Broad Art Museum celebrates Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman with joint exhibition

Acclaimed Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman confront gender specific violence and the offshoots of socio-political conflict in their first, joint exhibition at the Broad Art Museum.

The Broad Art Museum’s most recent exhibition, which opened 5 March 2016, features nearly 40 works of video, sculpture, installation and charcoal drawings including new works by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman. Running until 7 August, the show reveals the artists’ exchange of ideas, shared themes and the way in which they leverage their practice to comment on the social issues of our time.

Tayeb Begum Lipi, "When the Life Began", 2014, light boxes with photographic transparencies. Image courtesy of the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Tayeba Begum Lipi, ‘When the Life Began’, 2014, light boxes with photographic transparencies. Image courtesy the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum‘s current exhibition “The Artist As Activist Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman” is the first American retrospective and first joint exhibition of two of Bangladesh’s most renowned artists. The exhibition is installed across three galleries within the the Broad Art Museum and commences with an introduction to each artist, contrasting their practices and revealing the salient differences in their conceptual and aesthetic styles. By the close of the exhibition, works created jointly are presented alongside each other.

Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman were both born in 1969, Lipi in the Bangladeshi countryside and Rahman in Dhaka. Both attended the Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka where Lipi earned an MFA in Drawing and Painting, and Rahman a Masters in Painting. Both have widely exhibited on an international scale. Select shows for them both include the 54th Venice Biennale and the 2004 Asian Art Biennial in Dhaka where Lipi was awarded the Grand Prize. As an addition to their art practices, Lipi and Rahman jointly founded the Britto Arts Trust in 2002, Bangladesh’s first artist run alternative arts platform dedicated to organising exhibitions and supporting the country’s artists through funding, international dialogue and residencies.

Mahbubur Rahman, "Time in a Limbo", 2014-15, single channel HD video projection (color sound), 55 min. Image courtesy of the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Mahbubur Rahman, ‘Time in a Limbo’, 2014-15, single channel HD video projection (colour, sound), 55m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Lipi and Rahman are an artist couple and, though for this exhibition they collaborate heavily, they historically have worked independently. As Caitlín Doherty, curator and Deputy Director of Exhibitions at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, states in the exhibition press release:

Many of the societal norms Lipi and Rahman challenge within the context of their native Bangladeshi culture have deep resonances around the world – from issues of personal identity to gender equality to migration.

Tayeb Begum Lipi, "My Daughter's Cot", 2011. Collection of Steven Gold, Florida, USA. Image courtesy: Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University .

Tayeba Begum Lipi, ‘My Daughter’s Cot’, 2011. Collection of Steven Gold, Florida, USA. Image courtesy Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

Lipi is a multimedia artist who has produced a large body of work that highlights the violence against women in Bangladesh, as well as the inherent strength of these women in the face of danger. Metal has a particular significance for Lipi, as she recalls memories from her youth of her brothers being sent to procure stainless steel razors for the midwife in the event that the baby had to be cut out. One of Lipi’s works Let’s Take A Break is a bathtub constructed from razor blades shown in a group show at the New York outpost of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in 2015.

For a piece commissioned by the NGO White Ribbons, Lipi created a quilt out of safety pins. In a 2014 interview with the Financial Times, Lipi discusses the significance of safety pins for Bangladeshi women:

Safety pins are part of women’s daily lives. To fix a sari, you often need a lot of safety pins. However, I started using them after an NGO called White Ribbons asked me if I would make a quilt for them for an exhibition in London. They sent me the case-history of a young woman who had got pregnant when she was under-age and been forced to get a dowry from her poor family. One morning she was found dead, having been tortured by her husband’s family. They had suffocated her with the blouse of her sari. When it was pulled out of her mouth, the safety pins were still in it. So I used safety pins in the drawing I made on a baby quilt.

Mahbubur Rahman, "Transformation (ongoing performance 2004-2014)", 2004. Patenga sea beach, Chittagong, Bangladesh. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Tayeb Begum Lipi.

Mahbubur Rahman, ‘Transformation (ongoing performance 2004-2014)’, 2004. Patenga sea beach, Chittagong, Bangladesh. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Tayeba Begum Lipi.

Mahbubur Rahman, "Time in a Limbo", 2014-15, single channel HD video projection (color sound), 55 min. Image courtesy of the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Mahbubur Rahman, ‘Time in a Limbo’, 2014-15, single channel HD video projection (color sound), 55m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Rahman works primarily with installation and body work, investigating issues ranging from myth to conflict to postcolonial ideas around power and control. Rahman’s works in this show include a series of photographic sculptures entitled Transformation (2004 – present)which references a poem by Syed Shamus Haq that uses the bull as a metaphorical symbol for socio-economic abuse. A charcoal drawing entitled Landing (2010) challenges the idea of national borders, forced migration due to violent conflict and the lack of freedom of movement.

Tayeb Begum Lipi, "When the Life Began", 2014, light boxes with photographic transparencies. Image courtesy of the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Tayeba Begum Lipi, ‘When the Life Began’, 2014, light boxes with photographic transparencies. Image courtesy the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi.

Two works in the show, When Life Began (2014) and Lullaby (2014) are particularly salient as they confront the issue of violence against transgender people, and particularly transgender women known as hijra in Bangladesh. These two works speak to Lipi’s relationship with the couple’s close friend Annonya, a transgender woman who, over the years, has helped to deepen Lipi and Rahman’s engagement with the transgender community in Bangladesh.

A recent Artsy article described Lipi’s preparation for the show thus:

Lipi looked inwards for this show, exploring how she and Annonya have travelled such separate paths through life and been perceived so differently. She thought about finding a shared root, gathering common objects from each of their childhoods, starting with toys. But Annonya, who moved constantly in her youth because no one wanted to rent her family a house, had no such objects in her possession.

Tayeb Begum Lipi, "Lullaby" Fiberglass with paint and audio on headphones, 2:14 min. Image courtesy of the artist and Pi Artworks Istanbul/London.

Tayeba Begum Lipi, ‘Lullaby’, 2014, fiberglass with paint and audio on headphones, 2m:14s. Image courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks Istanbul/London.

As such both Lullaby and When Life Began are indeed a celebration of Annonya’s persistence in the face of danger but also a testament to the right to life for all people, a right which Annonya and Bangladesh’s hijra community should all be able to exercise. Ultimately, the message here is that in the end we are all human and that gender identity is not a justifiable determinant of who can, and cannot, enjoy the privilege of humanity.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related topics: Bangladeshi artists, art and identity, photography, video art, political art, museum shows, events in the US

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