• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
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Celebrating Of Women Born with artist Razia Sultana Khan

  • Published at 12:08 am February 29th, 2020
Of Woman Born- Razia 1
Professor Razia Sulatana Khan poses with a bouquet of flowers sent by her son, for the inauguration of her first solo exhibition at Zainul Gallery, Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University | Faruque Ratul

The artist’s first solo exhibition closes on Saturday

Author and artist Professor Razia Sultana Khan's maiden solo exhibition will close on Saturday at 8pm in the Zainul Gallery, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. The visiting hours will begin from 10am.

The exhibition, titled Of Woman Born, was inaugurated on February 24 by eminent artist Mojibur Rahman as the chief guest. On the occasion, Professor Niaz Zaman, formerly of Dhaka University, was the special guest, along with Alamgir Kabir, the convener of art school Different Strokes.

Although Dr Razia began painting from her childhood, she became more active in this field during her tenure as a Professor of the English Department at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). She taught at IUB from 2008 to 2018.

Dr Niaz describes Dr Razia the painter

Her long-time colleague Dr Niaz Zaman had this to say about Dr Razia's paintings: "I first saw the examples of her painting in her office at IUB. One of her paintings was that of a sunflower, which was very beautiful, but that she has not exhibited. The time when I realized that she was an artist, was when she participated in a group exhibition organized by Different Strokes. That's when I realized that her paintings did appeal to me.

"I am not sure, but I think she had four paintings in that exhibition. I bought one of them, and it featured 'cubism.' It had all these angles, but it had the theme of three women. She actually had two paintings with that theme - one in blue and one in green. I bought the one in blue and I really like that painting," Dr Niaz added.

In her speech during the inauguration Dr Niaz called Dr Razia a very strong feminist. In response to what she meant by the phrase, Dr Niaz told the Dhaka Tribune Showtime: "What I was trying to express is that in her stories, women exist in a patriarchal society. And there are various forms of domination, oppression and cruelty. What she does in her stories is that women are breaking away from that oppression and refusing to be victims; for example a woman in a loveless marriage walks out of her house one day, or in another powerful short story, the wife prepares the instrument of torture that her husband uses to beat her. She prepares it and puts it where it is supposed to be, but then she walks out of the house. 

 "And there is another story called The Mollah's Revenge where the woman refuses to submit to oppression. What I was trying to say in my speech was that men are present in a menacing way in her stories; whether they are a shadow or a threat. Whereas in these paintings men are absent. They show women in a positive light, doing everyday things that they do. Some of them show women doing things that we do not expect them to do, for example, reading. There was a time, when the sentiment in our society was such that women were not supposed to read; as if they are only supposed to do house work. There was even an actual movement that demanded that books be written for women, to teach them how to be good wives and mothers. 

"However, in this exhibition you have a lot of paintings here, where women read. They are not shown to be wasting their time reading. They are gathering ideas. And reading is also one of the forms that people use to break the shackles of patriarchy, of the mind, religion and whatsoever. There are other subjects too in her painting. Like there is one of urban migration. In this you see people at the back, and they are shadowy men who are not really bothering this woman. But it depicts a woman alone, and when she is coming to town, you see that she is on the move, and she has left something behind. She has come out with a little girl in front of her and a baby in her lap. Maybe she is carrying a little bit of food. So, I think this painting tells a story. I do not think this woman is just leaving an oppressive household. I do not see a shadow of patriarchy in this painting. I see a strong woman. 

"I also mentioned (in my speech) that there was a time when we did not see women having tea at the tongs on the roadside. Now, you know young women do have tea at the tongs.  You may think, what is so great about that? But, you see they are making a statement that 'I can stand on the side of the road with either my male colleague or my female colleague.' It is a sign of emancipation. So, Razia has always been vocal about these things, and has also shown them through her stories and paintings. That is why, I think of her as a strong feminist," Dr Niaz added. 

Dr Razia's reflection on the exhibition

Regarding her feelings at the time of the inauguration of her first solo exhibition Dr Razia told Showtime: "I was feeling more than emotional. I was numb. I was waiting for this day for such a long time that for those two to three hours of the inauguration I was emotionally numb."

Among the painting's exhibited Mariam's Halud turned out to be a crowd favourite. Dr Razia said that: "Everyone has been taking selfies in front of it. Both boys and girls. I am overwhelmed by the reaction I am getting for that one."

Another painting which is causing the visitors to ask a lot more questions to Dr Razia is Fragmented Women. Regarding that painting Dr Razia said: "In my other paintings the subjects and themes are quite easily discernible. However, this is the one that people have been asking a lot of questions on. I am sure my students would be able to interpret it quite well. Each person is coming with a different interpretation, and that is the beauty of art." 

Dr Razia also informed that she took the exhibition title from a quote by American poet and essayist Adrienne Rich: "All human life on the planet is born of woman." The title also appears in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. The phrase appears in lines 80-81 in scene one of Act IV: "...for none of woman born shall harm MacBeth."

Regarding how people received the exhibition, Dr Razia said: "I am very happy with this exhibition. I organized it to give the paintings some exposure in the art world. Some of the paintings were completed when I was still teaching. However, most of them were completed over the last year. I am very overwhelmed with all the love I have received at this exhibition." 

As a painter Dr Razia exhibited her work in the 4th Contemporary Group Art Exhibition of Different Strokes in Drik Gallery back in 2017.

The convener of Different Strokes, Alamgir Kabir said: "Different Strokes is an initiative by me to do group art exhibitions with those who have not received institutional training in art. There are many like that but they also have a lot of things to express through art. I find, select and train some of these people through this initiative.

"After the artists in Different Strokes get confident, they create their artworks and then we have an exhibition. This creates a lot of joy among these artists. As you know, not everyone can attend art school. However, through this initiative, I have noticed that many have been able to express their art just as well as those who are academically trained.

"When I first find them, some have little knowledge or expertise in art. Some have more  and some want to learn from the very start. I try to teach all, from young children to people of the age of my mother through Different Strokes. We try to hold an exhibition once every two years. There have been four exhibitions so far. Dr Razia was part of the last exhibition," Alamgir added.

Dr Razia also gives a lot of credit for her artist self to Alamgir Kabir.

Dr Razia received her Phd in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2007. Her area of specialization was fiction. Among her short stories most notable are The Anklet, The Mollah's Revenge, Seduction, and Alms. Her published books include Stories from the Edge and Palki and Other Tales of Seduction.