Art as Process: in architect Tanzim's exhibition at Kala Kendra
Architect Tanzim Hasan Salim rose to mainstream prominence when he jointly won the design competition for the new Liberation War Museum. But what is lesser known to the public is the demanding creative and emotional labour that he put into executing such a monumental project. His solo exhibition at Kala Kendra entitled "Drawing and Thinking, Thinking and Drawing-2" displays to the public the phases of designing, conflict and emotional stress that is involved in visualising architectural projects of this scale. The exhibition opened on April 21, 2018 with an artist talk by Tanzim in conversation with Professor Shamsul Wares and architect Mubassher Hossain.
Kala Kendra is an artist run space in Mohammadpur which is curated by artist and architect, Wakilur Rahman. Due to its non-profit model, the space is able to curate exhibitions free of market pressure that do not compromise artistic integrity. This model also enables experimental showcases in visual arts such as that of Tanzim, who is not a traditional artist by profession or academic training. The architect's exhibition is the second part of Kala Kendra's series "Drawing as Thinking, Thinking as Drawing" which aims to explore drawing and sketching as an established art form by itself. Drawing often hints to rituals of planning, iteration, or incompleteness as opposed to or in relation to finished forms such as painting, sculpture, or architecture. Kala Kendra, with this exhibition, aims to understand how two-dimensional drawings provide an exercise for Tanzim's conception of three-dimensional structures. The exhibition explores this interdisciplinary nature of art and architecture through Tanzim's three distinct styles of work: design paintings, sketchbooks, and free-form paintings.
The design paintings are framed and some of them are loaned from architect Mubassher Hossain, who also spoke at the opening event. These paintings are creative drafts of the Liberation War Museum project which is evident from the painting's constructed line formations. Many of these drawings are imagined spaces that may or may not have been actualised in the final building. Tanzim explains that these paintings are fabrications of technical roadblocks such as spatial crisis and institutional obstructions that he faced.
The sketchbooks are a glimpse to a deeper design process that includes written notes on architectural history, doodles, and fragmented outlines of pillars and windows. The sketchbook exposes Tanzim's mechanical process that helped him to meditate around the spatial and territorial effects of his architectural vision.
The free-form paintings on cartridge paper which are neither framed nor signed and dated are probably the hardest to understand. They are abstract in their truest sense. Dark colours and edgy brush strokes add a raw and rough dimension to the paintings. Stand-alone, they seem meaningless but when put in context of the whole exhibition, the paintings express an internal conflict the artist faced during his design roadblocks. The free-form paintings are testament to the frustration of an architect struggling within folds of bureaucracy and institutionalisation as he practises his profession in Dhaka.
The contextualisation of Tanzim's work must be credited to Kala Kendra's curator, Wakilur Rahman. Indeed, it is Akil's vision which extracts the artist out of the architect. Wakil says that his intention behind inviting Tanzim to collaborate with Kala Kendra was to encapsulate the architect's search for an imagined plane and understanding the methods of materialising that idea. In Tanzim's case, in particular, drawing embodies a study that prefaces his professional work as an architect. This is also a way for us to understand the role of drawing as a language of planning.
Due to its incomplete and draft nature, Tanzim's drawings resist the finished appeal of market-standard paintings that may be available to view or buy in most places. And in doing so, it defeats the commercial quality of most contemporary art production. This allows the audience to go beyond art's commodity feature when viewing Tanzim's work and allows us to appreciate the experimental aspect of the exhibition. Tanzim's art is not intended to fetch a buying price but to attempt a research-based approach to understanding drawing and its social and aesthetic role. As Professor Shamsuddin Wares, who was present at the event, said, "We must look beyond the what and start asking why artists are making art".
This exhibition, thus, highlights a crucial aspect in the structure of art production: curation and discussion. Curation is essential in contextualising art, without which art is merely an aesthetic decoration piece devoid of meaning. To further the meaning making process, it is important to have dialogues surrounding art such as the artist talk Kala Kendra hosted with the artist himself, along with renowned academic Shamsul Wares and architect Mubassher Hossain. Such discussions pave way to a deeper understanding of how art and art-spaces can affect our communities.
The exhibition runs till May 15, 2018 from 5-8PM at Kala Kendra, 1/11 Iqbal Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka-1207.
Sarah Shahid studied Art-History at McGill University, Canada and is a columnist of Star Weekend.