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