22 July 2023

‘Maya’, an exhibition of works by Syed Muhammad Zakir, was launched on 22 July 2023, at Bengal Shilpalay by Prof. Lala Rukh Selim of the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. Artist and art-writer Mustafa Zaman, and artist Mahbubur Rahman, spoke on the occasion. In the show, the artist recreates the imagined city of 'Bagreb'. Time, for him, is not a linear entity but an aspect of the space-time continuum. In the exhibition, Zakir draws on the lives of the unnoticed millions wrestling with the city, and the loss and decimation of nature that they face everyday. He manipulates and transforms a broken bough, a deluge of discarded plastic bottles, a tree trunk, an overflowing plastic bag, a tottering cart, layers of styrofoam packaging, and many more ordinary objects, mundane belongings, and materials, that hint at a dangerously teetering environment.

The unlikely juxtaposition of everyday objects, their artistic manipulations and their improbable dialogues inside an unfamiliar space, all work towards building a new, and perhaps startling, consciousness – a realisation of the urgency to return to nature, before we exhaust ourselves completely.

Syed Muhammad Zakir is a visual artist based in Dhaka. He mostly works in public places, involving the commons and the environment. Through performance art, installation art, land art and wall-art, Zakir interrogates our lives and desires, and probes deeper questions relating to the universe and the cosmos. A trans-disciplinary artist, Zakir tries to connect with people using body movement and instantly devised activity, while pushing his audience to think. He likes working with an assortment of materials, shapes, textures and objects, that are readily available to us. Bright and metallic colours figure in Zakir’s work. His drawings stand out for their strong lines and bold expression. Zakir’s work is often considered satirical, scathing, even humorous. 'Maya' is Zakir's second solo show.

Born in 1975 in Rangpur, Syed Muhammad Zakir started his art practice when he enrolled in the Faculty of Fine Art in the University of Dhaka, in 1994. There he trained as a sculptor. His first collaborative performance show was held in 1996. After that Zakir has performed in many solo and collaborative performance-art shows. He continues to make drawings.

Syed Muhammad Zakir
On view until 2 September 2023
Level 4, Bengal Shilpalay
Open everyday from 4-8 PM, except on Sundays

Primacy of Performance in Syed Muhammad Zakir

In an essay titled 'Function of Movement in Human Life', Rudolf Laban, a dance artist, choreographer and dance theorist, calls movement a 'common denominator' in human experience. He goes on to add, 'Through our capacity to abstract and our ability to think metaphorically, we are able to take a given object, event or behaviour and transform it into something else.' This is the conceptual frame that comes handy in making sense of the world of Syed Muhammad Zakir, a performance artist who has developed a vocabulary of space-making using found objects.

Movement lies at the core of Zakir's practice – he roams around the city, encounters spaces where he discovers his base matters. As he rearranges them both inside and outside gallery spaces, his compositions (which always avoids formal logic) aim to create 'experiential realms' rather than giving rise to visual experiences.

The artist himself dubs his process as the means to skirt round the obstacles that 'separate' the body from the material world. Zakir, who has been active as a performance and installation artists for more than two decades or so, explains his process by way of an analogy. 'Shoes stand for separation, they come between us and the soil,' says the artist who, in his current solo titled 'Maya', has also created an installation to recall a fictitious cobbler from the fictitious city of Bagreb to articulate his philosophy about life, which, he claims, needs to remain attached to the soil. By which he means to remain aware of once standing as an exponent of the world by paying attention to lived experiences.

The symphony of things that are scattered all across Dhaka, the city the artist made his home, and even beyond the zones where formal economic life ceases to exist, where old, broken furniture are amassed for recycling, or household objects are trashed, is what Zakir lends his ears to. He navigates the grey areas and picks up his material to build his art pieces that defy 'sculpturality'. Sculptures are those, behind which the logic of form remains operational, or, have formal qualities that lend them independence from the lived world.

By abandoning all pretence to sculpture-making, this young exponent of 'new materialism' takes his cues from the objects themselves. This alone makes Zakir stand at a distance from the 'anthropocentric' world view that has overseen the rise of divisions between the human and the world – between subject and object – in the past centuries. While the Cartesian mind-body dichotomy generated interest in the material world and led to scientific breakthroughs, the separation 'allowed for the destruction of the actual (which is to say ecological) world', to quote Barbara Bolt. Bolt feels that the modern perception of the 'world as a passive resource for use by active humans is no longer sustainable'.

