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     Volume 4 Issue 25 | December 17, 2004 |

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Reading the Faces

Mustafa Zaman

Kalidas Karmakar, the renowned artist, calls his recent exhibition "Alluvial Faces 11", although it is addled with signs of synthesis among cultures. His rhythmic lines recall both the pictures associated with Zen Buddhism and Islamic calligraphy. Like a calligrapher, Kalidas too relies on the power of linearity of his craft.

Most of the portraits displayed at Gallery Kaya (pronounce kaia) are what the artist calls "digital lithography". And they all depict faces constructed in signature Kalidas linear composition. The coiling that goes with his brush-drawings is a reminder of the intricacies of his early work. In the eighties Kalidas used to incorporate such visually interesting intricate web of thin lines that often helped create an Eastern ambience in his work. In fact, the tangled, yet the rhythmically rendered thin lines are a continuation of those Tibetan Buddhist paintings, where lines play a crucial role.

Even the symbolism that used to figure prominently in his early works leads one to the tales of Buddha and a culture of telling stories using signs; signs that are visual concoctions and are loaded with metaphysical references. After many years of delving into a similar kind of whirlpool of amorphous imagery, in the late eighties the artist settled for more palpable stuff -- namely, abstraction.

In his abstractions he brought in handmade object-like elements. In this solo show, these abstractions, that recall tantric paintings of Hindu origin, have taken up a lot of space. These are classic examples of objectification of faith through use of squires and talisman-like paper-maché elements in the middle. Those who are familiar with his abstraction may find these works a little tiring, as stronger works predate these. But for those who are to encounter them for the first time, the same pictures will provide a cue to Kalidas' ability to produce works of visual contemplation. In this line of works he has always been at ease in displaying his tantric zeal that has more to do with compositional ploy than with religious belief. However, he comfortably straddles the fence between pristine faith and modernist expression, this becomes obvious after having a look at the flurry of images that draw on tantric paintings.

The exhibition "Alluvial Faces II" at Kaya is also about harking back to the linear possibilities. Though the faces have been repeated to an extreme degree, there are some visages that testify to the artist's ability to impose his signature stylistic grandeur on male or female faces, as in Alluvial Faces-4, 6 and 16.

All of these faces exude a kind of femininity that is markedly Asian. Its essence, it seems, has been extracted from the illustrated myths of Sufi and Buddhist origin.

Most of his portraits with their distinct goatees and bald heads even look like Chinese sages. They sometimes resemble the artist.

The most visually intriguing works in the present solo are the ones done in acrylic on paper. These longish works bring into play a series of roundish forms to create the imagery. In two of the works the spheres that are often repeated break into components that, at times, resemble mere brush strokes. In works like Alluvial Faces -- 30 and 24 the brush-stroke-like washes are used sparingly. Many of them were lent a new dimension as the artists attached drawings of human heads. This lends the otherwise abstract, or should one say, objective composition, with elements that are loaded with subjective references.

In Alluvial Faces-26 the interplay between brush-strokes and even spheres are brought to the fore. The circles are even placed in grids to create an abstract composition.

The gallery has one big space and a few smaller rooms attached to the main space. In the left-hand-corner room, the floor has been covered with dead, crispy leaves. Right in the middle a mirror is placed to draw the viewers' attention or to augment it. With the usual display of two-dimensional images on the four walls, the ploy of turning the room into a conceptual space falls flat on the face.

However, the show is something that is worth visiting. It highlights all the nuances of the spectrum that Kalidas has developed over the last four or five years. The paintings in acrylic, that employ those painterly faces against the backdrops defined by their rigidly geometric composition, to the portraits and even to the installation-like presentation using terracotta sculptures.

The show that kicked off on December 9, amasses all the ingredients that Kalidas is made up of. Perhaps that is why it seems like a 'retro' show -- one that reminds one of the shows that had preceded it. However, Kalidas is an artist whose works are worth revisiting even through paintings that may look similar to the ones that he showed in the last two exhibitions -- one at the Shilpakala Academy few years ago and the other at the Bengal Gallery last year.

The degitaly rendered portraits that recall his early drawings.

Kaya, the gallery in Uttara is a newly established art hub, and a grand one at that. After its opening few months back with a grand show where even the works of pioneers of Bangladesh art had featured, it has already showcased a string of exhibitions that has artistic relevance. The exhibition by Kalidas is one bright spot on that line of success.


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