"Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live."
The aforementioned words are taken from the Nobel Peace Prize 1964 lecture by widely respected American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. - who became the (at the time) youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S, according to The New York Times. As the aforementioned speech addressed - people across the world have been living for so long inside these chaotic realms, disguised and called 'the civil society' - which always initiated the chaos between the internal and the external aspects. The Nobel laureate wisely pointed out this chaotic ambiguity inside the inhabitants and the societies during that speech, and almost six decades later, one can easily understand that the distinction got even bigger. In this present context, art has become more of a passionate luxury for the rich and an unthinkable, untouchable luxury for the disenfranchised communities living in the society. And even in this 21st century, most of the art patrons and galleries could not detach themselves nor the heavenly essence of art, literature, morals and religion - from the aforementioned instrumentalities.
"Is that how we supposed to spread the happiness and joy of art among the people surrounding and empowering us in the society? If not, then why don't we challenge the so-called 'normalcies', craft art within the unthinkable circumstances, and make it discoverable to everyone?" - these were the questions that thrived renowned Bangladeshi art educator and artist Bishwajit Goswami, founder of the Brihatta Art Foundation and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Fine Art, Dhaka University - to think out of the box and reimagine the approach of making a state-of-the-art working space and gallery at such a place, which has been unthinkable for legitimate reasons.
Hazaribagh is known for being the dedicated leather manufacturing place and the unique 'tannery zone' in Dhaka, also earned the title of being Dhaka city's one of the most polluted areas in the process. In 2003, the government had taken the initiative to build the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry Corporation (BSCIC) Tannery Industrial Estate on 200 acres at Savar's Hemayetpur after moving all tanneries from Hazaribagh, in order to prevent environmental pollution and to protect the Buriganga river. However, that left the hazardous place of Hazaribagh, abandoned.
In 2017, Brihatta Art Foundation started its beautiful journey through its co-founders Bishwajit Goswami and Nusrat Mahmud, alongside Brihatta's trustee members artist Tania Sultana, architect and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Assistant Professor Syed Kushol, artist and Lecturer at China's Yunnan Arts University Mong Mong Sho and artist Bipul Mallick, and the other dedicated and soulful team members of the group. Together, they embarked on a new mission to present something out-of-the-box. When the team of Brihatta was thinking about shifting to a new workplace, the abandoned tannery space was chosen and got renovated within a massive recycling process for four months, under the curation and supervision of Bishwajit Goswami alongside the combined hardships of his dedicated team of artists and workers. Celebrating 50 years of Bangladesh's independence, the inaugural exhibition 'Mukti' started welcoming the visitors to this unique, new home of Brihatta Art Foundation from October 30 on the roof of Mukti Tannery-1 in the city's Hazaribagh Tannery area, which comes to an end today, November 5th.
Consisting of five young and talented artists and their five special artworks from Bishwajit Goswami's sculptural based curatorial project "Khujiya Dekho Tai" (Find... Create... Express), and a special artistic venture titled "Aay Tobe Sohochori" (Let's Play Together) by 24 children of Hazaribagh Local School, Nalonda High School and many other schools and surroundings of 'Mukti' under the supervision of artist Tania Sultana and lecturer at the Yunnan Arts University, China, artist Mon Mong Sho - the 'Mukti' exhibition and the brand new 15,000 square feet art space created a buzz among the art community and admirers in the city, for its groundbreaking approach - at a time when climate change is a widely concerned topic among the leaders across the world. Regarding this unique exhibition and the newly renovated art space, the curator of this exhibition and Brihatta founder Bishwajit Goswami talked to Dhaka Courier and said that the entire place is crafted based on recycling, reflecting his envisioned theme of "Ma Mati Manush Bhasha Swadesh Prokriti" (Mother, Earth, Human, Language, Motherland and Nature).
