Habiba Nowrose’s ‘Concealed’

Habiba Nowrose, a photographer and artist talks about her latest exhibition with New Age Youth. The exhibition titled Concealed just ended at Kala Kendra, Dhaka.


Every human being carries around several identities, most of them are determined by a number of factors including race, gender, religion etc.. With her love of pattern on fabric and keen interest in identities, Habiba Nowrose, with the help of her educational background on both gender studies and photography, chisels out a brilliant array of portraits. Under the name of ‘Concealed’, she sophisticatedly portraits woman and hides their identities behind fabrics. While doing so, she also explores, unknots and reveals several other identities of her subjects, making them an interesting play of fabric patterns and identities. Nowrose completes her BSS and MSS in Women and Gender Studies from University of Dhaka. In 2015 she accomplishes her Three Years Professional Program on Photography from South Asian Media Institute, Pathshala. Among different types of photography, conceptual photography attracts her most. She thinks that this department helps to express ideas more intellectually and offers a broad spectrum of critical views. She talks with New Age Youth about her passion, inspiration, work and behind the camera ideas that shape her ideologically.


New Age Youth: Why fabric?

Nowrose: Fabrics play an important role in developing sexual and social identity. For example, the pattern of the fabric of a certain person can be interpreted to explore different identities of that certain person. Moreover, many of my fabric patters do not match perfectly with the ‘sophisticated’ taste of the middle class thus creating a distinct class division. I have found patterns and fabric amusing since very early age. So I have taken a passion of mine, fabric and coupled it with another of my passions, photography.


New Age Youth:  Tell us the story behind the fabrics of the characters here.

Nowrose: The fabrics we see here, are results of numerous trips to the popular shopping spots of Dhaka. I have collected them from rejected clothes, cheap items and gathered a good number from my relatives and friends. While doing so, I completely rely on my aesthetical sense, I pick the one I like at first sight. After the collection pert, the tiresome assembly line starts. I have to meticulously pick fabrics to construct a complete character out of only fabrics. This part is the most difficult one and demands utmost intellectual energy as well as time.


New Age Youth: How do you build you characters?

Nowrose: The origination point of most of the characters are same, certain pattern of a fabric catches my attention and I pick that up. Centering around that piece, I construct the rest of the character. A single character takes fabrics from a number of pieces which also adds up to its multi-identities. Though the whole process is not as easy as it sounds. The building of each and every character involves an extensive psychological process. Apart from the chosen fabric, I set free my imagination and actually this leads me to the ultimate way of constructing a complete character.


New Age Youth: How your clothing and fabrication are put together to construct a certain character?

Nowrose: The primary focus of my portraits is hidden faces, thus the name ‘Concealed’ comes in play. By hiding the faces, I actually try to give the audience ample space to judge the characters upon their fabric and patters, it helps to explore several other dimensions of identities. Most of the seaters of my work have lower middle class background, through them I actually want to explore the identity of the clothe as well as the character hidden behind the fabric.


New Age Youth:  Why all the faces of the characters are hidden behind fabrics?

Nowrose: Faces are apparently primary identity of a human being, among many. Apart from face, even skin color contributes in creating identity. I deliberately choose to hide faces of all my characters because I do not want to give them a singular identity. This hiding faces enable an audience to explore different dimensions of identities. Here are both male and female characters, by hiding their faces I have managed to conceal their sexual identity; by hiding their skins, I have concealed their racial identity. I have to admit though; female characters are well thought than their male counterparts


New Age Youth:  Do you have anyone who particularly influences your aesthetical quest?

Nowrose: As an artist, I do have many influences but there is someone who immensely influences and encourages my artistic endeavor. He is Munem Wasif, an acclaimed photographer of Bangladesh and a teacher at Pathshala. He makes me not only an artist, but also a better human being. This person has huge influence over my artistic and regular mind. In a nutshell, I may say that he makes the person out of me as I am today.  Pathshala, as an institute, also shapes me in so many ways. It illuminates my way to create and break my barrier, to explore the aesthetical depth of my mind.


New Age Youth:  How are you here today?

Nowrose: Well, I have always wanted to be a painter, since my childhood. I studied gender studies which also enables me to see the society and the system around us in a rather different light. When I am into photography, I founds fashion photography pretty cool. Coupled with my fascination for fabric, I get the chance to explore femininity, their identity and my own self. My photography is not mere endeavor to capture beauty, rather, it involves a process of revealing different aspects of identity and its relation to society and self.


New Age Youth:  How do you see your work? Considering the reaction, you have got so far from the audience?

Nowrose: I would like to label my works here by three words, acquired from responses from audiences. My conceptual photographs here ooze of strangeness, peculiarity and abnormality. Some have label my work as suffocating due to their concealed faces.

New Age Youth: Thank you.


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