ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P35)

Imagining Bangladesh and forty years of its aesthetic trajectory

Location SSS-I Committee Room, Ground Floor
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Manpreet Janeja (University of Copenhagen) email
Lala Rukh Selim (University of Dhaka) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In celebrating forty years of Bangladesh the panel seeks to map its aesthetic (visual, literary, phenomenological and sensual cultures ) trajectory in an attempt to decentre the orientalising tropes of 'lack' through which Bangladesh is predominantly imagined in South Asia and in the 'West'?

Long Abstract

Bangladesh is imagined and imaged as a country which is orientalised and symbolised by its 'lack'. Alongside the prevailing image of grinding poverty, floods and cyclones, internationally, the study of Bangladesh is linked to policies relating to population control, development and now climate change. It is also imagined as an 'Islamic' country, ruled by military governments and dominated by NGOs. At the juncture of celebrating forty years of Bangladesh the panel seeks to map its aesthetic trajectory. How do these aesthetic registers enable a decentring of the orientalising tropes of lack through which Bangladesh is predominantly imagined in South Asia and in the 'West'? This panel endeavours to bring together original and innovative research in the field of the aesthetic trajectory of Bangladesh studies that critically investigates some of the popular and scholarly frames by which Bangladesh is imagined. What are the intellectual and political implications of these aesthetic frames? We welcome papers that study the visual, literary, phenomenological and sensual cultures of Bangladesh. Inviting papers that imaginatively approach the aesthetic study of Bangladesh, we aim to create a cross-disciplinary debate about research themes, agendas, and methods in the contemporary study of Bangladesh.

Discussant: Nayanika Mookherjee

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Imagining Bangladesh through the Aesthetics of Food

Author: Manpreet Janeja (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Dhaka and London, this paper focuses on the aesthetics of normal food as integral to Bangladeshi national and trans-national configurations of belonging and not-belonging.

Long Abstract

Food plays a prominent role in variegated trajectories of imagining Bangladesh. It figures in visual art, music, religious rituals, as well as literary tropes, development discourses, and the political economy of hunger. This paper focuses on the aesthetics of normal food in imagining Bangladesh. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Dhaka and London, it examines the practices of preparation, presentation, and consumption of such food. It highlights the networks of trust and risk in which these practices are embedded. In so doing, it illuminates the collaborative character of the aesthetics of food as integral to Bangladeshi national and trans-national configurations of belonging and not-belonging.

Folk, food and folly: Bangladeshi 'folk' dance and the Bengal famine of 1943

Author: Munjulika Rahman (Northwestern University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes frequently performed pieces of the most common Bangladeshi dance genre, called “folk” dance by practitioners, to elaborate how and why it became a popular choice as a representation of Bangladeshi people during the Pakistan period and after independence in Bangladesh.

Long Abstract

The most common Bangladeshi dance form, called "folk" dance by practitioners, is an "invented tradition" that was developed in the forties and fifties by dancers of Bangladeshi origin who were based in urban centers such as Dhaka and Kolkata. The subjects of this dance genre are activities of villagers who are depicted as fishing, harvesting, tea-picking, and making merry in village fairs. They are portrayed as simple, happy villagers enjoying themselves in idyllic settings of harmony and bounty. This popular dance genre remembers and reiterates a past, and in fact, a present that is factitious because the dance form is not actually performed by rural people. When the history of the dance form and the period of its development is considered, it seems that its focus on the ordinary villager grows out of the social, cultural and economic neglect that the Bangladesh region experienced as part of British India and later as East Pakistan. While the dances, most often performed in cities, might act to remind audience members of the rural peasantry whom state administrators have historically overlooked, I contend that its emphasis on happiness and scenes of abundance is also significant. In the paper, I analyze frequently performed pieces of this dance genre to elaborate how this characteristic of the dance form - glimpses of rural life, devoid of struggles and poverty - made it a popular choice as a representation of Bangladeshi people among administrators and policy-makers, both during the Pakistan period and after independence in Bangladesh.

Moner Manush: Travelling of Faqir Lalon Shah in the wrold of Hindu saints and the imagination of Bangali nation

Author: Abdullah Mamun (University of Rajshahi)  email

Short Abstract

This paper deals misconceptions of Faquir Lalon grounding on the politics of 'Bangali nation' through interrogating Gautam Ghosh's latest film Moner Manush (2010), which bagged the Golden Peacock award at IFFI, Goa and Best Film on 'National Integration' at the 58th Indian National Awards.

Long Abstract

Lalon Faqir, a politico-philosophical figure of the nineteenth century Bangla, is commonly regarded as the Baul of Bauls. His poetry, articulated in songs, are considered classics of the Bangla language. Nationalism, humanism or any messianic teleological notions of human emancipation were never his cup of tea. He had always been vehemently opposed to all forms of identity politics and for that he left no trace of his birth or his 'origin' and remained silent about his past, fearing that he would be cast into class, caste or communal identities by a fragmented and hierarchical society. The details of Lalon's early life are made controversial mainly by urban-educated scholars representing communal tendencies among both Hindu and Muslim writers in their contestation of identity politics of a nation.

