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Sunday December 14, 2008

Bangladeshi uprising

A country may be financially poor yet be culturally rich, as one artist from Bangladesh shows.

FROM a country better known in Malaysia for its skills in construction and labour comes a new breed of professionals – the artist.

Kanak Chanpa Chakma, 43, currently exhibiting in Kuala Lumpur, is the second Bangladeshi to have a solo exhibition in Malaysia this year, where there were none previously. It suggests a rise in Bangladeshi art in an arena typically dominated by names from Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.

Chakma’s Madonna shows a blending of Eastern and Western ideas.

Chakma’s exhibition, entitled The Growth of a Genius, will portray imagery of her hometown, not unlike other Bangladeshi artists before her such as Zainul Abedin (famous for his paintings depicting the 1943 famine), Qamrul Hassan (inspired by the beauty and mystery of village women) and Safiuddin Ahmed (who popularised local motifs using eyes, fishing nets and boats.)

Chakma’s work will also feature rural life but she has a style of her own she describes as semi-abstract and semi-realistic. “The subject of my paintings are ethnic,” she says. “But I present my paintings in a modernised way where there is a blending of Western and Eastern.”

Nevertheless, in a country where the majority of the people are poor, it may often be hard to justify something as “impractical” as art. Chakma asserts, however, that despite the bleak economic surroundings, Bangladesh possesses cultures that are immensely rich.

“We draw pictures from our roots,” she says. “We express our values, feelings and nature in our paintings.”

From the block printers, sculptors and statue makers of the 18th century, Bangladesh has blossomed into a haven of art schools, galleries and an art-loving public who engage in postmodern and contemporary art. Modern Bangladeshi artists take on themes as varied as the endangered rural landscape and the invincibility of the peasant class.

Chakma herself explores themes about indigenous life and Buddhist philosophy. “Artists from a poor country are not poor-minded,” she says. “They are advanced.”

Chakma works with acrylic, which dries off quickly, and on this she uses pencil and pastel to add on different dimensions.

Kanak Chanpa Chakma’s works are a modernised version of ethnic Bangladeshi art. – Photos from Heng Artland

Apart from having exhibited extensively throughout the world, from Tokyo and Nepal to Singapore and the United States, Chakma is also one of the few women artists to have made it in the arts scene in her country.

Chakma has chosen Malaysia as her next destination because of the similarities she sees between the two countries especially in terms of food, culture and hospitality. She aspires to bring the two cultures together. “I want to make friendship through art,” she says.

Through her work, viewers will have a clearer idea of Bangladesh – the little known fact that it comprises 41 different indigenous groups, the way they live in the villages (such as the Rangamati Hilltract where Chakma was born) and their connections with South East Asian peoples.

Music and Love is one of Kanak’s paintings illustrating the colourful rural life of Bangladesh.

While Chakma paintings illustrate much of the colourful rural life of Bangladesh, she feels that art is an “international language”.

  • ‘The Growth of a Genius’ is on until Dec 21 at Heng Artland (Lot FF8-9, Muse Floor, Starhill Gallery, No. 181, Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL). Admission is free. For more information, call 03-2141 6898.

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