Today I have erased the number of my house
And removed the stain of identity from my street’s forehead
And I have wiped off the directions on each road
But if you really want to meet me
Then knock at the doors of every country
Every city, every street
And wherever the glimpse of a free spirit exists
That will be my home
The particular piece of my art work in this show is actually partially inspired by this poem. About 5 years ago, when I found this translated version of the poem, the situation of my life was devastating. I immediately felt a deep connection to these words. Like the poem, I had to erase several addresses, migrated to two different countries, leaving behind families, friends and many dreams. I am like a bird free on its wings and also like a river flowing continuously unknowing my destiny. So I also say, wherever you see a flowing river, or a free bird flying that is me.
I would like to define my artworks as autobiographical. My relationship with my art is complicated, as my relationships with my family, relatives and my country of birth, Bangladesh. For me it is rather challenging to explain those relationships that forms the bedrock of my artistic pursuit.
At my birth, Bangladesh was only 5 years old, trying to rebuild itself following the independence war in 1971. Like many of that period, I also grew up absorbing all these uncertainties, tensions and deprivations. Although at that time, I was not mature enough to pinpoint those problems but as I grow older, I was able to identify them, perhaps with the help of hindsight.
I felt that everyone in my life walled me out emotionally and sometimes I think even physically. So from early childhood, I tried to seek shelter in art and creativity. My world of comfort and security gradually shaped by my intense desire to create art. The only dream I remember since then, is to become an artist. I am yet to fulfill that dream, my journey far from over.
I spend my childhood in different parts of Bangladesh. As it is a riverine country, river and water was important part of my everyday life. The beautiful nature of Bangladesh never failed to inspire me. I will never be able to find the same beauty again.
My life resembles a life of a nomad, the only constant I have, is my dream to be an artist. The dream I never forsake despite all hardships and obstacles. Facing all the unavoidable struggles I manage to obtain a bachelor degree in Fine Arts and continued to create and exhibit in different places. However, the political situation continues to deteriorate under military rule. Socio-cultural and religious pressure began to stifle the creativity. Despite usual threats and challenges I never thought of quitting, however all these tension and restlessness found their way into my artworks. In 2004, I have arranged my first solo exhibition and that year I also left Bangladesh for UK.
Nevertheless, for me life didn’t become easier, I tried to adapt the new culture, weather, and people. Then I learnt to see life from a different perspective, confronting these constant clash of culture. Although compared to Bangladesh; England is quite different in its natural beauty. But for the first time in my life I was able to satisfy my aesthetic needs as I visited museums and galleries, took courses in art, took part in art shows. I experienced different culture and meet many people from different background for the first time. I have explored the similarities as well as differences between two cultures.
But fate had willed something different for me, I had to travel to Canada one point. My nomadic life never settled – failed to lay down roots. Here in this enormous country like Canada, my situation frequently reminds me of my isolation and solitude, with no family of my own, I distilled all my agonies into my art work. They are all I have, they are like my children and also my time machine to recreate my time lost and reminder of sacrifices I had to endure.
Although I was trained as a student of drawing and paintings, I like to work with different media. ‘Nakshi kantha’ and embroidery is part of our cultural tradition. It was a tradition once to teach embroidery and sewing in our home and schools. I also designed and sewed my own clothing, especially Sari.
Gradually I have introduced fabric with embroidery into my art. Especially in 2012 while doing some collage with fabrics I have started to use thread as common binders, during the same time I also started to use my fingerprints as a drawing tool. I used all these elements in a process to search my identity. At that time I thought which part of my body I didn’t use, that I could use in my art , that will build the unbreakable bridge of ownership, my inseparable part. Because as a childless woman my art are like my children, part of me yet outside of my body like a child in mother’s womb.
From that time I started to collect hair. Discarded and uprooted hair, all I have stored with care. I felt them with care that I have never received from any one. I wanted to give them a place in my art. The process of collecting, cleaning and storing hair one by one is like a ritual for me, a carefully arranged activities like taking care of an infant. This is also a way to develop a kind of bilateral relationships with myself, I am my mother and I am my child.
Head full of long hair is still a part of the defining beauty in Bangladeshi women. A significance of long hair also found its refuge in our cultural tradition. Hair is an important bio-material of our body; it grows continuously form tiny follicles buried in our skin. My hair was also part of my characteristics – a kind of identity for me. I tried to keep that identity in my art. My art with my own hair and fingerprints are expression of my individuality as well.
I have seen distance created by the strained relationships. The distance I have never been able to reduce. I was alienated. To forget this pain of abandonment, I try to create art with my own body parts. I tried to fill the void with my art and establish my own identity once again as a citizen of the world. Like a palimpsest, where a new narrative is being written on the parchment of past imprint. Since 2012 I made a collage quilt stitched by my hair and several baby dresses all stitched together by hair.
Sari as a garment was also an essential part of me, which I continued to wear even when it was longer wear regularly by many. After leaving the country, I have virtually no opportunities to wear sari – beside weather and culture are also factor. I miss the nature and sari of Bangladesh, the long, flowing stitch-less span of fabric like river or flowing long hair. They are among the things lost form my life.
I have always felt the extraordinary healing power in act of sewing. Movement of needle, nestled between thumb and index fingers through the fabric has a meditative effect. Mind lost in tiny yet focused labyrinth of threads. The needle moves along the fabric like someone swimming in a river, floating along the waves as the river flows from its origin to end. It is like the passage of life through time. Nothing stays at the same place. We also move along, change ourselves, and give birth to our new selves in different culture.
In six yards fabric of sari carry the pattern of hair stitched like a wave on a river. The sari begins from the right. During wearing we wrap the right part of the sari around the waist, make five to six folds and tucked it behind the top edge of the petticoat. Rest of the sari flows along the body, over the chest and finally to rest on the left shoulder. For this reason at the left section of the sari we can see more densely patterned with design.
The petticoat, as we call it, is like a long skirt, usually wear beneath the sari around the waist and below, and in the upper part over the chest we wear blouse, it all forms the part of the traditional clothe. The Petticoat and blouse are all stitched by hand with the hair from my head.
The pattern of rose at back side of the blouse is a representation of common motif of rose, we see in many traditional embroidery. Facing all the deprivations and hardships, art survived like rose for me .
Although white is the color of loss in our culture, but strangely it is also the color of hope, purity and a new beginning. We also wear white and red to celebrate ‘Pohela Boishakh’ – the Bengali New Year, which coincided with new harvest. We celebrate it in mid-April, it is the day to accept a new begging and forget the loss from past year.
White It is also color of white paper and tiny lines of hair in white sari is also like an epic of life written on it. The black lines of my hair stitched on the sari give me the glimpse of the poems or words written on a white piece of paper. Just like the poem, the white sari is a river of my free soul, lost yet pure with hope for the new beginning. I have crossed oceans and continents – adopted different countries as my new homeland but my root is embedded deep into the loose alluvial soil of Bangladesh, a land of river – that is my identity. And that identity enables and empowered me to rewrite my destiny as an artist with a free soul who call this land her home.