Mong Mong Sho’s tribute to the fishermen
Mong Mong Sho's exhibition, "Songs of Fishermen" is currently taking place at EMK Center in Dhaka. A painter from Maheshkhali, Cox's Bazar, Mong works with oil paints and watercolours. In 2010, he got into the University of Chittagong, and after two years, he received the Yunnan Provincial Scholarship to study oil painting at the Fine Art Faculty of Yunnan Arts University in Kunming, China. He completed his Bachelor's in oil painting in 2016 and Master's in watercolour in 2019. He now teaches at the same university.
During his university life, Mong worked on concepts such as indigenous people in his village, landscapes and hills, but could not grasp them strongly. By the end of his graduation, he was looking for a concept that would represent him and his country, and recalled a moment in his childhood when he used to draw on sand beds that surrounded his home. This existential quest brought him back to his roots, where he began to draw fishing boats and fishermen that thronged near his home. The fishing boats he describes are unique in the sense that they are larger and their bodies are decorated with alpana, unlike the colourful boats of other countries. Details like oil floating over mud, a hanging half-wet lungi and baskets find a place in his paintings. The fishermen with their tanned skin and bold figure also serve as excellent models.
Mong's role models are his father and brother who were both artists, and his mentors, Alak Roy from University of Chittagong and Tang Zhi Gang and Chen Liu from Yunnan University. In a candid interview, he talks more about his work.
How does your work comment on current social and political issues?
My paintings are about the lifestyle of the people in my village, which revolve around fishing. I try to depict the fishermen's happiness after a successful expedition and their despair after an unsuccessful one. Some are also dedicated to those who lost their life during these hunts, while others are based on the destruction caused to our homes by boats during the 1991 cyclone. The boats serve as a universal symbol of every event that occurs in my village.
I have also hinted at the social politics of this lifestyle. Before going out in the sea to catch fish, the owners of the boats, called 'Mahajan' loan out a certain amount of money to the fishermen. After selling all the fish, they will have to pay at least half of the money that they owe to the Mahajans, while the rest of it is divided among the fishermen. It so happens that these fishermen fail to catch many fish, but will still have to pay the Mahajans their due, thus leaving them with almost nothing. Moreover, fishermen are able to fish for only six to nine months. When they want to do a different job in the other months, they are restricted by the Mahajans, and are compelled to loan money from them. The fact that they are actually trapped in the net of the Mahajans' politics is what I try to state in my paintings and writings.
I also worked on this topic for my Master's thesis,when I stayed with the fishermen, trying to explore the thought processes of those that lived 50 years ago, and their differences with the present generation. They told me that their children are focusing on their studies for a more secure life. Listening to them, I deduced that these fishermen, the boats, and their culture will become extinct in the future and become a part of history, which is why I have captured them in my paintings.
How did you develop your career as an artist?
My father, who is an amateur artist, was my first source of inspiration. During my school days, I took part in art competitions and won prizes. When someone from my community was admitted to the Fine Arts Faculty of University of Chittagong, I was even more motivated. Besides, people often told me that I draw well. Such influences and encouraging words helped me to become an artist.
Later on, I felt that I wanted to be a teacher too, and began gathering conceptual knowledge and skills to furnish my art and speech. Presently, I am both an art educator and an artist, and I wish to give my best to the future generations.
Can you tell us about your ongoing exhibition at EMK Center?
Two weeks ago, I exhibited 70 portraits of 70 fishermen under the title, 'Songs of Fishermen' at the National Art Exhibition in Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. They also entails the boats and their helmsman, fish and fishmongers, and fish-carrying transport workers.
In celebration of EMK Center's 9th founding anniversary, I selected 53 portraits from the earlier exhibition and a few drawings. This time, it was focused on their looks and expressions, their skin darkened due to saltwater and the salt in the air, and their meek and warm expressions despite their strong bodies. The exhibition will conclude on October 15.
How do you navigate the art world?
Through art, I am able to deeply contemplate and express my thoughts in a manner contrary to the ordinary, which is what puts the audience into thinking and interpreting. This is indeed the language of both art education and art. Art education is important for every human being, as it enables him to see the future. Suppose, we compare a blank paper with the future. If it is given to a child to draw, they may see a village scenery, their mother, and then print their thoughts on the paper.
Similarly, artists visualise the future and bring them out in their art. On the other hand, art is important for representation of every country and Bangladesh has already been represented by numerous artists. Part of the reason a foreigner will be influenced to visit our country is because of the art he has seen, that depicts people's lifestyle, their facial expressions and even the pretty and ugly sides of society. Artists have also played a significant role in the history of any country as they have come to portray wars, society and revolutions.
The author is a freelance journalist. Email: email@example.com.