Entangled Tensions: Bangladeshi Women Artists

Melia Belli Bose in ArtAsiaPacific:

Bangladeshi03_420Bangladesh has undergone near constant political and cultural flux since its two independences: the first from Britain in 1947, after which it became East Pakistan, and then from Pakistan in 1971. Over the past four decades the nation has endured military dictatorships, natural and industrial disasters, rapid globalization and engagement with “Western” and developed Asian countries, primarily through nongovernmental organizations, businesses and factories established by multinational corporations. Concomitantly, there has been social, religious and economic engagement with the wider Islamic world as hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis travel to the Gulf and Saudi Arabia annually for employment, or to perform hajj and umrah pilgrimages to Mecca. These events and interactions contribute to constructions of national and personal identities, as well as relationships to the collective past and the world. Many Bangladeshis appear to subscribe to the late Palestinian-American activist and literary critic Edward Said’s notion of “many Islams,” comfortably marrying their Bengali identities with their Muslim ones. They wear sarīs, read the Koran in Bangla, celebrate Hindu holidays and perform namaaz (Muslim prayer). However, many other Bangladeshis feel compelled to conform to the version of the faith they encounter during their travels abroad.

Responding to this pronounced emergence of hybridity in their country, several contemporary Bangladeshi artists have been grappling with issues of national and personal identities, and with the impact of global interactions. Among their many peers, three women artists—Tayeba Begum Lipi (b. 1969), Dilara Begum Jolly (b. 1960) and Nazia Andaleeb Preema (b. 1974)—explore these issues via the lens of gender. Through their use of different media, messages and content, each confronts what it means to be a woman in a changing Bangladesh that nevertheless still retains very specific gendered expectations. Lipi, Jolly and Preema are part of an international group of artists, which includes Mona Hatoum, Lalla Essaydi, Shirin Neshat, Yoshiko Shimada, Suk-nam Yun and others, who address the multiple binds of being a woman in a postcolonial, globalized, patriarchal society.

More here.