The way Syed Muhammad Zakir approaches his materials makes him look like an archaeologist of the subaltern soul of urbanism, excavating what lies beyond the pale of urbane taste. An archaeologist he is, to an extent. Zakir is also a conjuror who can rework objects representing urban informality and grey spaces to make us aware of the presence of a life that would have remained undiscovered had he not brought them to light. Additionally, objects become more than mere objects in his realm. They neither remain tied to their appearance nor do they express their essence. They, instead, come alive to assert their being. They become a presence as if to speak about all the 'othered' realities that are usually lost in both their image and essence, let alone their use values.

Consequently, Zakir's 'carnality', or obsession with objects, takes the viewers beyond the realm of symbols and metaphors which are part and parcel of 'analytical communication.' The artist, due to his performative gathering of objects and rearrangement of them into a composite body of objects-drawings-castings to create a spatial reality within the macrocosmic reality that governs our microcosmic worlds, challenges our perception of art and society.

The neglect of nature is one of the predominant themes that Zakir has long been addressing through his performances and outdoor activities centring on fallen leaves and felled trees. In this exhibition, he reorganises actual tree trunks to present them as signs of dispossession and as source of memories natural living, which they seem to freight in their dismembered state. He even builds a knot-like sign cannily joining a number of curvy tree trunks while numerous small tree branches are reproduced in metal casts as if to archive the unachievable. Thus, nature is brought into the space to lend weight to his central concern -- the social and psychological consequence of disconnection from nature.

Resemblance and non-resemblance are both efficaciously used to articulate the soul of the reality that we all feel are palpable and present. If some of the pieces, due to their nondescript shapes, do not resemble any real life structure, there are some compositions that echo actual structures found in urban environment. Together they creating experiences that do not follow a fixed vocabulary. Zakir overlaps the found objects with his cast sculptures and mixed media drawings but he chooses to stay away from lingual and visual expressions and languages. He forges out of chaos an order that remains non-readable, as such, untranslatable.

The urban grey areas from where Zakir has been accumulating his materials can be defined in relation to their ‘absence from the structures of state', to borrow from Gayatri Chakravorty's discourse. The spatial zone Zakir has created in the space at the Bengal Foundation lies outside the perimeters of what is officially considered gallery space. It too can also be thought as a place that lies beyond the 'itineraries of recognition', if the artist establishment's mapping of contemporary art is taken into consideration.

'Maya', meaning both illusion and love and attachment, thus holds out the possibility of permeation. Through its transgression of space and knowledge, it gives rise to an event that elevates the tangible or the 'material' to the level of the intangible or the 'immaterial'. Meaning, by working at the limits of knowledge and mediums, the artist gives rise to an event which has the capacity to change and upset the norms and institutes an opening up of the 'selves' to less-pronounced emotions and new insights.

