Bangladeshi artists often talk about how their works are inspired by nature and the village. Kuhu Plamondon, however, derives her inspiration from the city.
Her approach to art is unique to say the least, primarily because she is better known as a fashion designer. However, Kuhu's approach to art and fashion designing are intertwined, evidenced in her latest solo exhibition 'The Making of Kuhu Art III' at Edge Gallery in Gulshan. The show boldly peeks into the inner workings of her mind.
An amalgamation of her experiences from the past five years, the show is composed of artworks in a range of media, which includes acrylic on canvas, colour sketches and mixed media works, as well as Jamdani, muslin and Banarasi silk sarees.
"I am the kind of artist who lives in a bunker. When I feel like I have the right quality of work, I surface. I do not call people to come see my work, or tell them about it. If someone is interested in them, yes, I show it to them. But that too privately and discreetly. I do not attend many workshops, and I do not give my art to smaller galleries. I mostly work on my own, and I tend to be a loner," said Kuhu.
"I am a city girl and I love the city. I like people and I like movement. I am not the type of person who likes to sit by the river and do a painting of scenery. I wander through the streets and I look at flower shops and flower girls. They are my inspiration," she added.
Another unlikely source of inspiration for the artist is RMG workers. Their beauty captivates her.
"They walk through the streets in clusters. They are dressed in yellow, orange; nothing is coordinated, nothing symmetrical about the way they dress. They pull up a black shawl, an orange salwar and maybe a green kameez; and they stroll through the city like butterflies. This is why I like to paint them. They appear in the morning, disappear throughout the day and weave through the city again in the evening."
The RMG workers' attires also inspire Kuhu's fashion designing as well. The strange choice of colours, such as a combination of a brown and a green, are blends which most fashion designers tend to avoid, but these colours are in both Kuhu's paintings and designs.
Kuhu's still life paintings are composed primarily of various flowers. But she hides a layer of depth to them. As she explained, "I painted all of these flowers at a flower shop. I think I suffer from anxiety. You know how rajanigandha (Tuberose) sticks out everywhere and the flower girls put them together in a neat bunch. That's my anxiety. I am cleaning up the clutter, it gives me a sense of calm."
"My anxiety shows up in my paintings. Maybe you don't notice it, but I start from a dark, deep, end of my mind. But the end result is almost always bright and cheerful to whoever is seeing it."
Kuhu belongs to the first batch of students of the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, after the liberation of Bangladesh. She completed her BFA and MFA when Zainul Abedin was the principal of the Institute, Quamrul Hassan was a member of the faculty and Kuhu was a direct student of Mohammad Kibria. She also studied art at the Madame Colette's Art School in Dippe, France.
"I always wanted to study fashion designing, but as you can recall, one could not study fashion designing in Bangladesh at the time. This was when my mother suggested I go to art school. I think studying art puts me one step ahead of fashion designing, because I learnt to create my own textiles. And I looked at fashion designing from an artistic point of view."
A unique layer to the show is the inclusion of Kuhu's sarees. She works on the fabrics quite freely, breaking out of traditional rules and regulations. The pieces were either translated from her existing paintings or were original designs. This was particularly evident in her Jamdani sarees at the show; instead of using traditional designs and motifs, the forms and motifs from one of her paintings were weaved directly into the fabric.
"I have always loved the white saree and red borders. There's always something goddess-like about a Bangalee woman in a saree. The saree is a form of a canvas for me, a canvas of six yards. I work from one end to the other. I call it wearable art," said Kuhu. "Designs of flowers definitely sell, but all of my sarees have a name and a meaning."
Kuhu, however, always makes sure to avoid working with weavers and artisans in the village when working on her textile art. As she explained, "as a designer, you should never work directly in the village. Your presence will pollute the rich style and traditions at the source. A designer wants to change things, but the artisans pass on their knowledge from one generation to the next. There is something simple about folk art, there is something child-like about folk art, but designers like me change it."
The Making of Kuhu Art III ends today. The show is open to all from 10 AM to 8 PM.
TBS Picks: A selection of artworks with a description from the artist
Metamorphosis: The Butterfly Vendor 1. Mixed media on Canvas. 2021
This is one of my favourite works. This was right after Covid; I was in New York at the time. It was cold and icy, but as soon as March arrived you could see a little flower, a little bird and a little butterfly.
We were all stuck inside, but we got our lives back. She's a butterfly vendor, she is selling life.
Covid Sky 1. Mixed media on canvas. 2022
I was stuck in New York during the pandemic, but after I came back to Dhaka, I invited my family over. They agreed to come, but we had to meet up on the roof. It was during the twilight.
I saw the pink sky of Dhaka, there was no smog, no nothing. I also saw little parakeets flying around, kids flying kites. What did we want at that moment? We all wanted to live.
Edge of Hope. Mixed media on canvas. 2021
When you feel hopeless you want to dive into someplace. When I painted this, at that time and point, I felt quite hopeless.
I was going through a personal crisis and I felt like I wanted to dive into the lily pond. My paintings always start from a deep end and come out bright and colourful in the end. I later translated this painting into the saree.