INTERVIEW: Samdani Art Award 2018 Winner - Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury
Since it was founded in 2012, the Samdani Art Award has steadily developed into an internationally recognised platform, highlighting the most innovative work being produced by young Bangladeshi artists. Created to honour one talented emerging Bangladeshi artist, the award does not issue the winner with a monetary prize, and instead funds them to undertake an all-expenses paid, six-week residency at the Delfina Foundation in London: a career-defining moment for the artist to further their professional development.
The award’s latest winner, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, travelled to London earlier this year in July to undertake his residency. Providing him with the time and space to revisit old ideas, and explore new, while expanding his networks. I caught up with Chowdhury while he was in residence to discuss his ongoing practice and how winning the award has impacted his career to date.
Emma Sumner: You initially studied printmaking, how did your practice evolve to become what it is today?
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury: It is very interesting for me to talk about this shift. When I studied printmaking at Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. I tried to embrace the fact that many of the printing processes I learnt were all steeped in tradition, but no matter what I tried, I never felt that the process fitted with what I wanted to achieve and communicate within my practice. While I was studying, I tried to experiment with mixing and matching various print making techniques and introducing found photography into my lithograph prints, although it was prohibited in our academy at that time, so in parallel to my studies, I continued my own experimental art practice.
ES: So, printmaking did not allow you to communicate what you wanted to get across to your audience? Did this change at all after you graduated and had more freedom with the way you were able to work?
MRC: Even after graduating I was never really convinced that printmaking would give me the tools to communicate what I wanted through my practice. The sensibility of printmaking was a way to develop my ideas, but the outcome always became something else, like a form of assemblage, or an installation. During my study, I became interested in the moving image—especially the genres of psychedelic and experimental film—and wanted to explore them in my practice. Later, after graduation, I also began to experiment with performance, photography, collage, object sculpture and video installation. These multiple approaches helped steer my practice into the direction it has taken today.
ES: Do you still make prints now?
MRC: I love woodcarving, and I did begin working in this way during my graduation but my lifestyle doesn’t allow me to practice like this anymore. Its partly for this reason, and the limitations of the media itself, which have moved my practice in a very different directio
ES: Your practice today is interdisciplinary and embraces installation and many other media. How do you decide what media you want to work with? Do you keep objects of interest to you in stock that you feel you might use later, or you source everything after you have devised an idea for a project?
MRC: My work has always been sensitive to the time and space in which I create it so my processes are never fixed and I allow my intuition to guide me when developing new works. I usually find an object which forms the basis of an idea which I then begin to ‘open-up’ through my working processes to explore its core subject in greater depth I only ever select objects that appeal to me, a process which is very subjective as the same object might not appeal to others in the same way it does to me, making the process very much about my connection to the objects I work with.
ES: Where do you go to source your materials? Is there anywhere particular where you feel more inspired?
MRC: I find my materials in all sorts of places but generally I never go looking for things as I tend to just come across things as I go about my daily tasks, making most of the objects I source ephemeral. For one of my more recent projects I collected a lot of boxes over the period of Ramadan. The boxes contained oranges which had been imported from Egypt, but I was drawn in by the striking logo on the front of the box. Ramadan was the only time that the boxes had been in stock in my local market. As I was already familiar with the store owners, I took the time to talk to them and gained a lot of information about how the boxes had come from Egypt to Bangladesh, making me question the ideas of globalisation and international trade and how these matters might affect the everyday person. This formed the foundation for a new work which I am still developing the work in my studio now.
ES: So the conversations that you have with other people as you develop your ideas are also a key part of your working process?
MRC: In my project The Soul Who Fails to Fly into the Space (2017), which I exhibited during the Dhaka Art Summit, the chairs on which the television was placed were rented from a local company in Dhaka. The man who owned the company was very open and welcoming towards me, and he was very excited to be playing a small part in my project. But when he showed the chairs to me, every chair had a very shiny sticker of his company logo placed prominently in the centre of the back rest, which wasn’t part of how I’d originally envisaged the work. I thought about it all night but slowly realised that I couldn’t remove the logos, as the interactions between us had helped us to build a relationship of respect, a love that had an impact on my decision making and led to me keeping the logos as they were and allowing in the unexpected. In the end, the logo fitted magically on that installation.
All the interactions and discussions that I have with the people I meet during my working process are very important to me and often influence my work in positive ways. The curator, Simon Castets also played an important role while installing the works as we discussed at length about how my work could respond to the space to create a more meditative and playful exhibit.
ES: Since arriving in London for your residency at the Delfina Foundation have you started work on any new projects? or is there anything that you are working on now?
MRC: I lived in London previously back in 2014 when my wife was undertaking her MA. During that time, I was struck by how many road signs there were and I began taking photos of the streets. I had began working on a project called Land, and now I am back in London for this residency, I have had a chance to restart and develop the ideas I was working on further.
Stills from video production of Land project. Video credit: Jungju An and Marzia Farhana.
While I have been here, I visited the National History Museum and I saw that they had analysed Bangladesh by looking at the structure of our land, particularly our rivers, and the types of our soil. What interested me most about this display, was seeing how Bangladesh is divided by a tectonic plate that goes through the centre of the country which means that my native land could, at some point in the future, be shifted by nature dispelling the concept of land that we conventionally perceive through mapping. Overall, I am more interested in the land inside us, our spirituality and how this connects us to the cosmos and defines who we are and which land we ultimately belong to.
SAF: After you have finished your residency at Delfina Foundation and return to Dhaka, what’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or are you planning to work on any new projects?
MRC: It’s a big question, currently I’m a little overwhelmed by the spotlight of winning the Samdani Art Award and having many curators and fellow artists wanting to meet me, but it has been a great opportunity to develop my network which I know will be helpful in moving forward with my career. I am very thankful to Samdani Art Foundation and Delfina Foundation for establishing such a valuable platform for young artist in Bangladeshi artists. While I have been here, I’ve had the time and space to open up new critical perspectives on my practice and developed my approach to research and new projects. After developing them further in Dhaka, I am hopeful to show them in exhibitions soon.