Meditations 2: On self love, body and shame.

Art, Bangladesh, community, Dhaka, Exhibition, Love, Photography, Portraits, Portraiture, Reflections, Self Portrait, Thoughts

Continuing on my thread of meditations on body, love, and beyond. It dawns on me the need to unravel my mind a bit, too. The image above helps me to ground some ideas about the mythical, shifting nature of my body, the elements that comprise of my race, and the lived and inherited shame. I may come back to revise some of this, it seems a bit clunky still, also.

My identity, one that intersects across a Male, Queer, British Bangla diaspora, of Muslim heritage, but now relatively agnostic / atheist.. is one that envelopes the feeling of being a minority, but also a majority in some junctions of my identity when I am in Bangladesh – and partially of the male, Bengali patriarchy. It is complex, as drifting from space to space, can and does mean so many different things, especially in how the body is interpreted. What is important to acknowledge though, in the not being fully one identity, my identity of fragments, also make me who I am.

A slight diversion; Shame, is about that societal, collective shame that I was raised in, that shame which exists to belittle or deny our right to be. In this instance, shame is a lingering, passive aggressor, it creeps on me. I dare not share for shame, for what that shame means to me, is not important – what it is, is a collective angst towards conforming to societal norms. What other people think accordingly has been a mantra I’v grown up around, and have sometimes vehemently rejected. Yet, my protest or rejection to deny shame its grip on my mind and body, on my ability to love and be loved is not so violent. It erupts, in fragments, and especially in conversations. So, I reflect on this, in other readings, in my art, in references to concepts of self-care, in conversations with friends, in understanding trauma(s) that I have experienced over time, finding coping mechanisms that work for me. But also, sharing. In the leaving of religion, there is shame. In the declaration of sexuality, there is shame. In the calling out of abuse, naming the abuser, there is shame. Shame envelopes entire beings, it can rip at the core of our self in ways that is impossible to see, witness, or bare.

It is this, that forces me to often come back to self portraits, in this instance, in turning the camera on my self, I am at once being narcissistic, and at the other, allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be objectified, which becomes a safe space, but also to be potentially fetishised. In the various sub-cultures that I occupy, one straddled across queer, diaspora landscapes, of the UK, of hints of BDSM, and beyond. Of course, it seems I am also unable to call shame out, to destroy its structural grip on my self. So I resort to this making of art and an attempt to write about it as a reflection instead on self-love. IF I am to put my previous meditation on queer love, namely; the pursuit, the anticipation and the emancipation of self-love. What would it mean? Straddled with the phenomena of how I articulate my self to the outside world, physically, visibly. Does this being need to pursue to self love? It comes pre-loaded with shame. The pursuit is one am uncomfortable with. Why? because it means acknowledging and loving parts of the self that are filled with fault, that carry shame. Those experiences have specific traumatic blots on the mind. The pursuit of self love is riddled with challenges. Yet, there IS a pursuit. This somehow is also comforting. That am willing to pursue self love, perhaps at a cost? Perhaps meekishly at first, unsure about the approach. Yet, it is there.

In critiquing my self, in best a form I can, through art, through reflexive writing, I conjure up fantasies of my self, this miraculous, wonderful and somewhat Bangladeshi vessel that had wants and desires that cannot be fully expressed. Until they are. This seems always momentary. The forgetting of, rather than moving on from, shame. The pursuit of clarity, of clarifying how self love sits, within the wider acknowledgements of different loves.

The shame, which has seemed relatively permanent, has required constant unworking. And in the past few years of pushing my limits in exploring, willingly challenging those pillars that were steadfastly grounded as shame. Through arguments and confrontations with my self, with others, in re-presentations and conversations, here I am. Not so vulnerable, yet, the self love, the pursuit of it, is quite real. There is a fear to self love too. I can anecdotally reflect back to childhood. Childhood, where we first learn to do all the things we do for the rest of our lives. In this childhood, shame is also a pillar. In watching, seeing, hearing and not understanding then, what this idea of shame was, embedded deep into a subconsciousness that can turn to self-hate in the future, even in the present, and beyond. How to anticipate self-love? It seems like an elastic band at times, pushing it to its limit, and just like that, am snapped back to a different point of shame.

