Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Fort, temples and some drawing


Went to the museum early with the intention of spending a day drawing, only to find that the museum opens at 3pm and closes at 6pm on Fridays. Forgot Friday is a day of rest.
Revisited the Flower market across the road and saw a young man painting polystyrene panels.
The brightly coloured decorative pieces are used to adorn spaces for weddings and parties, a modern adaption of the details we had seen on the visit to Hindu street and the wedding hat seller.
The fluency of the way he painted was a pleasure to see.

A police man stopped and asked questions and recommended some places to visit so I put on my tourist hat and took myself off on a rickshaw to see some parts of Dhaka I hadn't yet visited to absorb some history and culture.

First stop Lalbag Fort.
The Fort was begun in 1678 by the then Viceroy of Bengal, Prince Mohammad Azam, son of the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb. It consists of a series of buildings which would have originally sat on the banks of the Buriganga river and protected the city.
The fort includes a mosque, a mausoleum containing the tomb of the daughter of Nawab Shaistra Khan - Bibi Pari and Hummam Khana (bathing place).
The latter retains the baths and wash rooms and is now also a museum containing information about the site and its history. It contains some stunning examples of art from the Mughal era
and has wonderful tiles, with beautiful patterns and geometry.
The fort is also recorded as being the scene of a battle during the first war of independence (1857) when people revolted against British forces.
An image of the Mosque appears on the ten taka note.

Nearby is the Dhakeshwari Hindu Temple and it was a festival day.
It is regarded as the national temple and the most important Hindu place of worship in Bangladesh.
When entering a Hindu temple many ring the bell above the entrance archway to invoke the gods, drawing the attention of the deity to themselves and their prayers. Ringing the bell produces the sound Om.
Regarded as an auspicious sound and the universal name of the Lord, it is also believed the noise of the bell drowns out sounds which may distract or disturb a worshipper from their prayers.
Outside the temple, because of the festivals were some stalls one selling metal flowers used in 'Puja', simple shapes cut from a flat sheet of metal, textured and formed.
I went back to National Museum and sketched. I enjoyed the process of drawing, putting things down on paper, forcing my eye to really look again, It was taking a while to get back into drawing, it's all very different to when I'm teaching. My lack of confidence, wasn't helped by people standing very close and watching every move. I was continually being asked ' What's your country?' A western white male is enough of an oddity for people to come up and ask your name and country and want to photograph you, but when one is spotted drawing in a museum - that was even more of an oddity. Bangladshi people are very friendly and interested, they are very proud of their country and want to know why, where and for how long you are visiting. They like to practice their English with you; if they don't speak English then they tend to just stand very close (closer than most westerners might feel comfortable with) say nothing and stare, sometimes I felt like an exhibit.
The museum and how it is used is very different to the UK, visitors process around the galleries in a set direction along a planned out route, you are not able to go backwards or return to a previously visited room. I realised how differently we use them in the UK and how much they have changed over the recent years. It was wonderful to see so many objects, some museums i have visited seem to have become less about their objects.
The museum houses an amazing collection, some tired models and displays showing the natural history, resources and geography of the country aswell as artefacts, objects and information about the many tribal groups which make up the population. Highlights for me included; stunningly simple ceramic toys and dolls, beautifully shaped metal baskets made from woven brass in the same way the craftsperson would weave bamboo.
Wonderfully shaped fishing baskets. Very old and 'chola' wedding hats. A stunningly crafted mat some 2.5m x 1.5m made from woven ivory strands that was translucent. A woven silver fan. A full size fishing boat, which was apparently built in the museum gallery, its planks stitched together with metal staples.
Delicately ornate repoussé silver flasks and bottle covers
Amazing giant carved beds and rice pounding tools shaped like crocodiles with intricate surfaces.
Stone carvings from temples, Jewellery from the tribal groups, Indigenous musical instruments.

Giant copper war drums from the period of Emporer Akbar, joined together by tags, soldered and hammered.
Everywhere there were examples of high level skill, craftsmanship and inventive use of materials to produce pieces of beauty associated with the everyday, with ritual and with the sacred aspects of peoples lives from across the country.
The museum also houses a collection of modern paintings, prints and sculpture by the country's leading artists.

A recently re-designed part of the museum deals with the more modern history and the path to the countries independence. Bangladesh was for a time after partition East Pakistan, but a series of natural disasters, political disatisfaction with the way in which the country was being governed by West Pakistan and a subsequent uprising and war led in 1971 to the new independent country of Bangladesh.


6pm the museum closed, tired and with a pounding headache (I'd got too much sun at the Fort and the photos hadn't worked well), I made for Owen's flat. On the way back a man and his wife passed by on a large Harley type motocycle, he waved, at first I didn't recognise the Police officer I had seen earlier, it made me realise how much I must stand out, it was difficult to blend into the background in Bangladesh. He asked how I was and if I had been to the places he had recommended and my thoughts on them. I gave my thanks and we said our goodbyes.

Walking on I spotted a t shirt fair and brought one for Seth with an image of a Bangladeshi freedom fighter on the front. I had seen a similar poster in the museum and liked it's bold design.
I also brought some cheese. It came in a wonderful box. Its simply called 'paneer,' there are two types salty and very salty - it has a texture and density like feta, but with holes.
I liked the texture on the outside and the shape too.