Kutubul Islam Ovi is a young sculptor pursuing Bachelors in sculpture from Khulna University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, who first came to notice through ‘Brihotto’ (2017), a student art project and exhibition curated by Bishwajit Goswami, organized by Abinta Kabir Foundation. For the 18th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh, Kutubul presented 13 micro sculptures on pencil graphite, to protest the destruction wreaked by rapid urbanization, which is leading to animal kingdom being slowly driven to exist only in memory. His project titled ‘Day after tomorrow’ was part of ‘Bindu Bisarga,’ which was also curated by Bishwajit Goswami. Kutubul spoke about the message of his miniatures in a conversation with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Al Faruque Ratul
When did you first develop an interest in art? When did you start sculpting?
I cannot remember the exact time when I started loving art. As far as I remember, I started very young. Probably it all started in class two or three or maybe before that. I do not remember exactly. As for sculpting, I probably started in class seven or eight. My first art studio was the last bench of our classroom (laughing).
I first started with drawing. In my house there was no specific interest in the field of art. I did not get the chance to see any other artist’s work. As much as I enjoy drawing, for the first time when I sculpted something, I realized that I enjoy the process of sculpting even more if I were to compare. This is because sculpting is giving a three dimensional representation to any image I am imagining.
How did your family react to your career choice?
On the first year of my intermediate examinations, I got to know that art exists as a subject, and one can pursue further studies in this on a tertiary level. Seeing my intersest in art my friend Mahamudun Nabi Ayan revealed this to me for the first time. He suggested, “You can study at Charukola.”
After I was done with my intermediate examinations, I came to Dhaka to do coaching for university admission test. The family knew that I am studying at a coaching centre to enroll in some BBA program. However, I enrolled at a coaching centre to get admission in Charukola. When my family got to know about it, they were naturally upset and tried to change my mind through many ways. At one point I just severed all communication with my family and moved in at my Shamsul Alam uncle’s house. I borrowed some money from him and got admitted in the fine arts program of University of Development Alternative (Uoda). By then my mind was set on studying at Charukola at any cost.
My father was angry for a long time, but eventually he relented. He said that he will finance me till my graduation is over, and then I will have to find my own way. As per that agreement I just have two more months left (laughing), in which they are giving me allowance.
Tell us about your experience of studying art in Charukola?
When I was studying fine arts in Uoda, at one point I felt that I do not want to study the curriculum I was given. I wanted to study more about sculpting. In Uoda, there was no subject on sculpting. I was getting this feeling that I did not belong there. So I tried for Charukola of Khulna University. When I got the chance, I left for Khulna immediately.
Some of the expectations I had about studying at Khulna Charukola did not transcend into reality. I thought that people will constantly gossip about art in a place like Charukola. I expected the students there to be more interested in speaking about art.I have had some tough experiences on my first year. Maybe it was because I had long hair back then (laughing). Some may call it “ragging.”
The kind of support I expected from my seniors, the minimum expectation was that they will want to know my story. I thought they will ask me questions about why I do art, and where I come from; I expected questions specifically about my art. However, I did not get such questions.
I guess my expectations were wrong. I thought Charukola students would be less materialistic and more transparent. I hoped that they would be a little more “fresh,” in a manner of speaking. However, the students were just like any other regular students. I do not mean any disrespect to them. I am just saying, that I thought for four years, my life would be just about art. I thought I would get to do more good work from the experience.
What I am trying to express is that the holistic discourse about art is happening very less now a days. And that anomaly is even seeping in institutes of art. Specifically we do not get exposed to events like art workshops, where an artist or an art teacher from so-and-so institution comes to share some pointers. What is the purpose of this workshop one may ask? Well, when an expert from an advanced institution comes to another that is less privileged, than the latter’s students’ will get the chance to update themselves with new curriculum or newer forms of art, maybe even newer techniques. In that way the sense of an artist, the perception of his/her own art will be enriched and more updated.
These sorts of things do not happen as often as I would like. Therefore, I feel my pace for developing as an artist has slowed down somewhat. However, I am very happy and grateful to my university authorities. I have been given time off from studies for doing exhibitions in Dhaka, such as “Brihotto” and “Bindu Bisorga” project at 18th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh.” That kind of help is massive support for an artist.
How were you able to reach a platform as big as 18th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh from the background that you have just described?
Well the start of all of this happened last year in the December of 2017. At the time I had this curiosity to find out where I stand in the artist society of Bangladesh.
I submitted my portfolio and CV for “Brihotto”, a student art project and exhibition that was organized by Abinta Kabir Foundation. It was an open call for artists. The curator for that exhibition was artist Bishwajit Goswami and I met him for the first time in the interview. I was very happy to get selected for that exhibition. His aim was to nudge some young artists, from different speciality, in the right direction
It was Bishwajit Sir who invited me to participate in an exhibition at Asian Art Biennale. There were two additions to this year’s edition of Art Biennale. The first was performance art and the second was curatorial project, where an art curator assembles artists from different fields for an exhibition. I do not know what Bishwajit sir saw in my work, but I give him full credit for giving me this opportunity at Asian Art Biennale.
Have you participated in any other art exhibition?
I worked in “Tone Miniature International Art Exhibition 2015” and “Dhatob Banjona Sculpture Exhibition 2017,” which was curated by Hamidujjaman Khan. I participated in Transparency International Bangladesh’s ‘Anti-corruption cartoon competition 2017.” My most recent work was in “Room to Read Book Illustration Project 2018.”
Now that Asian Art Biennale is over, what is your next target?
First of all, exhibitions are not sought after by young artists like me just for fame. We do it to really examine where we stand in the world of art. We do it to find out what we are lacking, and how we can absorb or amalgamate it within our learning. We do it to assess our pace of development as an artist.
Having said that, it is actually very hard to express in words what I felt, when people were looking at my work at the Biennale. The questions they asked and the queue they were forming to grab the magnifying glass, which helps to scrutinize my miniatures, all of it is just an overwhelming joyful feeling. Maybe the feeling is similar to what poets get when they recite their work in front of a big audience.
As for what my next target is, if you are asking what my overall goal as an artist is, I want my thoughts to be transmitted to more people in our society. By thoughts I mean the message I embed in my work. I hope more people can understand the message or can read the message from my work. The theme of my work at Asian Art Biennale was disapproval towards the rapid urbanization happening all around us. The modernization! The technology around us! All of this is impacting nature. Nature is getting damaged and destroyed. We are also part of this nature. If this destruction continues, then we will be destroyed as well. Then the question arises as to what will be our future? What will be the future of this nature? What about our “Day after tomorrow?” I find these questions very hard to answer. I feel these questions are very complicated. All I want is that more people will think about nature. I want people to ask what direction we are all headed to.
As for what I want materialistically, well I want to find an income source as soon as my graduation is over. I sincerely believe art will not survive if the artist himself does not. I need to find something that will earn me money. I need to find something that will afford me time to think and time to do more work. If I keep thinking about exhibitions and the support from my family is stopped after few days, then I will no longer be able to produce more art. Then the miniatures will not happen or any other sculpture will not be made. For making a sculpture, you need to invest on materials. If I do not find an income source soon, I will not be able to make that kind of an investment.
As for continuing to draw, well, I do that all that time. Even if I cannot do a lot, I at least try to draw something on my phone, no matter where I am. Even if I am at a place such as a tea stall,I draw something. And this is how I will overcome obstacles on my path.