PROFILE : Malabika Barman / Sushma Sabnis
As habitable land becomes scarce the fight intensifies, sacrificing the green cover in the name of affluent high rises and expensive condos. The world grows smaller mutating urban landscapes into thickly populated zones barely separated by evaporating water bodies carrying the burden of providing for the ever growing populace. With an exaggerated attention to detail second skin only to a print maker, the works of young artist Malabika Barman introduce the viewer to the jigsaw puzzle of a crammed urban landscape…observes Sushma Sabnis
Time and again, one is inadvertently exposed to the ever changing landscape of their surrounding. Mountains are flattened out, lakes are filled out, sea is reclaimed and the list is endless. What one witnessed of any given place a few years ago is but a faint memory now. One often hears familiar words like, ‘ in our times, there used to be this …. here, but it is gone now..’
This ruthless, radar-less revamping of the surrounding has invoked young artist Malabika Barman to create her intricate art works. Malabika is a print maker studying at the M S University, Baroda. Originally from West Bengal, Malabika’s works entwine a distinct note of her native and of her current place of residence. The works, mostly etching on paper and woodcuts bring to mind large colonies or human settlings and their proliferation there on. The artist subtly points a sharp etching knife at the sheer disregard of human kind towards Nature and its constantly depleting resources.
Malabika has a BFA in Graphic Design from Santiniketan and this probably anoints her work with the classic graphic quality and clarity in expression. The works are aesthetically soothing, in spite of being laden with the burden of a looming unsolved issue. In some of the works the artist juxtaposes places of worship, churches, mosques, temples within the crowded frame of housing colonies, when seen from a bird’s eye view. As if the viewer is transformed into an aerial drone, the works suddenly unravel in front of the viewer’s eyes. One is reminded instantly of having seen the blue print of a city or village from a peak or mountaintop.
This perspective that the artist employs in all of her works, proposes numerous addressals within the same imagery. In one of her triptych, Malabika floats a visual of an aerial drone over a winding river basin which is populated on either side. The edifices and structures that line the banks of the river along with the heavy intense foliage, give a clue as to what the artist might be hinting at. In our scriptures and in nature, we have found civilizations develop around water bodies, in the forests, animal hierarchies are based on access to water sources and territories around watering holes. These potable waterbodies seem to be growing smaller by the decade as human intervention demands its avaricious pound of flesh. Reduction of green cover, loss of trees hence ecosystems, reduction in rainfall hence freshwater decrease, famine ridden lands, extinction of species is all connected in a mesh of interdependency and tipping the fragile balance of survival of an already skewed house of cards. The artist cleverly portrays the structures of places of worship side lined in this chaotic rampage towards acquisition of one’s share of space and the struggle for survival.
Within these fine lined markings, Malabika also portrays umbrellas/ canopies. One is drawn to the unusual positioning of these canopies within the bird’s eye view compositions. One could argue that these suspended shelters are the artist’s attempt to rise above the mundane rat race for survival, and almost in a sense, ‘rising above’ the unavoidable polluted air spaces. The height attained could be a metaphor for actual physical height/ movement towards the mountains, away from cities or it could indicate a mental / psychological rising above a situation. Some of the canopies are shown protecting certain zones within the crammed up urban spaces as proxy sentinels for deforested zones.
In some of the works, Malabika explores the blue print of a building complex like dwelling, formation of societies, where an entire piece of land is acquired by the builder, sheared off its natural habitat, leaving some namesake bits of green areas in the centre of the entire complex as a token ‘greenery’ prescribed by government norms. These diminutive green patches enclosed by looming towers look like caged animals, desolate and orphaned.
Malabika treads a much walked on path as far as the topics of her work are concerned. Environment, exploitation and destruction often evoke numerous reactions and intense emotion in artists. However, the point where Malabika Barman’s work stands apart successfully is in the rendering of these violent reactions within the fine lines of her etched works. The finesse and attention to detail make the works appear almost meditative and silent, yet rebellious enough to provoke a deep stirring within the viewer’s conscience. One would leave the works asking a long evaded question, ‘Does my human-ness come at the cost of everything and everyone else on earth? will this exploitation ever stop?’
Malabika Barman lives and works in Vadodara.