The Hunger Artist
Bangladeshi photographer Munem Wasif ’s debut show in India, Jomin o Joban—A Tale of the Land, features just four works. But Wasif has packed into it a multitude of ideas about history, borders, ecology and economy. Jomin o Joban, which translates to “land and promise,” begins with a set of photographs (“Land of the Undefined Territory). Taken in what looks like a nondescript, barren stretch of land, they depict the disputed border territory between India and Bangladesh that in reality seems to belong to neither country but to industry—which aggressively mines the area for limestone.
The video “Machine Matters” juxtaposes the promises industry makes with its failures. Filmed at a languorous pace, the video is rich with melancholy irony as the camera gazes upon machines in a derelict jute mill. Once symbols of modernity and profit, they’re now no more than junk. At regular intervals, Wasif also shifts focus—for instance, zooming in so close on the body of a worker that he no longer seems human.
The skin becomes a terrain that’s twitching, heaving and eerily beautiful.
Against this bleakness is the blue-tinted vitality of nature that’s surviving as fragile blueprints in “Seeds Shall Set Us Free”. In the 50 prints of rice, seeds and other natural elements, Wasif offers a coded history of agriculture in the eastern part of the subcontinent, where agribusiness has ravaged the land. Whether it’s the colonial-era cash crops or the GM seeds of today, the effect of such agriculture is much the same—devastating the region’s diversity so that all that remains is indigo-tinted memory.
In the white box of the gallery, Munem Wasif ’s cyanotypes gleam like treasure—providing a spark of vibrancy in a show that is mostly black, white and dusty brown. A few stand out, like a heartbreakingly delicate print of an insect’s torn wings, and the set showing rice in patterns that take inspiration from the hand-painted designs drawn on Bengali floors on festive days. Creating copies of elements from a natural world that’s under threat, the cyanotypes scorch the monotone exhibition with the vibrant blue of remembrance.