Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the name 'Lipi' translates to 'inscription' in English. Her razor-sharp commentary on the politics of gender and female identity and representation has given her work a unique character. Trained in Drawing and Painting at the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, Tayeba Begum Lipi has outstretched her practice in installations, paintings and sculpture, printmaking, and video. She was featured in the book 50 Contemporary Women Artists: Groundbreaking Contemporary Art from 1960 to Now by John Gosslee and Heather Zisesin, in 2018. Bagging a number of awards including the Grand Prize at the 11th Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh 2004, she did a number of solo exhibitions and projects around the globe. In a rendezvous with The Daily Star, the artist talks about the trajectory of her art practice through the pandemic.
Lipi's practice is rooted in themes of female marginality and the female body, drawing inspiration from the transitions in her own life. Through dramatic execution, she casts light on to the systemic exploitation and oppression within common situations, effortlessly showcasing colloquial concepts through rather unorthodox, metaphorical expressions. Her work is inspired by her childhood memories and the stories of her life that she puts into perspectives of time.
The artist passionately experiments with different mediums. However, her first shift was to eliminate limitations. "I developed an early vision deficiency, for which the colours on my canvas were not the same for me up close, as they were at a distance. I knew painting was something I probably could do less," she recalled. Along with her partner, eminent artist Mahbubur Rahman, she has been instrumental in bringing some fresh ideas of installation art and performance in the contemporary art zone of the country. Her installations arts are powerful. Playing with everyday objects and altering their meanings is a signature style for Lipi. Her works such as Love Bed (2012), Comfy Bikinis (2013), made with stainless steel razor blades and safety pins, are noteworthy. According to her, razor blades – objects that are perceived as 'masculine' -- can also define femininity. Gender issues are showcased in many of her works, including her video projection I wed myself. The video is a meticulous commentary of gender roles defined by the society. Last year, she showcased her sculpture, photography and video installations that explore issues of female identity at Sundaram Tagore New York This Is What I Look(Ed) Like.
The cancellation of her major shows has concerned her deeply. "Isolation was necessary, so we asked our closest associates to maintain it. Every day, the uncertainty of retuning to normalcy is really frustrating," Lipi expresses. However, limitations have always been the igniting factor of her practice, and thus while locked at her living space, which is also her working studio, she returns to her old habits, transferring them into her practice. A stitching project, Low Oxygen- No Oxygen, is her new venture of medium which includes special painted fabric collected from Nepal and thread, a slow process through which she will create six works in series, inscribing low oxygen with in Bangla and English. "From a very young age, my siblings and I have stitched our own clothes. For some odd reason, I never implemented it in my artwork before. Since the novel virus affects the lungs and other internal organs, the series will emphasise the tragic parts of a human body as reflections of the time we are going through now," she explains. She is the co-founder of Britto Arts Trust, the non-profit artists' collective. She and her partner have undertaken a project titled Tales of the Soil, which in itself is part of a larger project, Zero Waste- Food Art, by the Trust. A number of artists from different locations have also collaborated in the larger project with their individual works. They are creating a kitchen garden in the premises of their house across the Buriganga River at Hasnabad. "Through the process, we will develop our artistic projects related to the garden and its products. It will help the neighbours around our home," she explains. If the pandemic is contained soon, an exhibition of her work is due in Mumbai sometime next year.