Dhali Al Mamoon turns time into a portal to gaze back at our colonial history, a history laden with grief and shame at the loss of capacity for articulation that Dhali feels has resulted in forfeiting an authentic artistic language in favor of one that alienates a person from his self.
The part of history that synchronically becomes Dhali’s locus is marked with acts of dehumanizing exploitation that dislocated people from their own land and culture and tradition. The new trade or colonial mode of production by its very premise deprived the indigenous population of any right to ownership or to any claims to the change they were bringing afoot, if one may, in the making of history (in terms of autonomous narratives). It is the cultivation of indigo and tea and a smattering of other iconic-symbolic representations that became the metonym for a process of subjugation going deep enough to seep into the psyche of the people. Might we call it the colonial atrophy or erosion of the self/mind that caused them to lose their voice or made them dissociated from their own system of knowledge? In Dhali’s world, one could argue, these legacies mar our progress as a people and are at the root of all evil.
Once trapped in the “ecology of colonialism,” people of the sub-continent were brutally dislodged from the shared bedrock of a system of knowledge conducive to self-determination. They became mere “objects trouvés (foundlings) of the colonial discourse -- the (virtual) part-objects of presence” (see Homi Bhabha’s The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse
) who cannot be represented without taking recourse to the “axis of metonymy” only to be “displayed in part.” This is manifest in the visual imagery of cowering, emaciated bodies of natives, obscured by towering tea leaves and a coterie of “signs” of colonial might. It is a display of indigeneity being diminished under the crushing blows of an extraneous, hegemonic force. And hence, a profound lament wafts from the images engraved in lines from across swathes of paper as if in imitation of the colonial scar that lacerates our soul, robs us of our essence.
In a capital-driven, neo-imperialist order, we still feel marginalized as the stakes are manipulated by powers in the west. Dhali locates this daemon which seems to be a peoples’ sense of inadequacy within a timeline that ran across two hundred years of “servitude.” If we turn to millennia-old migration-history, we find it is wrought with stories of symbiosis of cultures, be it marked by clash or peace. As cultures come into contact with each other and meld, the fault-lines transcend into grounds for proliferation of knowledge and then hierarchization of systems of knowledge, as soon as these come under the marauding wheels of an imperialist project, as we know it.
Dhali eyes the west with suspicion, as the center of power which disseminates “knowledge” to the lesser lump of humanity (or its denial thereof), coercing them into the tactic of sheer mimicry. But we surely cannot bury our face in the sand, ignoring the fact that a system of thought assumes the adage of knowledge only when aligned with the seat of power. Knowledge is irrefutably power and, by association, is prescriptive. At the same time, knowledge is a tool to use in negotiating one’s accession to a position to participate in the game of power. So, you are lucky if you are on the right side of the history of power. This pretty much surmises the essence of the message sent out by Drawing and Thinking, Thinking and Drawing - 1
by Dhali Al Mamoon.
Dhali is constantly confronted by the tension between academia and creative energies. On one hand, academia trains the mind to comply with the encoded fundamentals of form, composition, balance and so forth, and on the other, his calling as an artist propels him toward the Dionysian to move beyond the bounds of the known and especially the learnt. This calling also propels him to move beyond the borrowed, prejudiced and purist knowledge that the schools of fine arts across the country propagate. Dhali has reached a crucial juncture in his career. Five years away from retirement as a teacher, he finds his canvases are straining, seething at the frames. He finds the inner landscape markedly reorienting itself to the discords of a rogue impulse threatening to un-make the meanings of its visual language. Even in his earlier works, he has shown signs of resorting to a childlike idiom in the way of an act of labored “unlearning,” a theme which, too, has found expression in the current exhibition but which fizzles away in the wistfulness of a harano shur, an elusive tune.
Dhali refrains from anointing the past with a longing for the return of its glories upon the present. He, however, picks holes in a stillborn present that carries the past’s wounds -- a sterile, stultified present burdened with knowledge of a denuded self. Hence, he continues his tireless probing into the fissures of our knowledge to unearth the missing links, to fill in the lacunae in our thoughts, which is more than corroborated by the conceptually intensive installation works by Dhali.
The exhibition “Drawing and Thinking, Thinking and Drawing – 1’’ by Dhali Al Mamoon ran its course through 10 – 31 March, 2018 at Kalakendra.
Sharmillie Rahman is an art critic.