<b>Jhaal Muri</b> Dhaka street culture in focus
It's been brewing for the last few months. Like-minded artistic friends, Anil Advani, Kuhu Plamondon, Rokeya Sultana, Smita Srivastava and Ujwala Prabhu came together to try something new -- an artist's take on photos of Dhaka street life. The idea burgeoned from photographer, Anil's, So Fo Bo Mo (Solo Photo Book Month) project about six artists, compiled in a month. Rokeya suggested using photos as a reference from which to paint, the results being revealed only at the very end. “The idea was to choose photos and create a corresponding painting. Our interpretation and fantasy were transposed into the painting, while retaining the essence of the photo,” she added. This hybrid photo/painting exhibition is the first of its kind in Bangladesh, not least as it combined Bangladeshi and Indian artists in a unique format.
Choosing street culture as the central theme, the artists wished to promote the positive side of Bangladesh. Scouring Dhaka for photo opportunities, from Katabon to Sadarghat, Taanti Bazaar to Ashulia, the pictures were a joint effort. Very aptly named after the quintessential Bengali street food, 'jhaal muri,' a concoction of unlikely ingredients, with a deliciously explosive taste, the artists hoped to achieve a “mix (of personalities resulting in pictures) that would taste nice.” Certainly, they seemed to have reached that goal.
Anil had expected some resistance from his subjects, but was pleasantly surprised at the attention the team attracted. “It was great fun to take photos as part of a group; it diverted peoples' attention away from the camera. They were curious about the destination of their pictures.” He tried to capture the not-often portrayed sense of busyness in peoples' lives, rather than the negativity generally focussed upon. “People appeared to be satisfied, with a look of pride in their eyes.” He has caught the clarity of light cleverly.
“Using a camera cuts the world short, putting it on a plate and restricting the imagination,” revealed Kuhu. While using the photos as a tool, she recomposed her pictures to capture movements and motion. “I tend to look at subjects as objects of art, as compositions and colour layouts.” She used the door motif (from one of the photos) to create a sculpture, and her trademark, textile art. Despite specialising in fine art, she is pleased at having been able to “use colourful riksha art to maintain the gaudiness of street art.”
Ultimately, it was easy to appreciate the vibrancy and liveliness in Dhaka's street culture, according to Rokeya, who liked the idea of the group and was keen to see how foreigners viewed local street life. “People are happy with their lives; they don't need too many things. I wanted to highlight the dignity of labour.” The exhibition took Rokeya down memory lane, as she experimented with street art as a student, giving her a chance to use “glorious, vibrant street colours in my paintings, something I find very attractive.”
Once again, Anil's photo of the door both inspired and fascinated Smita, who was reminded of the “lattice work and exquisite grills of Kolkata, where I grew up. Walking about has opened my eyes to a lot of fun things on the streets, to get a real feel for the country.” Her paintings drew from certain elements of the photos, extrapolated to give her individual interpretation as the pictures developed.
Taking pride in working with her hands, Ujwala is naturally attracted to others who do so. “I've experimented with street art before, so this exhibition is part of a continued interest. Most artists paint live or from still life; naturally, there are as many interpretations as there are artists; so many personalities at work. I loved the project; photography and people make the best artistic combination.”
The group intends giving the original photos to their subjects and a sequel to "Jhaal Muri" is also on the cards. The exhibition will remain open at the Radius Centre (Bay's Galleria, 57 Gulshan Avenue) until November 23.