In anticipation of self-love, I reflect on the various moments I have taken to journal, offline, to read, to draw, and explore through my thoughts. The most privilege of things, is time, to be able to reflect. The time it has taken to undo the deep rooted concepts of shame. The time it will take to continue undoing. In liberating my self, especially the body, through self-love, in anticipating it as a truth to my self, there is something being nurtured. This enamoured emancipation towards self love can occur, in fleeting moments.

The body, becomes something to learn from, it teaches me what my mind cannot, what literature, and theory cannot. It teaches me, that what I see in the mirror, is real. The camera, however can play tricks, I can play with lighting, I distort the reality. I come with a tainted identity it seems. This taint, impacts the anticipation of self-love.

So rather, this idea of acknowledgement of the lived experience, this current time, space and place creates a certain environment for me to reflect. This moment, affords me to critique a past body that I have also lived in. The body becomes an important part of the path to self-love for me, because it is the only body that I live with. It was, and is interesting to reflect on where I have come to, so far. So is it about forgiveness also? Do I need to think about how to treat past experiences better? There is no escaping some of them, they will regurgitate in dreams and reflections over time, and again.

To conclude then, this encapsulates, for me, a queering of self love too, of revealing me to myself, my ability to think about and beyond this. In thinking about the body, further, deeper, politicised somewhat now, because of its queerness and it sits there, unknown. Its ability to explore and push fetishes, boundaries and pursue ideas that I maybe uncomfortable with. This self love, of this body, is critical too. I dont occupy one particular community, nor do I feel like I belong to one. What I do have, is friends and family that I care about, and that I hope care about me. Here I am, writing, exploring, and attempting make sense of a journey towards self love. It has helped, to create mechanisms to cope, when that love is not offered. OR yet to be offered. Its a strange feeling, awaiting to acknowledge love for your self. Yet, it is this balancing, this deliberate play of mind and body that flickers between real and dream.

Dhaka Drawings: Young boy 153-156 (Acrylic and Chinese Ink on Large newspaper)

Acrylic, Arts, Bangladesh, Boy, Chinese ink, Colour, Dhaka, Drawing, Ink, Observational Drawings, Portraits, Urban

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Exhibition: At Kamalapur, a reflection

Art, Bangladesh, Black and White, Boys, charcoal drawings, Dhaka, Drawings, Exhibition, Friends, Girl, Journey, People, Photography, Portraiture, Railway Station, Reflections, UK, Urban, Women

On my to do list of readings has been to read again, the brilliant John Berger who recently passed away. (YouTube Link to John Berger: Art of Looking / PDF version of the book online) – I realise how difficult it is to write a review of my own work – so, bare with me! 🙂

I wanted to reflect and review ‘At Kamalapur’ the current exhibition of portrait drawings at the Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London.

As the artist whose work is being exhibited,  I have struggled to be a little removed from it – to have until now to think about what it means to me to get to part of the process. I recently managed to visit the Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London- it left me intrigued, perhaps in a way I was not expecting – the image that continues to play on my mind is the one ‘Claude Drawing’ it struck a cord in me – and reminded me of a drawing I did of the children drawing at the station, ‘The site of Drawing’ : a slight deviation, but reflects for me quickly – influences and inspirations that continually reshape the work we do and the meanings we take from them. Time provides, always some scope for critical reflection.


A lot of my occupation within this strand of life, of self exploration as artist in a situated environment has been to force myself to ‘look’, and ‘see’ and ‘hear’ with quite possibly a rudimentary tool set – pencils, paper, charcoals, Chinese ink and sometimes oil pastels.  Why these set of tools? because they are simple, they are honest materials to work with in depicting lines, movements, marks, scratches, shades of light and dark onto paper, they allow for abstraction and focus and the potential to re-work until what I draw, connects with what I think am seeing. Its tough.

‘At Kamalapur’ exhibition finally provides an opportunity to hear about how other people – the public- look and see these drawings, removed away from the site of Dhaka’s main station.  What is it that the artist wants to present, and in this case – represent? ‘I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them’. (Lucian Freud)

The curated space, with eight A2 drawings, (2 figures, 6 portraits) framed strongly in black; and the selection of similar drawings provides the potential to have a conversation. I left it to the viewer to imagine what the life of each drawing maybe about. It has led to interesting dialogue.

