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Life out of shape

Tuesday, 17 December 2013 | Pioneer

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Bangladeshi-American artist Fariba Alam uses geomteric angles, pixels and mathematical diagrams to define themes of migration and travel

Biological patterns, mathematical diagrams, pixels and architectural blueprints are used in Fariba Alam’s works to define themes of migration, travel and fantasy. The Bangladeshi-American artist’s show at Shrine Empire sets examples of excellence in showcasing interplay of shadow and light. Fariba, born and settled in New York, was inspired to paint early in life — when she saw a painting made by her parents. It was in 1999, when she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work on a photography project in Bangladesh, when Alam set upon her own visual path and arrived at her current practice through the foundations of photography. She incorporates photography, projection mapping, textile and tile installation in her new body of work titled Lace of Stars, featuring eight mixed-media works.

“Along with music and poetry, visual art was a big part of my life  since childhood. My parents were scientists and great lovers of arts. They connected these two seemingly separate disciplines — arts and sciences — in endless ways, also in ways they thought, taught us and also in how they conducted their lives. Some teachings were straightforward. Others teachings were a little more obscure…There is a painting that has been in our home for as long as I can recall. This painting was the result of collaboration between my parents, a grid of interesting colours — orange and muted blue. When I was around eight, my father explained to me that the painting was a visualisation of the tetradic colour scheme, a reference to the colour wheel and Isaac Newton’s light theory. I latched on to every word when my father explained that Newton associated each colour with a sound on the musical scale,” shared Alam.

Her parents migrated from Bangladesh to the US in the late 50s and even though her work may not reflect a direct influence of her country of origin, she admits that “one direct way in which I reference my family is that I weave archival family photographs into my works — old wedding images, ancestral portraits from both South Asia and our family in America in the early 1960s and 1970s. Some of my previous collage and tile works also reference colonial photography and postcolonial imagination, particularly in the Indian subcontinent since the 1840s.”

The central theme behind Lace of Stars is the fragmentation of the female body and an interplay between light and shadow, soft and rigid forms. “There is also a strong visual connection to the sky, movement, darkness and revelation. The name Lace of Stars was chosen to convey a sense of pattern and connection of the dots, visually and thematically. Lace of Stars, like many of my works, also refers to a constellation and a fantastical backdrop, reminiscent of the Islamic parable The Night Journey (Mir’aj) — a story in which the Prophet Mohammed takes a mystical voyage from Mecca to Jerusalem at night, riding a creature half-angel, half-horse. Religious and secular allegories — with themes of migration, travel and fantasy — also inhabit my narrative influences,” she shared.

The projection mapping installation titled Bare Branches, depicts water, stars and dune-like silhouette of a female body, all projected across pyramidical wall sculptures. Created in collaboration with NY-based collective Urban Matter Inc, emerging from the geometric shapes are flying birds and other hidden, fighting, latent forces. “The projection plays on a slow moving, six-minute loop, revealed and then concealed by a series of black squares. Gender violence and private resistance are a subtext within the work,” explained the artist.The works will be on display till January 11.