Separated in Transition

YOUNG LIVES MATTER

In this oppressively consumerist society, it is a challenge for a young artist to nurture her creative, thoughtful, yet politically aware mind, soul. Afrida Tanzim Mahi, a young artist presented her body of work for us to reflect on this time and left this society of alienation.  Saiyaara Amin Charja dedicates this piece in her memory. 

 

Self portrait of Afrida Tanzim Mahi

Self portrait of Afrida Tanzim Mahi

In his suicide note, painter John William Godward had written, ‘The world is not big enough for me and a Picasso.’ Neither was this world big enough for our Afrida. Afrida Tanzim Mahi, a 21-year old artist, has taken herself away on the 15th January of 2017. She had a certain world to speak of through the blue colours of melancholia and the red colours of rage in her artistry. This world was one of hollowness, created by the darkness of the modern society. As she said before presenting her first solo exhibition, ‘I need to see it, show it, and finally let it go.’ And, she did. She chose to leave three days after the inauguration of her exhibition.

In one artwork at a time, Mahi strove to convey her emotional state. In the midst of a crowd, she was left unable to communicate all that she carried in her heart. This void, slowly hurling between herself and the people around her, led to her self-portraits. Her self-portraits result from the inability to explain herself, as Mahi had stated. She mirrored herself in sketches with voids in her chest and melancholia in her eyes. Her features were hard, intransigent, and anxious — echoing in the hallucinatory arabesques of the background. They remind us of Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits and his depth of agony.

In her paintings such as ‘Meeting With the Corporate Animals’, ‘All In All You’re Just Another Gear In The Machine’, and ‘Society, You’re A Crazy Breed’, I find the exploration of a world that is driven by capitalist allure. The instrument of symbolism is used, at times using materialistic mediums, to tell the tale of a society that is chained to the trickery of consumerism; of us doing nothing but playing the part devised for us. However, Afrida’s artwork reached far beyond the artistic capture of the tragic state of modernity. It reached the workings of our spirit, and it reached the phenomena of being trapped by the substance of one’s own mind. A famous artist, Ronni Ahmmed, spoke of Afrida’s art before her death: ‘She wants to explore the demonic entity in the human mind. The demon that creates all malfunctions and discriminations, that gives birth to endless suffering.’

Creating a world, with all that was in Afrida’s mind through colours, was her only medium of expression in the plains of hopelessness. As said by poet Subrata Augustine Gomez, who knew Afrida from a very young age, ‘The very selection of the colour-schemes by itself is like a work of art. It is as though we are left to encounter and appreciate a Siamese Twins sort of an artist when viewing her artwork.’

Every artist, from Salvadore Dali to Frida Kahlo, was led to the expression of their tortured mind and all the chaos around them through the trait of being sensitive. Just like them, Afrida wasn’t one of the typical mocking-jays living in every society, who talk about catastrophes over the dinner table and broadcast the woes of neighbours for the purpose of light entertainment. She was the painter of these catastrophes, using brush strokes and all that is between red and blue to keep this pain close to her heart and to not let herself to forget it, meanwhile burdening herself with a world that would make her crumble. She embodied collective sorrow within her and expressed it in her work.

Afrida, as a highschool student, excelled in all subjects and had received the Country Highest Mark on Art & Design in her A level exam during November of 2016. Completing the majority of her academics from Scholastica, all throughout her school life she remained a lone girl. Fitting in was a task that she never gave effort to achieve. Moreover, fitting in was a task because her thoughts aren’t welcomed casually into the regular topics of discussion. Afrida had to spend most of her school life in solitude with no group of friends, simply because the lip-glossed world which only chased the illusion of bright colours was not for her to step into.

As Afrida grew up, so did the raging bird in her heart – which yearned to be free from what Michael Foucalt, a French social theorist and historian of ideas called, the disciplinary society, which is our modern society. He stated that the injustice and the cruelty existing in this state of radical individualism are presented in such a style and decorated manner that injustice and cruelty stop looking like what they really are. The decorations, ideological designs of our society have us trapped.

Afrida used painting as an escape to free herself from engaging in the workings of this society of alienation. Her train of thought led her to a lone road, but it also led her to the small corner of her room which she claimed her studio, and her warfare was the stack of colours resting on the shoebox beside a ‘row of empty canvases waiting to be destroyed, or preserved.’

Before we ever got the chance to admire Afrida’s work, she had already gotten lost in the world of her own art. Afrida’s mother, Rahima Afrooz Munni, said, ‘I understood her quite a lot, that’s why I can say confidently that her suicide was not one of defeat, but a surrender to the system from an intransigent, unrelenting human, bonded with anger and sadness.’ While this labels the death as a political protest, it has never been recorded in Bangladeshi history, the death of a girl so young, as surrender to the society.