I did not have any interest in recreating or curating the experiences of being in the station, as such it was not curated to be an immersive experience. As a snapshot of a project spanning now two years, in various shapes and forms, it really simply acts as an introduction for me, to really think about the purpose of art and drawing and also the intent to exhibit. The obsessions of technique, of aesthetic qualities, of proportion is slowly being left to one side- yet, the significance of them not being lost. Perhaps we are not being critical enough – of its intentions, the ethics and mortality, of such ideas.  The number of times I have left the space emotionally vulnerable has beguiled me, yet, I go back. Wanting to continually push the ways that I see.

Within this particular drawing process, the abstraction to a white paper space, to limited interference – reduced to the face, to the eyes or sometimes the figure. I continue to question how I look at people and what it means to be. The sitters are people, as much as you and I are, and its that human quality, through the technique of drawing, that I am keen to understand. What does it mean to be a human being?  especially on a piece of paper? the question to challenge the potential of the art making process. The drawings are often transitory, of a moment in time of a person’s life. Sometimes, larger than life, often, they still feel romanticised. A failure on my part, perhaps?

However, when work is presented in a restaurant space, in a street filled with so much activity, and madness of culture and consumption, does it work? Or is it that, the romance of the idea – of being lost in such spaces – of having other things to do, despite it being carefully placed? It being the backdrop to a busy canteen of people of eating and chatting? So, how much abstraction and curation is required here? Does the art command itself to be seen? and how will people know? Do I care so much about that? What makes me feel uncomfortable? What prods me to continue on asking and potentially making? Can it be more than emotive? instinctual? The potential to see a truth, an outpouring of love? it is hard to say. Even so, I tried to summarise, the context of presenting these drawings in a space on Brick Lane, in a simple way. In order to allow the viewer to see exactly what it is that I am focused on.  Perhaps, I also need to ask others write a review, and a continual conversation to take place – as build up to a potentially larger exhibition and publication.

The exhibition is free to view and runs until 22- January 2017 from 10am – 11pm, daily.

@Gram Bangla, 68 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RL

Frames were made by John Baker, who runs Workshop 53
Photo credits: Enamul Hoque
Facebook link to more images
Walls were re-painted by amazing help from Salam Jones, Heiner Salomon, Kazi Arefin, Maher Anjum, myself & Shahid bhai.

ABOUT: AT KAMALAPUR

‘At Kamalapur’ is an on-going art project by Ruhul Abdin, and forms as part of a series of portrait drawings of people at the Kamalapur Railway Station, in Bangladesh’s capital, the megacity of Dhaka.  

Drawn from life, in conte charcoal and pencil on A2 drawing paper and studies across sketchbooks, the portraits express what the artist sees, and feels at the time. There is a rigour of revisiting the site, and re-drawing the same sitters, if chance permits.  

There are very limited conversations, or even time for such an activity with his sitters, and therefore, a lot of the portraits will only be a memory of seeing.  Those portraits where conversations have taken place, it is in confidence and in respect to the sitter, to not then expose those stories. 

Concentration is the main challenge, and so is the ability to let go of the drawing, when a sitter decides that they do not want to be sitting for the portrait drawing anymore.  

It is up to the viewer to imagine what the life of each sitter may be.

Dhaka, it is one of the most dense megacities in the world, with a population of over 17 million people. Kamalapur Station is the largest in the country and the most important terminal for transportation between Dhaka and the rest of Bangladesh.

OITIJ-JO 

Oitij-jo Collective, a platform for UK’s creative talents of Bengali and the British-Bengali Community ranging from Literature, Art, Design, Fashion and Music. This exhibition is part of Oitij-jo’s up and coming ‘AKHON/Where is Bengal Now?’ festival.

www.oitijjo.org | info@oitijjo.org

GRAM BANGLA 68 Brick Lane, E1 6RL
Authentic Bangladeshi fish restaurant speciality fresh water fish from Bangladesh. It is the first restaurant to specifically cater for the need of the Bangladeshi community particularly amongst the young professionals.

London Drawings: Friends

Charcoal, Drawing, London, Portraits

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