Sundarban. Here the artist tries to conflate the ideas of nature and mankind to demonstrate the connection between them.