Shotgun Review

Parables – Pavilion of Bangladesh

By Shotgun Reviews August 1, 2011

Parables, the exhibition at the first-ever Bangladeshi Pavilion included in the Venice Biennale, showcases the work of five artists from the Britto Arts Trust, an artist-led nonprofit committed to developing avenues for the creation of experimental, conceptual art in local communities across Bangladesh.

Visitors first encounter Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty’s Spring (2011), a sky of rainbow umbrellas arranged in a seemingly random fashion to create the effect of a technicolor cloud. The ensuing feeling of warmth is in sharp contrast to the experience of other works, which present a critical, sometimes disparaging examination of the perils of modern society. Mahbubur Rahman’s I was told to say these words (2010-2011) is a grisly portrayal of society arrested by prejudice and taboo. The installation of caged, fiberglass pigs accompanied by the mangled “moo” of a cow, which bears an eerie similarity to the word “Ma” (mother in Bengali), becomes an allegory for social restrictions. Given that Islam, Bangladesh’s dominant religion, forbids the consumption of pork, the tortured representation of pigs demonstrates that the demonized and the forbidden can be at base something innocuous and helpless—in this case, baby animals. Tayeba Lipi also addresses social norms in I wed myself (2010), a dual-channel wedding video in which she plays the role of both bride and groom. She challenges the notion that femininity and masculinity are mutually exclusive by embodying both qualities. Promotesh Das Pulak collapses time and memory in Echoed moments in time (2011), a series

Tayeba Begum Lipi. I wed myself, 2010; dual-channel video projection. Courtesy of Osmani Memorial Hall, Dhaka.

of photographs of the 1971 liberation war, in which soldiers' faces are replaced with his own. Romanticized by veterans, the war is considered by many to be the most promising time in the nation’s history. Pulak recovers this promise by transforming the objective truth of archival photography into the subjective experience of a new generation.

The combined effect is one of urgent self-awareness. Pulak’s reclamation of national history as personal memory reaffirms the promise of self-determination, while Chisty’s rainbow sky references new beginnings. Like India, which turned the 1991 crisis of national bankruptcy into an opportunity for reform and unprecedented growth, Bangladesh has channeled its social discontent into becoming one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The Pavilion is in essence an intimate look at the psychology of a society coming into its own. It is a demand for change prefaced by a hope for change. 


Parables is on view at the 54th International Art Exposition of the Venice Biennale through November 27, 2011.


Samira Rahmatullah is working with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on its first-ever exhibition of contemporary Indian art, and is the founder of the soon-to-be-launched Alluvial Arts, an organization dedicated to promoting Bangladeshi contemporary art in the Bay Area. She has an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University.

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