Interview: Tayeba Begum Lipi on her hijab of steel razor blades in 'Unveiling Womanhood'
Born in the Gaibandha district of Northern Bangladesh, Tayeba Begum Lipi did her MFA in 1993 at the Institute of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. After a bunch of solo shows and projects at Istanbul, London, Dhaka, NYC, Hong Kong and Delhi, she hosted her major duo with artist and partner, Mahbubur Rahman, with Artist as Activist at Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (MSU), USA, in 2016, curated by Caitlin Doherty.
A co-founder and trustee of the Britto Arts Trust, Bangladesh, Tayeba will be showing Unveiling Womanhood at the India Art Fair 2018. The work features a single-channel Video projection, screened inside a room made of cotton blouses, and screens of thin white fabric.
"I am making a room using few hundreds female blouses that are made in Patan (Nepal), at a small tailoring shop, which belongs to a couple who have a 17-year-old transgender child. The outer walls and roof of my room will be covered by these colorful blouses using hangers," explains the artist about her work.
"A video piece will be projected on the layers of thin white fabrics inside the dark room, which will create a kind of three-dimensional illusion," says the artist. "I am staging a video, wearing a hijab made of stainless steel razor blades," she describes.
"The appeared part of my face will be covered by small white crystals. I will remove the crystals one by one from my face to show my real face in the end of the video." Inside the dark room, there will be five layers of curtain-like white thin fabric pieces suspended, she adds, and the video will be projected onto these screens. We caught up for a chat with Tayeba, leading up to the India Art Fair 2018:
Please tell us a little about the artworks that you will be showing at the Art Fair this year. Is there an underlying message in your works that you wish to share with viewers?
Tayeba Begum Lipi: In recent days, I have been going through a transitional phase of my life. We are moving into a newly built, much larger dream studio and house this year. Leaving behind most of the belongings that have small stories and memories of our lifespan and togetherness, from unstable but aspiring young age. While sorting out the old stuff, I was thinking about making a memory line. Most of my works these days are a part of our old and recent past, the objects that were a part of my own life for many years.
How do you perceive artworks that make a political statement?
TBL: Being in South Asia, we all live within a political ambiance. Political statements in artworks is not an obligation in my artistic journey. Time to time, I also work on political issues. Especially, partition and border between the sub-continent have a great impact in some of my works.
Would you like to see more artists making powerful works with a socially relevant message?
TBL: A number of artists are doing political art. Just looking at our own involvement, to name one of the significant projects we did was No Man’s Land at the border of India and Bangladesh. Britto Arts Trust from Bangladesh, the organisation I am associated with, and Shelter Promotion Council India jointly organised the project, while Mahbubur Rahman and Sayantan Maitra Boka curated it. I was one of the participating artists as well.
No Man’s Land was a community based public art project, held between 22-27 March 2014. Artists concentrated on the villages of Bholaganj in India and Puran Bholaganj in Bangladesh, and finally made it to meet with each other without passports on 27 March 2014 at the physical space of No Man’s Land.
The idea that "All art is political in the sense that it engages society in some way, either influencing or influenced by it" - does this apply to your practice?
TBL: In a broader sense, I will say, yes. Perhaps not all, but most of it. Many of my own works have intimate connection with social issues. Question of gender rights or denying the orthodox idea of male and female or LGBT community, partition, border, dislocation, relocation, current affairs and so on reflect in my work very often. Especially not to overlook the long-run projects that I work and engage with.
How important, do you believe, is it for artists today to take up the responsibility of making a political statement - to comment on current affairs, or draw the attention of viewers to larger issues?
TBL: I personally do not believe in chances. It completely depends on someone’s personal and professional life, belief and feeling about society and the surroundings. Artists are human beings, and of course, many of them believe in a kind of responsibility for the society. But of course artists are not newspapers, and there is no pressure to work on political issues. There are several artists gaining larger visibility without doing politically charged works.
A lot of contemporary art tends to get discussed in closed and often select groups. How would you like to encourage further discussions on art among larger groups of people?
TBL: As an artist myself, I am a non-believer about this manner. I do not fit into such groups anyway. My father retired a year before I went to art school. I am from a small town, and had to struggle all through my student life to live in a hugely crowded city, and had to fight for my bread and butter from the early stage of my education. So did my life partner, Mahbubur Rahman.
While building our own career as artists, we had to work hard and struggled against the entire mainstream art practice and practitioners in Bangladesh. As a result, we always felt the lack of a platform that can give us freedom to experiment and explore own ideas. From this vital need, for us and for our next generation, along with a few like-minded artists, we founded the first ever alternative artists’ run platform, Britto Arts Trust, back in 2002.
Over the past 15 years, and till today, we have dedicated ourselves to work for this platform. A number of artists have grown on this platform over the years, and have already made their names in the local and international art scene.
Today, we see many artists addressing pertinent social issues. How effective do you believe their attempts are, and how do you believe these artists need to be supported?
TBL: I am sure the above-mentioned artists sometimes take huge risks to address the elements you mentioned. The support system is very limited for these artists, in most cases. Especially when the artists are from countries like Bangladesh. Apart from the financial risk, there is a high risk of threats from religious and political fundamentalists. But many artists express their own thoughts in whatever situation arises around them. I do believe these artists need to be supported more.
How does all of this come together - in forms as diverse as performance, video, installations, street theatre, poetry and even music?
TBL: It depends on how the project is designed and implemented, although, for a larger social cause, I think artists from various walks need to be joined to make more of an impact.
How important is it, in your view, for a powerful work of art to also be visually, and artistically pleasing and beautiful?
TBL: I can’t make any comment on this, as it’s hard to decide until the work expresses a proper content and context, connecting with the visual elements of the work itself.
Tayeba Begum Lipi's Unveiling Womanhood will be on display at India Art Fair 2018, in New Delhi, February 9-12, 2018.