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That which can’t be named

  • Arfun Ahmed’s recently-concluded abstract exhibition gave a visual impression of words, phrases and stanzas of a poem written in a language unknown to us
- Kurchi Dasgupta
Ahmed chose to exhibit his drawings, moving away from immediate reality captured in documentary photography and preferred to distil the essence of his responses to Kathmandu’s urban reality and bring it to us in the form of abstract, emotive bursts of colour

May 7, 2017-Artudio, the centre for visual arts recently hosted a series of drawings by Arfun Ahmed, a contemporary artist from Bangladesh. Titled Not to Name a Name in English and Nayanamaru in Nepal Bhasa, the exhibition ran for a brief period at Artudio’s new space in an unsuspecting building in Chhauni.

It was difficult to not be reminded of Paul Klee’s famous colour-blocked paintings when you looked at Arfun’s works on display. The pieces, untitled, were mostly abstract, pastel drawings on paper and occasional sheets from his notebook that contained handwritten notes in his native ‘Bangla’ language. The text accompanying the images said, ‘If I could express in words, I would never try to draw. I think it is instinct that drives me to produce these drawings.  And one cannot name instincts. These works are more like notes of my stay in the Kathmandu Valley.’

Arfun Ahmed is an independent artist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Born in Old Dhaka in 1988, Arfun grew interested in cinematography and participated in Dhaka’s new film movement. He studied photography at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and later joined as a faculty member. For Arfun, ‘photography or any medium of art is a means of “writing” poems.’ The artist’s first intimate contact with Nepal was while he was tracing the Indrawati River and documenting the lives of those who lived around it—a strenuous weeks-long journey that he completed by moving from village to village and seeking shelter among locals. This time around, Arfun was in Kathmandu to partake in the recently-concluded Kathmandu Triennale 2017, which for the artist culminated with this show and an artist’s talk at Artudio last week.  

In Not to Name a Name, the fact that the drawings performed in the realm of abstraction, with regular and irregular shapes in vivid or muted colours superimposed on each other, or placed against and around each other, with occasional notebook grids or the acrylic gold bases showing through, gave us viewers a respite from the act of decoding that we are habitually required to do at contemporary art shows. They, a total of 58 pieces, allowed us to float in a region where non-referential, aesthetic beauty worked its charms on us with ease. Lines, stacked together and scratched onto coloured bases, brought textural excitement in certain pieces. Trying to interpret them in keeping with a narrative would be futile, and at cross purposes with the artist’s original intent no doubt. For Arfun is a photographer by profession and he could easily have photographed Kathmandu during his month-long stay in the city. That he chose to exhibit his drawings instead possibly means that he wanted to move away from immediate reality captured in documentary photography and preferred to distil the essence of his responses to Kathmandu’s urban reality and bring it to us in the form of abstract, emotive bursts of colour. Colour that came alive thanks to nuanced juxtapositions, or through smart play of light and darker shades, or through basic geometric forms like triangles that no doubt replicates the mountains. 

The display was interesting, as the pieces were sheets torn out of his drawing and note books, and stuck onto the bare walls of Artudio’s exhibition space. Arranged in sudden bursts around the white walls, where individual drawings and texts came together to create a larger piece much like a Klee painting, or sometimes in sets of three or four, they gave the visual impression of words, phrases and stanzas of a poem written in a language unknown to us, but whose visual content we could decipher through our own emotional responses to the individual pieces or the arranged wholes.

Elsewhere, it has been written about his work: ‘Trained as a documentary photographer, the images reflected his training. But after a few months, he began including hand-drawn images, then realised he could sketch with his camera the way he did with a brush, pen and charcoal on paper. The concept was the same, only with a different process: through the camera, it was light which became his marker.’

All this came to life in what was an interesting show over all, albeit a very short one.

Published: 07-05-2017 09:28

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