The uncertainty from the pandemic was unlike anything we had experienced in recent history. It was the first time most people had practised social distancing, mask mandates, and isolation as a result of the repeated lockdowns. But perhaps the worst of all, death became a part of our everyday lives.
Countless lives have been lost to the virus. The pain and suffering caused by the pandemic will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest personal and collective tragedies.
Art is often inspired by pain, an example of such would be the exhibition Fragile Moments, a solo show of the works of artist Kazi Rakib at Galleri Kaya, in March earlier this year.
The artworks at Fragile Moments were inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, hope was a common theme in the collection of exhibits. The artist's use of colour felt emotional. Deconstructed semi-abstract forms, as well as detailed works, often took centre stage on his canvas and paper, and they were shrouded with striking colours.
In contrast, the latest exhibition at Galleri Kaya, appropriately titled 'Dark Time', was completely devoid of any colour.
The artworks featured in Dark Time, a solo show of artist Mahmudur Rahman Dipon, was also inspired by the pandemic. However, while Kazi Rakib's art expressed optimism through his works, Dipon's artworks encapsulated its horrors.
Mahmudur Rahman Dipon completed his MFA in Drawing and Painting in 1998 from the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. One of his most recognisable works – a sculpture of three children at play – stands near the small pond at the campus of the university, which he made during his time as a student. Dipon is known to work with various media, ranging from acrylic to oil, but his favourite is watercolour.
However, all the featured artworks at Dark Time were black and white charcoal sketches on paper, completed in between 2020 to 2022.
"We knew so little about the virus, everything felt uncertain. Our sense of security was shattered. Surrounded by death and suffering, I felt the only way I could accurately express everything we had to endure at the time would be devoid of any colour," said Dipon to The Business Standard.
"This is why all of my artworks were done in charcoal," he added.
The first Covid-19 lockdown was implemented in Bangladesh in March of 2020. News of death, and the feeling isolated from social distancing, Dipon felt depression creeping in. His art was a form of therapy he self-administered. The results were almost haunting to gaze upon. Expressed through surreal and exaggerated forms, death and decay were common themes at the show.
"It was horrifying to be a witness to how much devastation the virus had caused on a global scale, to know how truly unprepared we all were. We have never witnessed a pandemic in our lives," said Dipon. "We were locked in-doors and could not meet any of our friends and family because of social distancing. Everything was unfamiliar, it made me very sad."
The titles for the works were also on brand; Shadows, Horrific, Split, Pain, and so on. They induced a sense of fear and dread, yet not everything was bleak. The artworks asked the question of what comes after we pass on. Do we become the ground underneath our feet? Are we reincarnated into other beings? Or is there an afterlife where we continue to live on?
There were also glimmers of hope in some of the works. They often took the form of light or a bird, and were conservatively sprinkled throughout the exhibits.
"The birds are a metaphor for beauty in my work, it is a depiction of hope during dark times."
Dipon's will to endure and persevere was perhaps most evident in the sketch Window, the only artwork with any trace of colour in it. It was a depiction of a dark room with a bright window staring into emptiness. Inside the room, however, were two red and blue lines which signified that all hope was not lost.
"In adolescence, we view the world through innocence. Life was very simple back then. But as we grow up, we discover pain. We learn that life is not a linear path, it is very complicated."
A selection of artworks from the exhibition with a description from the artist
Self Portrait 2
It is said that we are made from earth. I wanted this sketch to show how we become the ground after we pass on.
The mountains are shown as slumbering people. Sleep is rest, and I feel like it is very similar to death.
We could not meet anyone while social distancing. This sketch is a depiction of how we feel when we're truly alone.