-Mustafa Zaman
Artist, critic and curator


সৈয়দ মোহাম্মদ জাকিরের ‘মায়া’ শীর্ষক একক প্রদর্শনীর উদ্বোধন অনুষ্ঠান হয় ২২ জুলাই ২০২৩, বেঙ্গল শিল্পালয়ে। অনুষ্ঠানে বক্তব্য রাখবেন ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের চারুকলা অনুষদের অধ্যাপক লালারুখ সেলিম, শিল্পী ও শিল্প-লেখক মুস্তাফা জামান এবং শিল্পী মাহবুবুর রহমান।  à¦¨à¦¿à¦°à§€à¦•à§à¦·à¦¾à¦ªà§à¦°à¦¬à¦£ শিল্পী সৈয়দ মোহাম্মদ জাকির। স্বতঃস্ফূর্ততা শিল্প-সৃষ্টিতে তাঁকে উদ্দীপিত করে । ফেলে দেওয়া, কুড়িয়ে পাওয়া, সহজলভ্য বস্তুকে উপাদান হিসেবে গ্রহণ করেছেন তিনি। এসব বস্তুর সঙ্গে রেখাচিত্র যুক্ত করে জাকির কখনো স্বাধীনভাবে বিচরণ করেন কল্পনার জগতে। বাস্তব অভিজ্ঞতার মিশেলে আধ্যত্মিকতা, জাগতিক ও মহাজাগতিক সময়ের স্বরূপ, গতিশীলতা, বস্তুজগতের অনিত্যতায় ভর করে তাঁর অনুসন্ধিৎসু মন শিল্পকে আধার হিসেবে গ্রহণ করেছে।
সৈয়দ মোহাম্মদ জাকির উন্মুক্ত স্থানে কাজ করতে পছন্কদ করেন। ল্যান্ডআর্ট ,পারফরম্যান্স-আর্ট, ইন্সটলেশনসহ দৃশ্যশিল্পের নানা মাধ্যমে প্রায় পঁচিশ বছর ধরে তিনি কাজ করে চলেছেন। তিনি ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের চারুকলা অনুষদের ভাস্কর্য বিভাগে প্রশিক্ষণ নিয়েছেন। এশিয়ান বিয়েনাল, জাতীয় চারুকলা প্রদর্শনী, ছবিমেলাসহ বিভিন্ন প্রদর্শনীতে অংশগ্রহণ করেছেন।
জলবায়ু সংকট, মানবিক পৃথিবীর আবশ্যিকতাকে তিনি তুলে ধরতে প্রয়াসী হয়েছেন পুনঃব্যবহারযোগ্য উপাদানে নির্মিত ইন্সটলেশন, ভাস্কর্য ও ড্রইংয়ের সমন্বয়ে।  আমরা আশাবাদী, সৈয়দ মোহাম্মদ জাকিরের শিল্পকর্ম  আমাদের নতুনভাবে প্রশ্ন করতে শেখাবে এবং চর্চা, সাধনা ও নিরীক্ষণে  উজ্জীবিত করবে।

- বেঙ্গল ফাউন্ডেশন

প্রকৃতি-গতি পর্যবেক্ষণ ও সামঞ্জস্য অনুসন্ধান..
এই প্রদর্শনী আমার সমসাময়িক চিন্তা, পর্যবেক্ষণ, দীর্ঘদিনের শিল্পচর্চা ও শিল্পভাবনার কিছু বিষয়ের দৃশ্যরূপ। সাম্প্রতিক সময়ে বিভিন্ন মাধ্যমে করা কাজ ও কাজের বিষয়, ফর্ম, ও চিন্তার সূত্র মূলত প্রকৃতি, মানুষ, দৈনন্দিন যাপিত জীবন, আশেপাশের নানাবিধ বস্তু, প্রতিচ্ছবি ও গল্প থেকে পাওয়া অনুপ্রেরণা।
প্রকৃতি-গতি, মহাজাগতিক মহাযাত্রা, সময় ও স্পেসের রহস্য থেকে উদ্ভূত জিজ্ঞাসা ও এসবের সঙ্গে মানুষের আন্তঃসংযোগ বিষয়ে আমার অনুসন্ধান ও ভাবনা আমার কাজের অনেকটা জুড়ে।
আমার উপস্থাপনায় কিছু ত্রিমাত্রিক বস্তু বা অবজেক্ট, কিছু আকার, উপাদান, আঙ্গিক আছে, যার অধিকাংশ উপাদান হঠাৎ খুঁজে পাওয়া, পরিত্যক্ত জিনিসপত্র, এবং নগরের দৈনন্দিন প্লাস্টিক বর্জ্য থেকে এসেছে। উপড়ে ফেলা গাছের শেকড় বা কেটে ফেলা ডাল আমি সংগ্রহ করেছি এবং এসব উপাদান ও বস্তুকে নিজের মতো করে রূপান্তর ঘটিয়েছি।
এখানে পৃথিবীর ক্রমশ নিঃশেষ হয়ে যাওয়া সম্পর্কিত সংকেত আছে।
আমি সময়ের মাত্রাকে এড়িয়ে কিছু দৃশ্যকল্প অবতারণার চেষ্টা করেছি। গুরুত্বহীন বস্তুকে গুরুত্ব দিয়েছি, পরিচিত ফর্মকে অপরিচিত আঙ্গিকে উপস্থাপন করেছি।

- সৈয়দ মোহাম্মদ জাকির