The journalist Mainul Hassan interviewed me at the reception. The Daily Star is a very good daily newspaper here and a delight to read. It's not that the news is necessarily good news, but it's being thorough and honest is most impressive. Publications are thriving in Dhaka. There are 100 newspapers! Apparently the Web hasn't taken away the Bangladeshi thirst for hand held newsprint.
Also, and very new since my 1995 stint here, are the many art periodicals of very high quality. A thriving art world has developed with collectors springing up among the newly wealthy. Last Thursday, I was invited by Kalidas, a prolific and lively artist with activities worldwide (found me on Facebook on printmaker Rafi Haque's site) to Cosmos, a modern building with a print studio, and a gallery that's currently sporting a large exhibition of the Cosmos collection. It had been planned for me to do my printmaking there, but as it is very far from my guest house, and then with Monday having a Hartal stopping all city activity, I took up with the invitation to work instead at the printmaking studio at Dhaka University as the more realistic option. I'd otherwise have spent two to three hours in the crazy congested traffic to and fro.
Rafi Haque is my dear printmaking friend with whom I'd made a lovely connection last trip (he'd found me again on Facebook two years ago). He came with me to the Cosmos reception, and has since worked with me this past Sunday and Tuesday at the Dhaka University etching studio. The Print Department arranged to open the studio especially for me on Tuesday as it was a holiday, a Puja in honor of Sarasvati, Goddess of Education.
There was what's called a "Hartal" on Monday. It's a strike called by the opposition party not in power. It mandates that no cars, buses, etc. can be on the roads all day until early evening. Well, that meant the air was cleaner and the streets quieter. Rickshaws reclaimed the city as the only form of transportation. In 1995, you weren't even supposed to go out into the streets, but this time you could walk and travel nearby on rickshaw. Still however, a bus was set on fire in downtown Dhaka at one point during the day. Hmmm.
Rafi took me to meet two artists on Monday afternoon. It was very nice to stroll outside among people not in a frantic rush or struggling to cross the pacthwork of frenetic traffic. We took a rickshaw to see nearby Munir, a lively, energetic, prolific, welcoming and very good artist. He's well known, often traveling abroad. He has a house in Madrid (he's invited me). He made us a superb lunch, rice with vegetables, lots of garlic and saffron. It was so good that I had to forgo my vow not to have a lot of carbs. Miraculously, I didn't get a sugar high, reinforcing my theory that happiness equals good health. With all his bustling about in his kitchen, he also managed to work on, and complete a painting due that very evening to hang at the inauguration of a restaurant of one of his relatives. He showed Rafi and me his spirited paintings and prints (he has an elegant sense of line) stacked along the walls and on counters throughout his studio. They are so impressive and expressive of his lively spirit.
Then we went to see Kabir. Rafi had given me a hefty book on his work and published by Rafi's publishing house. At 90 years, Kabir is the most renown senior artist in Bangladesh. He, his son and wife graciously gave us their time, and very tasty tea (the Ambrosia Guest House where I am staying is a fine place, but it has awful tea - tastes like it's been fumigated!). Kabir is an abstract painter working with rich texture and a beautifully subtle sense of color. I showed them my catalog, the article from the Daily Star, the new mask, and the small folio of seven prints I'd brought into the country (will show them at the American Center exhibition in Delhi along with the new work created on this trip). Kabir said that my work had depth, that he liked it very much and was very impressed. He looked long into my eyes as he said this and I was very touched. He has beautiful and intently staring eyes.
So you see, my time here has been a whirlwind of meeting people and students, working at Dhaka University and yes, being very pleased (and amazed) with my output. I must also mention the beautiful reception held Monday night by gifted interior designer Mimi Nazneen Haque and Tarik Sujat, poet, graphic designer and media genius just after the hartal. Happily the timing was such that the roads weren't too crowded to travel all the way to Gulshan (the most posh part of Dhaka). Their home is truly beautiful. They have a prodigious collection of works on paper. I again met some of those I'd spoken with at Lauren's event, and most delightfully met Shameem again, my former student at the Dhaka U welding workshop in 1995. On my last day in Dhaka then, he, Bari Naimul and I went to the buffalo market to draw buffaloes! I remember it as an intensely hot and bright day. We sketched feverishly. I also drew the buffalo tender and the tea boy, both with drawn and tired faces. He's doing very well having just complete a large mural in Cox's Bazaar in Chittagong. By the way, speaking of drawn faces, one thing I notice on this trip is that the rickshaw drivers look healthier and not as painfully thin.With then main roads being barred for rickshaws, they no longer have to bicycle across town to the great detriment of their health.
So on and on it's been in just nine days, arriving on February 1 and flying on to Delhi and the artist residency Sanskriti in the early morning on the 15th. Tomorrow I plan to braze bronze the new mask and meanwhile am drying the prints between sheets of newsprint in my room. I'll be titling, signing and photographing them before I fly off.
Yet to happen, one last day of welding for me and the students,and two screenings of my film, Masks as a Portal to the World, one at the Bengal Foundation Gallery open to the public, and the other at Dhaka University for students and faculty. My final send off will be on Valentine's Day with Lauren Lovelace hosting a lunch at the Bengal Foundation Gallery restaurant for the Scupture Department faculty and the students who have been taking my workshop. The students have managed to each create a work despite the fact that there is only one welding torch. We have a good technician. He's been working with them when I'm not there, and that's when they've gotten the most of their work done. They've all been eager to get at the torch. I taught them to cut with the cutting torch. That's the most dramatic beginning, then had them make a box to practice welding. The other day while I was welding, they kept asking me, "Will you take a rest now?" Of course I did. Welding is hot work and Dhaka is getting warmer with each day. Today, as I was sweating away and relegated to making the mask with what scrap pieces the students had finally left over, I thought I must be insane, but lo, the mask did take shape, and I suspect that when I've finished brazing the mask tomorrow, it will be a beauty.
As a final aside, I had to polish the first mask in my room with a wire brush and portable drill the other day because the university had no electricity that day. Today, I re-polished it, and then showed the students how to braze weld bronze onto the steel. I'd made a very small mask from some practical bits I bought at the metal market area in Old Dhaka my first day of the workshop, and now brazed in bronze and looking very golden, the origin of the bits welded together takes on a weightier and finished appearance.
That's the news from Dhaka today.
Lots of love, and here's the link from the article in The Daily Star (with a pic of me and the fist mask)
And here's a link on my show at ARTHAUS in San Francisco. I can't open it and perhaps you can.
More love coming your way and a few virtual hugs too,