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.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Sonargaon and Panam - The Folk Art Museum Collection

The museum houses a collection of artifacts from all over Bangladesh, representing the many cultural groups that exist across the country and exhibiting the skill and expertise of the nations artists and craftspeople. The main objectives of the museums foundation are to collect, preserve, display, research and revitalise the traditional folk arts and craft of Bangladesh. Galleries include examples of: Bamboo/ cane craft, Shital patti crafts, brass and bell metal crafts, agricultural and iron artefacts, musical instruments, tribal jewellery, models of indigenous boats, scroll paintings, masks and wooden crafts.

I particularly liked the following artefacts in the collection:

The carved wooden religious panels, influenced by Indonesian art and with decorative borders.

The examples of 'Patachitra', a folk art of painting on scrolls of paper or cloth using both mineral and vegetable pigments. The scrolls can be over 5 metres long and are sometimes between 1-2 metres wide. The 'Patachitra' are a form of rural entertainment and education. The 'Patua' or scroll painters travel from village to village singing and narrating the stories depicted on the scrolls, rolling through the images as they sing. The stories relate to religious scenes from both Hindu and Muslim faiths including tales of Kalu Gazi- a legendary muslim saint, Rama and Krishna. Some of the Patua's have both Hindu and Muslim names, adopting the appropriate name and stories according to the religious focus of the settlements they visit.

A series of boat models recording the different shapes and forms in use across Bangladesh. Beautiful shapes.

A collection of indigenous musical instruments. Forms reminiscient of African masks with ornately carved headstocks and lacquered bamboo volumes.
The fishing baskets. I liked the fluid lines and forms.
I liked the immediacy of the small, hand sized, dolls and pull along childrens toys made from clay.

I liked the beautiful quality of line and colours in the collection of painted plates.
Clay biscuit molds that looked like wood cuts.A lovely proportioned thrown clay strainer,

and a brass metal one too.
The metal galleries were really exciting, squeezed away behind glass in wall mounted display cases there were more of the woven metal baskets, like the one that I had seen in the national museum.
I liked the top of it, how all the strips come together in a dense swirling rim and the use of finer wire stitched around to hold them.
I was intrigued by their purpose and function, apparently they were used for cleaning fish. Its understandable that the brass is a duarble material for such a job. The method of construction and style is based upon bamboo which they would have originally been made from, but the bamboo strips would still have lasted a long time and been durable too. The only conclusion that I can draw for the use of metals in these designs is durability, status or some medicinal(the metal being cool to lie on or store things in) or ceremonial role. The time spent refining, casting and working the brass to make the strips, then to weave the material would have been very costly and not in keeping with the very utilitarian nature of the objects and their designs.

There was many more examples of woven metal strips including bowls, winnowing baskets and sieves made from strip metal. I may have been that a group of craftspeople experimented and started making these for a very specific market, adapting their skills to different, available materials. Most were made in the 19th - 20th Century and in specific areas.
A fan, not as fine as the one in the National museum, but the pattern created by the weave is still very beautiful.
there were also bowls woven from wire.
One of my favorite objects was an amazing mat( app1.5m x 2.5m), made from woven metal and patinated to give patches of different colours.
There were woven mats made from reed too with a wonderful elephant design.
and a panel made from bamboo strips, every piece named.
Learn more about bamboo and cane work here: Cane and Bamboo Crafts of Bangladesh