While most artists from the region express themselves through the use of bright and vibrant colours and uplifting subject matter, Nagarbasi Barman embraces dread and darkness in his works.
Images of rotting fish, broken boats, and fishing hooks; Barman's prints and paintings are haunting, yet captivating to gaze upon. But in order to make sense of them, one must look into his past.
Born in Keraniganj at the bank of the Buriganga river; when growing up, as Barman recalls, "the country was not as densely populated as it is today." He did not have too many companions to play with, he spent his free time with only a handful of friends.
Once classes were over, their playground was the river. Accompanied by his friends, or when alone, he travelled out into the waters of the river. "We let the wind carry us. We sang, munched on peanuts and lounged on the open waters of the Buriganga."
Barman saw bedes living their lives on boats, making a living solely by catching and selling fish. During the dry seasons, he watched fishermen repair their boats, he observed the tools they used. Barman collected discarded fish hooks, which he took back with him and repaired.
"The Buriganga was alive when I was young. The water was clean and clear, I saw fish swimming in it, people's lives depended on the river. We could drink the water, we used it to cook the food at our homes," the artist recalled. "The river was full of life, but today it is dead and I am deeply saddened by it. I wonder if we will ever get our Buriganga back."
Barman completed his BFA in Printmaking from the University of Rajshahi in Bangladesh and MFA from Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan, India.
"When I was in Bangladesh, I primarily worked on realistic subject matters. But when I went to Santiniketan to pursue my higher studies, my peers were exploring various experimental concepts. That was very new to me, I did not understand experimentation at the time," said Barman.
"I did not know what I should be working on," said Barman to his teachers. They asked him to create layouts, and he did. Over time, the memories from his past, particularly the lives of the fishermen he so keenly observed, began manifesting in his artworks.
Barman depicts the struggles of the fishermen and the biodiversity of the Buriganga river.
"When fishermen catch large fish, they are not the ones who get to eat it. They sell it in order to buy food for their entire family. Their lives are very difficult."
The dark forms and figures in Barman's artworks stem from the condition of the Buriganga today. The fishermen can no longer depend on the river to make a living. The waters are extremely polluted and can no longer sustain life.
Today, Barman is an educator. He is an Associate Professor and Head of the Fine Arts Department at the Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul University in Trishal, Mymensingh. Even though he is a long way from home, the artist continues to depict the struggles of the fishermen into his artworks.
Barman also has been exploring direct mediums, particularly painting, from his experiences from art camps. As his background is in printmaking, the artist's style employs various unorthodox techniques. He incorporates the use of pastel alongside acrylics.
48 of Barman's prints and paintings are currently being exhibited in his solo exhibition 'Paintings & Graphics' at Galleri Kaya in Uttara. The show is open to all from 11:30 AM to 8 PM, every day, until 2 December.
TBS Picks: A selection of artworks from the show with a description from the artist
Fish and Boat 2. Etching. 2017
This is a composition of a boat and the skeleton of a fish. This print symbolises the struggles of the lives of fishermen.
The fish is dead and the boat is broken, and that is the true representation of the lives of fishermen today. In the past, if they caught a big fish, they would sell it to buy rice to feed their entire family.
Today, even that hope is long gone. The river water is polluted and there are no longer any fish there either.
The Skyward Light – 3. Etching and aquatint. 2018
These lamps are not widely used anymore, but in the past almost every home in the village had one. Growing up, we did not always have electricity and we used them to light our home. The fishermen also relied on them; they also used a chimney in order to make sure the flame did not go out from the wind.
The lamp also symbolises how fishermen's children no longer want to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. The light represents hope in the midst of darkness. They want to get a proper education and build a better life for themselves.
The Soul of Fish – 4. Etching and aquatint. 2018
In this composition I have shown a figure of a fisherman and the bones of a fish. The fishermen share a symbiotic relationship with fish. It is a representation of the hopes and dreams of the fisherman, and it is dead.
They can no longer depend on old ways to earn a living, to feed themselves and their families. Fish are now being farmed, but that is not what I want. I want fishermen to be able to depend on the river to earn a living.