Published in The Independent in April 2010
Soo Jeong Koh spent two months painting intricate patterns on the bottom of 2,400 cardboard cups. The 19-year-old then assembled the cups according to the numbering system she devised, and stuck them onto a large wall on the campus grounds of the International School in Bashundhara, Dhaka. When viewed from a distance, the installation reveals an enormous image of a face.
Such creative ingenuity is the hallmark of the International School’s art exhibition, which launched last Thursday and is open to the public until the end of today. The exhibition is the culmination of four years of visual arts studies undertaken by six talented young individuals. The International School is authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation, so the students will walk away with a highly respected diploma.
Each student was required to choose a theme to be reflected in a diverse range of mediums. Korean-born Soo Jeong Koh decided on “Life After Death,” because although she is not a strong believer, she is fascinated by different religions. Her dynamic portfolio includes an African funeral mask, cushions featuring the Grim Reaper, a painting depicting the “hands” of the devil and an angel, and a clay Korean shaman, who communicates with the dead. In order to make the clay statue look authentically old, Soo Jeong Koh soaked it in tea on four separate occasions.
Tasnim Rahman choose a very personal theme, which revolves around who she is as a person and her feelings towards society. She was also influenced, she said, by her background as a Bangladeshi girl studying at an international school. She said, “I wanted to convey that I have faced certain restrictions, as well some freedoms.” Her favourite piece is an eye-catching linotype print, which portrays a human and its shadow standing inside a cage. Seventeen-year-old Tasnim explains that the design represents the pressure she feels to look a certain way. “The pressure makes me feel encaged,” she said. “The presence of the shadow is there to convey that our shadows look very different from the way we actually look, and to emphasise that the shadow is not you.”
Tasnim’s work is predominantly colourful, abstract and uplifting. Her painting titled “Life is a Gift,” features a huge magenta bow on a mustard yellow background. She said, “There are so many external and internal pressures inside me, but at the end of the day, life is still to be appreciated. I deliberately used happy colours to portray this message.” Tasnim has also painted scenes from nature – particularly striking are her portraits of a peacock and Bangladesh’s national flower, the lily. “The beauty of nature should always to be appreciated,” she said, smiling.
Tasnim is clear that she wants to engage her audience as much as possible – but whether they subscribe to her artistic interpretations of life is entirely up them. She said, “Whether those who view my work agree or disagree with my work doesn’t bother me – but I do want to provoke a response. And I would like people to relate to it, because although I have conveyed my own personal feelings, they are emotions that we all go experience, such as fear and anxiety.”
Tasnim has applied to study at several prestigious art schools in the US and feels that the International School has given her the foundation she needs to continue pursuing her love of art. She said, “I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to work with so many different mediums.”
As part of the course requirements, each student mimicked the style of the late British avant-garde painter, Francis Bacon. The challenge was to incorporate Bacon’s style with a touch of Bengali culture. Tasnim painted a traditional Bangladeshi bride, whose mouth is open in horror, a theme that absorbed much of Bacon’s work. Soo Jeong Koh painted a poor woman in a sari crouching on the ground. However although she appreciates Bacon’s skill, she did not relish his trademark medium – oil paint. She said, “I mixed a lot of white in with the other colours to keep the appearance dull, as he did. However I did not enjoy using oil colours and I haven’t tried it again since!” Soo Jeong Koh is going to study fashion at Parsons Design School in the US.
Aniga Alam’s “Sugar Lips” is exactly that – enormous lips made of real sugar that has been stuck onto painted card. “Orange blossoms” contains a waist encased in orange satin, its hem lined in (presumably fake) pearls. Tooba Arbab is interested in interior design, and she said that the International Baccalaureate gave her the opportunity to become familiar with a variety of different approaches to her art work. She discovered that she loved using her hands to create a piece of art, and now prefers making sculptures and installations rather than painting or drawing. Anushka Aritvi Rahman’s “Slot Machine” is very powerful and rather dark. A number of options are listed on her painting, including, “If you’re suicidal, I’ll be the greatest end for your wonder filled life.”
Binari Patirana’s “Killing Me Softly” features a large painting of an upturned set of legs in a gravity-defying skirt. Next to it is an equally large collage, which uses cuttings from a Bangla newspaper to represent streaks of a headscarf in an otherwise uniform red background.
These six young artists have presented work that is bold in both its concept and construction. A high level of skill and originality is apparent in each and every portfolio, and it therefore appears likely that their futures will be as bright as their creations.