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Dhaka Tribune

Ground Zero: The glaring hypocrisy of our national values

The work is a large-scale painting which can be seen as a study of the country’s modern day values

Update : 09 Mar 2024, 07:33 PM

The Dhaka Art Summit 2023 attempts to capture the essence of Bonna (Flood). Many of the artworks chosen this year illuminate the effects of increased flooding and damages suffered by Bangladeshis, as a result of climate change or other forces. 

In Gallery 5, on the third floor, with a title befitting the DAS 2023 theme, “Ground Zero” by Antora Mehrukh Azad draws in audiences' gazes with its glaring pink body.

The work is a large-scale painting which can be seen as a study of the country's modern day values. In a highly stylized and exaggerated composition, Azad captures what many of us write about in the daily papers, presenting the glaring hypocrisy of our rush towards urbanization and economic growth while we simultaneously shut our eyes to the ever-present realities of nature. 

The oil on canvas painting is flat, with a bright pink glaze — understood to be flood waters, from the ripples and shadows on its surface — stretching to the edge of the frame. No clear horizon separates water from sky, making the flood water feel vast and infinite. The unnatural pink hue recalls a toxic blend of human encroachments, such as neon city lights. The choice of pink reminds us that flood water has no inherent color; it reflects the brew of elements of a particular region.

At the painting's centre, a group of people carry a tin roof through the waters — possibly a metaphor for our misplaced values. Their faces are hidden under the roof, and they are seen from behind. The painting's depiction of the flood survivors as faceless, hunched, brown bodies symbolizes our detachment from disaster-affected communities and the ease with which we forget those who suffer. 

The traffic poles rising from the flood waters in the background illustrate the intrusion of urbanization in the natural landscape of our rural areas. Yet the piece maintains a message of duality: traffic signs spring in all directions, like the banana trees of the city, underscoring the fact that not even cities are safe or impervious to such tragedies.

“Ground Zero” is a captivating commentary on the hypocrisy of our national approach to growth and development. It is also a loud plea for people to recognize the present realities of climate change.

Tasawar Sattar is an editorial assistant at Dhaka Tribune. This article contains the personal opinions of the author only

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