The highly acclaimed film Moner Manush, based on a novel by Shunil Ganguly, takes part in this identity politics and constructs such an image of Faqir Lalon that appropriate Lalon as a saint of Hindu tradition and deploys him as a figure for the Bangali national integration. Though secular Bangali Muslims of Bangladesh, who never tried to construct secularity from their own ground and always depended on the west Bengal for their secular imagination, applauded this film as a great art work that helps spread 'humanism' of Lalon around the globe, they fail to notice the shrewd cultural communalism that framed the film and the Novel. This paper challenges this communal construct and deployment of Faqir Lalon in this opaque secular national imagination.

Art of Bangladesh: the changing role of tradition, search for identity and globalization.

Author: Lala Rukh Selim (University of Dhaka)  email

Short Abstract

This paper places globalization within a continuum of historical influences that have created particular hybrid artistic forms in Bangladesh. Artistic ideals are contrasted with popular and folk art to draw out an aesthetic ideal that defies globalization and the image of Bangladesh as a country of wants.

Long Abstract

This paper will address the issue of Bangladeshi cultural identity as it is reflected in the fine art of Bangladesh. It will study the historical context within which hybrid artistic manifestations have evolved and the influences that have formed them with the multiple cultures that have infiltrated this land. It will study the politics of identity and the resulting changes in artistic forms during the struggle for independence from Britain and the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. It will focus on the artistic practices in post liberation Bangladesh and the current scene in particular under the looming shadow of globalization which insidiously encourages uniform artistic form and medium and the ways in which individuals and communities strive to balance the global with the individual and local. It will also sift through popular and folk art forms which seem to defy globalization and the image of Bangladesh as a land of grim poverty, natural disasters and imminent Islamization. These creations fuse diverse materials and ideas with a pre-existing stream of aesthetic ideals. These inherited collective artistic ideals reflect a rich, complex repertoire of images and ideas which are inimitable and invincible in their simplicity, quantity and spontaneity. In fact, they are the living and ever-morphing expressions that give Bangladesh a unique position in this ambiguous age of globalization.

The Future that did not Happen: Recollections of the Project

Author: Delwar Hussain (University of Edinburgh )  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the programme of modernisation instigated by the post-independent East Pakistani and later Bangladeshi states, told through the aesthetics of industrial failure and decay.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the programme of modernisation instigated by the post-independent East Pakistani and later Bangladeshi states, told through the aesthetics of industrial failure and decay.

The Khonighat Limestone Mining Project was part of a larger programme of development that was hoped to propel the country into the future. Built on the border between the Indian state of Meghalaya and Sylhet, the "Project", as it came to be known, was to furnish the newly independent country with limestone. Thousands of migrant labourers and officials moved here during the 1960s to take part. A colony was built to house them, organised along ranks of hierarchy. There was electricity, running water and indoor toilets. A clinic was built, as was a school, bank and officers club.

Very little of this exists today. With the liberalisation of the Bangladeshi and Indian economies in the 1990, the Project was closed down and the officers and their families transferred out of the area. The labourers, once at the bottom of the Project hierarchy, since closure, have taken over the nearby cross-border coal industry and acquired wealth and respect. The middle ranking officers and their families simply stayed behind.

Today, these ex-teachers and administrators continue to live in the decaying, crumbling surroundings of the Project. Very little of what had once existed now remains. With no jobs and the threat of eviction ever closer, their prospects are bleak. Though modernisation has failed these people, they continue to believe in its promises.

The aesthetic process of imagination of Bangladesh and the politics of Bengali and indigenous Identity

Author: Sayema Khatun (Jahangirnagar University)  email

Short Abstract

What is the aesthetic process of imagination creating collective identities in present day Bangladesh? How indigenous identity has been constructed aesthetically as the essential other of the Bengali self and how it has been contested, felt to be revealed through systematic inquiry in this paper.

Long Abstract

The Bengali nationalist movement s of '50 and '60 against internal colonial exploitation of Pakistan, demise of the dream of the separate independent state for the Muslim and the consequent liberation war of 1971 which Bangladesh has been created from and stands upon as a nation-state has not resolved the question of identity and its multiplicity. Rather, right after the independence, the construction of Bengali (Muslim) identity as hegemonic through the scholarly and artistic representation, underpin the oppressive governance of the society and state. The creation and recreation of it has been a continuous process through aesthetic and intellectual imagination interconnected with local and global politics. The resolution of the question of Identity has become far from the reality and repetitively comes out on the surface like a never healed, ever discharging sore of the body politic.

The recent position of the Government on Adibashi identity has triggered out a fresh and multifaceted public debate. In the given context, I would like to explore the aesthetic imagination of 'Bengaliness' and 'indigenousness' in the artistic endeavors (i.e. literature, fine art form) and the politics of making indigenous identity as exotic and other of the Bengali self construction. How this artistic representation builds emotionally strong and psychologically embedded base of such collective identity repressive to the other, requires, I believe, disentangling in finer detail for understanding the politics of identity in present day Bangladesh. Considering the contemporary art and literature as heterogeneous site, I would like to make an effort to understand the contestation within it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.