"The philosophy of our 'Brihatta' is that we are concerned for all communities, and our mother nature as well. I, alongside my wonderful and hardworking team, have consistently tried to find out and establish solace from out of the pile of hazardous, toxic, industrial leftovers. We recycled them, utilized them, tried to make this place almost a 'zero-plastic' zone, researched and planted fruit-flower-and medicinal plants and also nurtured a vegetable garden, welcomed the birds and their beautiful, chirping melodies - and most importantly, we have tried to make a place which embraces the beauty of our six beautiful seasons; something that we are bestowed with, and not all regions in this beautiful world are that lucky. We faced many difficulties, challenges and roadblocks; but my nature of work is that I enjoy challenges, I love to challenge the challenges and enjoy the process within - so whenever my team got confused while going through this new journey, we learned together while rediscovering the joy of working out of our comfort zones," Bishwajit Goswami described the entire journey in this candid conversation with DC at the rooftop of Mukti Tannery-1, the new home of Brihatta Art Foundation.
Prior to welcoming the general art admirers, Brihatta hosted a two-day launching event on October 28, Thursday, and October 29, Friday. The event was attended by the locals, other tannery owners, street children, workers, children and their guardians, and neighbours of 'Brihatta's new space and artists participating in the exhibition. On Thursday, special guests including BGMEA Board of Directors member Rubana Haque, eminent architect Saif Ul Haque, thespian Tanveen Sweety and Dhaka University Dean of the Faculty of Fine Art, Professor Nisar Hossain visited the exhibition. The next day, the exhibition was graced by the presence of leading Bangladeshi artists Farida Zaman, Mohammad Yunus, Tarun Ghosh, Kanak Chanpa Chakma and renowned photojournalist Nasir Ali Mamun, alongside Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, Co-Founders of Samdani Art Foundation, and Dato KM Rifatuzzaman, Editor of Showcase Magazine.
"Khujia Dekho Tai": Find...Create...Express
The exhibition featured two unique sets of exhibition side by side at Brihatta's new open and wide venue, and one of them was "Khujia Dekho Tai (Find...Create...Express)" featuring five special sculpture-based artworks: 'Transformation' by artist Afia Noor, 'Ensemble' by Mohammad Mojahidur Rahman Sarker, 'Breathing In and Out' by Rasel Rana, 'Recast' by Tapan Ghosh and 'Mukti' by Mahmuda Siddika. Regarding the venture, Bishwajit Goswami said that the initiative was organised in an effort to breathe life back into the polluted environment of the tannery region. "In this former tannery district along the riverbanks, combining art and artistry, the artists explored the elements with their minds' eyes. Stories left behind in this region of the river basin have lighted the artists' paths in this project, allowing them to explore new forms of renewed hope. Being left behind does not mean being abandoned, and it's as if the elements lay scattered filled with this desire to be picked up again. Processed or leftover hides, various tools and materials for preparing hides, the spaces used for preparations, the local marketplace for buying and selling raw hides, the people from all walks of life involved in the tannery arts economy and their experiences as they had to migrate; all this inspired the artists to create for this project," he told DC.
"Aay Tobe Shohochori" (Let's Play Together)
Meanwhile, the children-based special artistic venture "Aay Tobe Sohochori" featured a total of 24 child artists from different schools and surroundings. The group of young children joined Brihatta for an unprecedented, two-day painting event hosted at the new home of Brihatta for the first time, on two autumnal afternoons on September 10 and 11, conducted by Tania Sultana and Mong Mong Sho. "As Brihatta set up the space for painting in the traditional "Patachitra" style of Bengal, the main challenge was to bring together so many children in just two days," they said. The children worked in an integrated manner on the surface of the long clothes, in two days.
This article was started with the speech of Martin Luther King Jr. defining the two realms - so it would be befitting to conclude with his most famous line "I have a dream." Artist Bishwajit Goswami also has not only one but a set of dreams, for 'Mukti' and the future of Brihatta's exciting artistic ventures. "Gathering on the open roof-top courtyard at Brihatta's new space, with a language garden encased in foliage, with fruit, flowering, medicinal plants, and a vegetable garden, these artists sparked new narratives, telling stories, sharing tales, trading moments amongst themselves, weaving a web of new connections at the abandoned Mukti Tannery. The flow of life in art and creative thinking also involves discovering a new form, and at the edge of this busy city where Brihatta brings together art and artistry, perhaps one day this space will be bustling, resonating with the sounds of the mighty Buriganga's currents, invigorating the people once again."
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