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|Volume 11 |Issue 43| November 02, 2012 ||
CROSSING NEW BOUNDARIES
Art has a different definition for each of us, it evolves as we evolve. Every artist must have something to say through their work, a statement which cannot and should not be suppressed by the conventions of society. It is with this belief that award winning artist Nazia Andaleeb Preema started her career, fourteen years ago. “I don't believe that there is a specific moment in time when one decides to become an artist,” says Preema, “ I believe art is inherent in all of us, some just choose to pursue it as a hobby or career while others display their artistic talents in day to day life.”
Preema's family, like countless others wanted her to choose a very traditional career, of a doctor or perhaps an engineer, but at the same time, they also gave her the opportunity to study art and culture from a very young age. “They encouraged me to take part in many art competitions in Bangladesh, and helped me hone my talents. After I completed my HSC I decided I would go to art college, at Dhaka University where I pursued my education formally, in art.”
In her student years, Preema learned all the traditional forms of art that were mandatory for her education such as drawing, painting, sculpting etc, but the artist wanted to explore further. At that time, Preema's parents unknowingly gave her the first contemporary technological tool she needed to start her exploration of her chosen field of interest. “They had sent all my brothers abroad to study, but to make up for the fact that I had to stay here, they bought me a very expensive computer back in 1997, when computers were something new and not found in every household,” shares the artist. “In my art college, there was no technology involved in learning art, but when I went to visit art schools abroad I saw the interesting use of modern technology.”
Preema studied the artwork created by the indigenous artists of Bangladesh , “In college, we studied Picasso, Matisse, Fobism, Cubism etc, but we never learned about our home grown talents, who are self educated and yet extremely talented. As a result of this gap we know artists all over the world, but we don't know our own talents such as Zainul, Quamrul, Sultan etc. I really believe we need to be familiar with our roots before we learn about legends abroad. Since I had very few guides, I guided myself, and my art evolved from paintings, drawings to digital work such and video installations. When I started digital painting back in 2002, people were shocked; they just could not connect their conception of art with what I was presenting to them.”
During her second year at the art college, Preema received an unexpected opportunity to utilise her computer skills in a professional setting. “I happened to meet Professor Yunus on one occasion and he was impressed by my knowledge of graphics and web design,” shares the artist. “He basically told Grameen Cyber Net about me and asked them to call me in for a job interview. At this interview I showed them some basic photo editing and illustrations and they were quite impressed. This job changed my whole perception of life. I started to believe in myself more. I would go to the office for three hours a day and I worked twice as hard as everyone else to produce in three hours what they did in eight. I eventually became the chief web designer at Grameen.”
To prove herself even more, the artist took part in the Inter Bangladesh Website Design Competition, where she was the only female participant among 29 men. “I decided I had to do something different from the rest,” says Preema, “At the time, there was something called flash animation in the market and I got the DVD for that and learned how to use it. I was the only participant who had animation in my entry and I won the first prize,” she shares.
As she continued her artistic journey, Preema came to realise that in order to be an artist, she needed to make money. She noticed that many Bangladeshi artists followed the same patterns and compositions in their work, as if afraid to try something different that may not sell. This however did not stop Preema from experimenting. “As an artist I want to explore all kinds of art, not because I want to be Frida Kahlo or Van Gogh one day but because it is my job,” says Preema. “As Andy Warhall said, and this is one of my favourite quotes, 'Why do artists think they are so special? Art is just another profession.' Art is very personal and whether it comes from life experiences or what we see around us, I believe art should be a perception or a philosophy.”
Preema took part in the Dhaka Art Summit this year where she performed a dance piece as a part of her exhibit. “I made a video of this at the opening and I also recited a poem with it, and called it 'Shadow Dancing.' Many art critics who came from abroad appreciated it, although it is different from what people usually think of as art,” explains the artist. “People always ask me why each of my exhibitions look different and I say it's because that reflects my changing perceptions. I love discovering newer things and experimenting with them. Today I am working with digital art, tomorrow I might sing to complete my exhibit. I say sometimes that if I ever have a child I will ask my child to walk around the gallery and say he/she is my art because I created him/her.”
Currently, Preema is working on corporate consultancies alongside her art. “I just participated in the International Art Expo Venice,” shares the artist, “Where three of my video art pieces are on display. The subjects are Monajat, 'And the Stare Continues' and 'Marry My Egg,' which became really popular. I showcased it in Venice, Paris, Morocco, Turkey and New York and people loved it. I dressed as a traditional Bangladeshi bride, for this piece, eating poached eggs. The first time I performed it, I ate twelve eggs in one go. You can imagine how disgusting that was and I felt like vomiting and that is the emotion I had hoped to bring out in me. The message of this video was that in our society, marriage is like celebrating one's own fertility without knowing what it is. I am expressionless, it shows that I am the main subject but I am the victim of society. People loved it. At one point I showed blood coming out of the eggs and my clothing changed to a Burkha. This symbolises that we women become what the society wants us to be."
Over the past few years Preema's subjects have been Muslim women. “I noticed that Bangladeshi women are very different from women in other Muslim countries,” says Preema. “We are secular in the true sense of the word, we are religious but we also embrace a contemporary lifestyle. In London I showcased a few pieces where women were wearing the hijab but also had bindis on their foreheads and people were shocked. Bindis are a part of the Hindu culture but that's how I see women in Bangladesh, our traditions are derived from the Hindu culture and our religion and culture are really blended in us. We are of a different breed of Muslims. I hope to do a full length movie on this sometime soon. We are not that rigid and that's the image of Bengalis I want to portray to the world.”
Preema started her journey with oil paintings, and till today, this remains her favourite medium of art. “There is nothing like a big colourful painting,” she says. “It is so deep, so intense it is never ending. Each layer has depth, like there is a history behind the painting. Currently I am doing a lot of installations, digital installations that deal with lights, wires and sound effects. I am really interested in our local media for example, we have a unique way of using LED lights for wedding decorations, and I am fascinated by that, and everywhere I go, I also see black wires on the streets tangled together. I used those and the lead lights in my last installation and the communications minister actually saw this and he said he'll give me a tunnel in the city to display this piece which I am really happy about.”
I also like performance art, because it is interactive and fun and it is a strong media because you give your message directly in a symbolic way. I love digital media, new software and technology. One media I want to work with in the future is sculpture. I feel excited about this and will take my time to pursue it fully.”
Preema is not only an artist and a visionary, she is also a feminist who advocates for women's rightful place in society. In her work, she focuses on women from all walks of life and brings out their trials and tribulations. “For the past eight years I have also been doing many residency programmes, where artists get to choose a country and stay there for two to eight months,” says Preema. “I learned a lot from these residencies, I went to Japan, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Sri Lanka, New York, UK etc and this gave me a lot of exposure to international art. They required us to visit galleries and meet the local artists and I encouraged our artists to do the same to enrich their careers. It is good for networking. I organised three exhibitions on a grand scale featuring Bangladeshi artists through them, in Paris, in Madison Square Garden, New York, Saffron Art Gallery.
With many exhibitions both group and solo and awards such as the Honourable Mention award in Chitrakala Category by Jatiyo Mahila Parishod(2009),Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Award in Painting by Bangladesh Charushilpa Parishad (2007/2008), Web art and design award by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET 2006) and many more under her belt, the artist now wants to focus on promoting her philosophy and ideals to the current generation so that they too break free from the conventions and move forward into a new and exciting realm of art.
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