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Site Specific Art at Dubolhati Palace

July 18, 2020

The term ‘site-specific art’ generally refers
to an artwork that is created to exist in a certain place. So basically, the
artist gives all his/her priority to the location while planning and executing
the artwork. My introduction to site-specific art started in 2016 while I was
working on a project with the Piramal Art Foundation in collaboration with
Nehru Science Centre Mumbai. But recently on an artist’s exchange program to
Bangladesh, I had a turnaround about my views and thoughts regarding
site-specific art. All these years I have studied my sites very carefully and
done a lot of theoretical calculations before I concluded but this time it was
completely different. I was embroiled in a lot of conflicts ranging from
political to religious context. A Hindu boy researching about a Hindu dominated
Rajbari in a Muslim majority nation with an organization being funded by European

My research project was about an abandoned
palace that has witnessed a lot of glory as well as nightmares in the last
hundreds of years. Dubolhati Palace in Naogaon district once belonged to the
local zamindars –the Roy Chowdhury’s who bought it from Lord Cornwallis in
1793. Since then the Rajbari had witnessed a lot of bloodshed ranging from the
tyranny of Ayub Khan to the local farmers who once revolted against the king
and killed him while he was asleep. Family disputes among the royal family to
Hindu-Muslim conflict after the Partition of 1971 had resulted in the collapse
of the royal era.

I was interested in knowing about the history
of the palace and the reasons behind the miserable condition of the Rajbari
today. I was also keen to know the current status of the Rajbari family members
and how they coped up with once the Zamindari raj was over. But I guess I got
more answers and new questions that I could’ve never imagined while I started
this research. The installations and artworks that I created during the
residency program were just a reflection of my realizations about the palace,
its glorified history and its miserable end.

I was looking out for the living descendants
of the Roy Chowdhury family and was excited and curios when I finally met one.  He narrated stories of the family’s past, most
of which we had heard from the locals already.  After wasting a few hours of an evening and
some decent money which we had spent to travel to them, we realised that they
are just pretending to be the heirs to the royal family. They have been
fighting a legal case in the court and have multiple times appealed to Sheikh
Hasina for getting a share of the royal property.

This entire incident became the inspiration
behind my installation where a tree branch is reaching out to a tree trunk that
doesn’t belong to its own but pretends to be grown from the same trunk through
stories that don’t fall into place. But there always remains a gap that cannot
be fulfilled.

This work on paper portrays the time travel of the Rajbari, with a
fictional touch, from glory to ruins.

This work was a tribute to those faceless
thieves who kept stealing bricks, wood, iron, doors, windows, etc. from the
Rajbari and eventually turned this magnificent architecture into ruins. Their
sheer greed and stupidity plundered historical evidence.  This work was created in the form of a poster
as if a ‘wanted’ poster and pasted on one of the walls of the Rajbari to stir
the local audience. There was a write-up underneath, “these are not the people
I am talking about but I believe if they had faces they would’ve probably
looked somewhat similar”.

Image from the Open Day exhibition at the
Dubolhati Palace where around eight hundred people gathered to see the artworks
in the display. Most of the works were very striking and were objected to by
the local political parties and organizations. Hence the works were all
destroyed by the locals before the exhibition ended. But we had already
documented the display before the visitors came in and this documentation was
screened at the Dhaka Art Summit in February 2020 through a video graphics

Sarban Chowdhury, Assistant Professor, LSA Department, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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