For others who wish to appreciate the beautifully sad fragments that Afrida has left, there are pieces from her diary:

‘Who knew happiness could be so dark? When I reflect upon my own relationship, I see why a little girl would believe in Cinderella. The funny part is, as time passes, you realise, you are Cinderella and you are also the two evil sisters. All your friends are imaginary and Cinderella was on dope.’

‘We’re all liars. Petty thieves.

Stealing when hungry.

Loving when content.

Enraged when denied.

Aggressive when desired

And helpless when alone.

But our graves can only

hold one person at a time.

Why must I wait?

Why was I not asked

How long can you

Stay sedated? Either I kill myself

and prove the obvious.

Being will think of itself

and think through it own eyes.

Who wants to live,

Let them. Even if.’

“Whatever I leave behind will either fade or be corrupted. However, the paradox grows heavier and the burden is impairing my thoughts. All my words, lashes of paint and flawed creations have no real value yet they are dear to me. My creation is just like me; ordinary and flawed. Just like every other being. But it’s my child, my burden to bear.’

Reading her diary, we find an insightful young mind, who is critically aware and refuses to accept oppressive social norms and practices.

‘When I think of her now, I think of her smile, always mysterious. You could never know if she was happy, or sad’, said one of Afrida’s dear friends, Azmer Rezaul. Afrida was a paradox, an enigma of an artist whose mind was either on canvases, or kept in silence. She never made paintings capturing a pretentious glamour of capitalism that could be hung on the walls of an upper class family, but she made paintings which themselves could stand as a protest to everything she stood against. Then why did a mind possessing the power to change the devious workings of the society silence itself in the end? Perhaps it is not silence that Afrida’s story has ended with – it is a protest, an outcry.’

Afrida had never known what the magic in her hands were worth, but it is our duty to ensure that her ending battle-cry stirs up a flame in our hearts. For Afrida Tanzim Mahi – an (n)ever sleeping flower in the midst of the garden of human, our hearts mourn.

 

Saiyaara Amin Charja is a student of A level.

Afrida Tanzim Mahi’s first and last solo exhibition, titled ‘Lost in Transition’, was held at at Kalakendra in Iqbal Road, Dhaka from January 12 to February 4, 2018. New Age Youth asked Wakilur Rahman, curator of the exhibition and an artist to reflect on her art work.

Wakilur Rahman

Mahi has adopted herself as the object of her art and returned herself through her paintings. She exposed, as well as revolted, against her existence social prejudices, defying any dominant ideological belief or system and did it in naked, direct manner without trying sugar-coat it. Courage is her forte and expressing it through paintings her most preferred method.

Mauling through her own existence, cutting open her social surrounding, she chose to paint to get behind the anxiety and distress. Perhaps, it’s a self-therapeutic experience. The main focus of her paintings is the way identity is constructed in this complex, media-exposure centric glamorous culture.

Mahi’s exhibition titled, ‘Lost in Translation’ is autobiographical as well as self-submitting. I have perceived her sets of arts representative of generation of particular time. I didn’t think, introducing the exhibition, she would disappear in such a way. May her soul rest in peace.

 

Wakilur Rahman

Artist and Curator

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New Age Youth, in conversation with Azmer Rezaul, a close friend of young artist Afrida Tanzim Mahi

 

 

A painting from Afrida Tanzim Mahi's exhibition ' Lost in Transition '

A painting from Afrida Tanzim Mahi’s exhibition ‘ Lost in Transition ‘

New Age Youth: What was Afrida like in school?

Azmer Rezaul: She excelled in studies from a young age, but she could never adjust with the rest of the crowd. She sat alone in the front bench, occasionally accompanied by me or someone else if the teacher ordered so. You could never find her conversing or laughing casually with any friends. She may have been a class-topper, but she was never the one who comfortably adjusted to the norms of school socialisation.

New Age Youth: What was Afrida like as a friend?

Azmer Rezaul: Never having had any real group of friends in Scholastica, she went overboard when she had a circle after leaving school. She’d do anything to keep these friends close to her, crossing any edge. As a friend, she was boundlessly generous, open to take any step to prevent herself from being without someone to talk to all over again. She was afraid of being lonely.

New Age Youth: When did you notice Afrida’s passion for art?

Azmer Rezaul: A while after she left school, certain circumstances led her to behavioral problems. They stretched as far as to her parents taking the decision of grounding her for an extensive period of time, almost a year. During this length of isolation, Afrida may have lost the freedom to be out in the world, but she had taught herself the freedom of painting. When I visited her after six months, posters all over her wall of artists and bands were replaced by artwork — all sketched and painted by her. Most of these artworks were expressions of atheism and other heresy practices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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