Nabil Rahman's first solo exhibition, It Hung Over Us Like an Anvil, at Longitude Latitude 6 was a meditation on endings. A significant number of pieces, mixed media collations of found objects and ideas, foregrounded this thematic ideal. They referenced endings, many of them by using the Bangla version, shomapto, as if to remind viewers the precariousness of life, of existence, of being, and of really anything that are, were, or to be. To contemplate on the inevitable isn't a redundant exercise by design but if one is to dwell on the self-evident, it requires an element of the unexpected to avoid the risk of navel-gazing. Otherwise, simplicity veers into the territory of simplistic and one is left to wonder the point of it all.
Rahman's exhibition included a series where the word shomapto was printed, stenciled, embossed, typewritten in several fonts and colors on black and white paper, some of them so small as to be almost illegible against the blank space. Rahman has mentioned on several occasions his inspiration for the word was from commercial Bangla cinema end credits. Yet, cinematic inspiration aside, their fantastic, or other forms of extravisual appeal, was limited.
Endings are often messy and the series invoked the opposite – the neatly written letters of shomapto encased, symmetric, each shomapto in its own frame separate from each other, could be interpreted as a desire for orderly endings. In fact, the series paralleled tidy resolutions of Bangla cinema more with a tidy presentation instead of the latter's raucous aesthetics and plotlines. And in many ways, this was a lost opportunity because the result was sterile, when mirroring the messiness of closures and endings, a come-to-life sensibility could offer a more interesting visual experience.
It wasn't small print that was the problem, but a blunt instrument of a clue without leaving something to the imagination.
In contrast: several other pieces featured fractured glass, also signalling conclusion but with an emphasis on disarray. Their background served to intensify the foreground – the glass that framed them, only they were smashed adding dimension and texture to the surface. A more revelatory set than the shomapto series, their ambiguity attempted an elevation of the mundane that was missing in the former. Instead of stating the obvious, the randomness of fractured surface not only suggested endings but also hinted at beginnings.
If parts of the glass were removed, new patterns could emerge: if all of the glass fell, a resurfacing could occur – each indicating a potential for renewal. Still, this felt like a controlled experiment, more enclosed than freeing that left me yearning for another form than standard framed displays.
We know things end, but then so what? Rahman's message was obvious, yet they strained for meaning because an all-too-real idea doesn't usually need reiteration. And if they do, a restatement is also necessary. Think of fractals. Where repeating patterns hold the promise of infinity, a potential to lead you to paths you didn't know existed, in other words, the ability to surprise. The exhibition was handsomely put together by its curator Shehzad Chowdhury, the brain behind Longitude Latitude, in that they cohered in style. But repetition works when they open up creative possibilities and imagination instead of pushing things towards a pseudo-teleological frame, foreclosing meaning.
‘It Hung Over Us Like an Anvil’ ran from 17 to 22 August, 2015 at Bay's Bellavista, Banani, Dhaka, as part of a series of exhibitions staged under Longitude Latitude 6.
Image courtesy: Longitude Latitude
PARSA SANJANA SAJID teaches at Independent University, Bangladesh and Jahangirnagar University. She's the co-convener of Bayaan Collective and a novice here: https://www.instagram.com/semipreciousmetal/.