While walking through the galleries of this year's "Chobi Mela", one would notice a wall covered with black posters. Right at the centre of each poster, there is a picture of a single tooth. Under the picture, it says ekta boka lokher daat. ekta, a grammatically incorrect phrase. The poster is bizarre and one might even wonder what it was doing there in the first place.
But that is exactly what poet and visual artist Razib Datta was aiming for. The event in question, titled "Chobi Mela Shunno", is being held from February 12 to 21 at the newly opened DrikPath Bhobon, Panthapath.
"We have been told to follow a fixed set of rules since we were children. If one does not follow them, they are deemed as an oddity ", he said. With that in mind, Datta intentionally created a poster with a grammatical error so that it disturbs the person viewing it. " Often people equate grammar and spelling with knowledge. It is an unwritten rule, if one denies it — they would be treated as someone who lacks common sense," he added.
As society often limits people by putting them in boxes, Datta has used his art as a form of protest. Art, according to him, is always a political act. His political views are reflected through his art.
With drawing, texts and digital art, his interest lies in deconstructing the traditional language of art and cinema. Through the use of different mediums Datta explores and deconstructs the idea of nationalism. He uses existing icons, and manipulates images to portray his politically charged expressions.
In "Chobi Mela Shunno", several of his stickers are being displayed. Through them, he explores sexism and the stereotypes perpetuated when it comes to portraying the Liberation War. The project Datta is working on currently is on International Mother Language Day (February 21) .
"The language movement aimed to preserve one's mother tongue. Yet, are we honouring the mother tongues of the indigenous people in Bangladesh? Or are we simply enforcing our language upon them?", he asked.
Datta explained how he had once posted the Urdu and Chakma translation of the song Amar bhaier rokte rangano. The backlash he had received from it pushed him to work on this project. He criticised radical nationalism and retorted how we are becoming the very people we had fought against.
His new book, Rumor, coauthored by Moin Uddin has also been published recently. The book also features illustrations by both of the authors. Datta takes inspiration from both literature and art.
He is also inspired by renowned artist Dhali Al Mamoon. When asked about what he thinks of the opportunities for young artists today, he replied that things are much easier than before. "Despite having troubles regarding the freedom of expression, young artists are showcasing their art online," he said.
The pandemic may have disrupted the world, however, Datta thinks that it gave new artists an opportunity to explore their creativity. He said that witnessing their work in events like "Chobi Mela" brought him joy. According to him, the fact that this year's exhibition was held in a more compact manner had enhanced the experience.
"When we were children, we did not have any limitations when it came to our imagination. The sky could have been green — we would colour it whatever we wanted to. But as we grew older, we started becoming more accustomed to the 'norms' and the 'rules'. Gradually, we started losing our imagination," Datta said. "This is why my art is about unlearning all of that and embracing freedom."