The Hunger Artist

India Today - - LEISURE - —Deep­an­jana Pal

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.

COUR­TESY MUNEEM WASIF

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