Unveiling the Truth


January 4-19, 2020, Dwip Gallery, 1/1, Block D (g floor), Lalmatia, Dhaka

Unveiling the truth, creating a sensorium

In a preface to a 1985 catalogue, Kazi Hasan Habib wrote that the artist’s quest is for unveiling the truth. Years have elapsed after that 2nd solo. The artist’s death in 1988 made it more enticing for anyone interested in art-truth dyad to revisit his thoughts behind what otherwise seems like an unambiguous adage. Add to that the fact that the very idea of truth in our post-truth era requires a re-orientation of the mind, and perhaps even an acute awareness about some of the frameworks that used to inspire artists in those post-Romanitc age when the garden of delight was found right next to the region of ethics. For Hasan Habib, things were much simpler, his romantic craving for both the known and the unknown, as he himself once declared, was part of his attempt to unearth a “deeper truth”.

How does one go about being truthful in his or her artistic language? What Habib did was something akin to a breakdown of the monolith of modernism where meaning remains too close to the motifs. In the tradition of the avant-garde, to generate meaning, motifs are presented as things in themselves. To wrest control of the image (since image precludes all other senses but the visual sense) all motifs are decontextualised, in this tradition.

What Habib did to the motifs – human figure included – was to put them back in context, a move that can dubbed as revolutionary. In essence, Habib’s was a project that absorbed only a few techniques from the contextual modernists, including the way the painted space is created by way of striking a harmony between the elements. As an artist, he began to place the motifs back in the context of the “theatre of nature and life”, rather than investing in anatomical architecture (of human, animal and trees) and presenting them as entities in themselves.

In the avant-garde tradition, no matter how dehumanised the motifs are made to appear, artists always take their starting point from the given architecture of things or non-things. Habib’s drawings, paintings and etchings suggest that he was not a motif-driven artist and it seems that he took his point of departure from the process of creation itself. Though, he delved into traditional shora painting, and even presented an entire show spun around his own shora paintings in 1988, at Bnagla Academy, his main oeuvre bespeaks his attention to the “whole” rather than the fragments that are the motifs.        

The breach with modernity’s obsession with the very architectural construct of living as well as non-living things allowed Habib the scope for exploring lines, forms and curlicues of his own without distancing himself from the swirl of things. His intention to see things in context of nature and life placed him at a certain remove from mere “representation”. He was, in the end, a “performative” character, often manifesting the quest for truth in sincere creation of an end result where all things comingled (nature, humans, emotive forces as well as the senses data) as is evident in his etchings in this exhibition. Unity of things made them panoramic and poetic.

The Hasan Habib we came to know from his book covers, and also whose acumen became legible in all his dazzling drawings and paintings, can hardly be showcased in a small commemorative exhibition. What he deserves is a retrospective in which all his biggish works on canvas can be shown.

But, on truth, around which the artist himself weaved some words in his lifetime, one must add that his attempt was to demonstrate that in case if all “evidence” of it faded, truth can still be told – not by throwing it in the face but by creating it as an “empire of the senses”. In this sense, Kazi Hasan Habib has been in perfect synchrony with Jibananda Das’s expansive sensorium, where smell and touch presided over retinal pleasure.

– Mustafa Zaman


Kazi Hasan Habib

Born on 25 December 1949 at village Umedpur in Jessore, Kazi Hasan Habib went on to become one of the major artists of the country. He graduated from the then Government College of Fine Arts in 1972. Kazi Hasan Habib got involved in the publishing industry and churned out numerous covers for books, effecting a change it their aesthetics. Habib lived for only 39 years but left an oeuvre with distinctive mark of talent and individualism. He held three solo art exhibitions in Dhaka, subsequently in 1982, 1985 and 1988. The second exhibition was of an exceptional nature. It displayed 21 of his oil paintings that elaborated on the themes of poems of 21 poets of Bangladesh. He also participated in a number of national and international exhibitions between 1970 and 1985. He wrote a number of poems of considerable merit. A year after his death in 25 December 1988, a collection of his poems Nirbachito Drishtir Labonney was published.