Sunday, January 20, 2008

An Artist of the Broken World

Born and raised in Michigan, Emmy Award-winning producer/director Carl Byker began his film and television career in the 1980s as an award-winning editor. His outstanding work in non-fiction programming quickly led to jobs as a writer/producer and over the past eight years, he and his partner, cinematographer/director Mitch Wilson, have been responsible for a number of television's most acclaimed documentaries.
The team's productions for PBS include KCET's The Great War And the Shaping of the 20th Century, an eight-hour social history of World War I that won the 1996 primetime Emmy Award for Best Non-Fiction Series, as well as a Peabody Award, a Dupont Award from the Columbia School of Journalism and the Kodak Vision Award; The Duel, a film about the deadly confrontation between Hamilton and Burr; and The Human Quest, a four-part KCET production that traced the evolution of the human brain, for which Byker won a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Non-Fiction Program.
Byker also won a Writers Guild Award for KCET's Power in the Pacific, the first programme he ever wrote, and has earned a total of four WGA Award Nominations. His additional credits include The Tree of Life about the new window on evolution provided by DNA research; KCET's Secret Intelligence, which won a Peabody Award; and The Pacific Century, an eight-part series about the evolution of American relations with Asia, which earned a Dupont Award.
Byker's current projects include a three-hour history of Woodrow Wilson, produced by KCET for WGBH's American Experience series, which will air in the spring of 2002, and a four-hour series on the origins of Judaism, Wrestling with God, which will be seen on PBS in the spring of 2003.

Can you please tell us a little about The Great War And the Shaping of the 20th Century, which won the 1996 primetime Emmy Award for Best Non-Fiction Series?

The Great War was an attempt at looking at one of the most important moments in the last 150 years through a different lens not through war on the battlefields not through military commanders moving tanks, but how it shapes society, how it affects average people. And so the film is really driven through stories of individual people, women at home; soldiers in battles where 50 thousand people died, describing what happened to them. And it paints a picture of the war that was good for nobody, that was bad for all sides, and really set the stage for Stalin in Communism and for Hitler in Germany, and set the stage for a 20th century that was pretty bloody and grim.

So you try to depict the role of an individual in history…

Yes, or the impact of history on an individual, or how an individual has to deal with the sadness, pain and pathos that individual go through when faced with events beyond their control.

How important do you think history or reinterpretation of history is in this world?

Oh it is very important. I think Bangladesh is an example of it. Just agreeing on what happened in a particular moment of history can be so controversial. How you interpret that moment depends on what is your political perspective might be. And so I am fascinated by among other things just laying out what we know, the people of the time… what they wrote--and what we can learn from that.

What I actually meant is that from traditional history we know very little about ordinary people.

That is exactly what Great War was about. It is an eight-hour programme and each hour is divided into six sections and each section is about an individual, sometimes a nurse, who was at the battlefront or a soldier or somebody back home.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that a documentary filmmaker faces?

I think the biggest challenge is in fact raising the money. It is so hard to raise the money for topics that may be important but may not be as sexy as the American Idol or Bollywood or Hollywood. So finding the funds so that you can embark on one of the important stories that can inform the public that may be very challenging.

Let me quote you. You said this about the making of “Woodrow Wilson,” a biography of America’s 28th President, for the PBS series “American Experience”: When I read the scene about the night that Wilson becomes president and there are people with torches coming into the yard, I knew that would be something that would work for us. Because we’re always looking for an abstracting element . . . a torch, a fire, a window, glass, anything that can make it seem a little bit more like you’ve been transported to a different time and place." What are these abstract elements like? How does one recreate history? Is it really possible to do so?

This is true in my history films, because often we are trying to do something that a feature film is trying to do. It transports you to a different world so you forget that you are in your living room, we do not have a hundred million dollars to fill the scene with many extras or period cars. All we have is a limited budget. So we have to find a way to transport you using cinema art, making the flame a dominant theme, people move beyond the flame and you are not really aware that its really ten people moving back and forth in costume, often it turns out that working this way can turn out to be as moving and as gripping as any other major films.

But it raises a question. Where is the line really drawn between realitys and fiction drawn?

I have just finished filming the biography of the 7th American President Andrew Jackson, he is entwined with one of the epic moments in American history. Like he is the one who has sent the native Americans into the wilderness, some of them died and many Americans think of his American Hitler almost. There is an important history tell, but there was no photographs and no archival footage. So what we do is to browse through the writings of that time and trying to find out the costumes of that time to transport you to that time. There was a riot in the White House at his time; it is actually very famous in America, 20 thousand people rioting inside the White House in 1828. And so that’s an important story to tell and we recreated that pretty effectively with our resources and of course we are manipulating the resources to recreate that. The line is there for everyone who makes documentary.

Why do you think democracy and economic development are linked as your The Fight for Democracy suggests?

I think they are closely interlinked. Despite we may wish that democracy means just voting, the fact of the matter is it takes the civil society to create democracy. In SK , which the film was about, it was the case where the masses of people have investments in the society, where people had little power until they had a little amount of economic stake. It was until that the economy of the country was dependent on a pretty robust middle class that middle class could demand things. At that point of time middle class could stand and say that now or we will occupy the streets. And that point the government had to say okay we give in, because there was enough of a civil society and people had assumed enough control of the economy, and the people in power had no other choice but to listen.

Photo: The American Center

© Ahmede Hussain

Showcasing the Modern Masters

Long Distance Information
British Sculpture from the British Council Collection
Organised by the British Council, in collaboration with Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts
January 28, 2008-February 13, 2008, Dhaka, Bangladesh

For the first time in the art history of Bangladesh works 17 modern masters of British sculpture will be displayed in the country. The exhibition titled ‘Long Distance Information’, which is going to be held in the city this month will showcase 18 works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro, Barry Flanagan, Bill Woodrow, Richard Long, Mona Hatoum, Michael Craig-Martin, Richard Wentworth, Jane Simpson, Mariele Neudecker, David Shrigley, Simon Patterson, Jim Lambie, Wood and Harrison and Nathan Coley.
Organised jointly by The British Council, in collaboration with Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts is going to run for 17 days, it will also include education and artists in residency programmes in which Ann Elliott, a British curator will give lectures on contemporary British art, and in the artist in residency programme, two contemporary UK artists Claire Mitten and Stephanie Quayle will provide workshops to local young talents. The residency will run for eight weeks.

The prime attraction for the Bangladeshi art lovers who are going to throng the galleries of Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts and Zainul art gallery will surely be Henry Moore’s 1934 work ‘Composition’. Originally done in concrete, it consists of a few bone-like forms composed together, it suggests part of a reclining figure disjointed and set anew, a theme in which Moore returned to later in his career. It is interesting to note that the year before, Moore joined Unit One, set up by English war artist Paul Nash, to “stand for the expansion of a truly contemporary spirit”. The group promoted surrealist and abstract art. At a time of ‘violent quarrel’ between ‘followers’ of Surrealism and Abstract Art, Moore said, “All good art has contained both abstract and surrealist elements, just as it has contained both classical and romantic elements--order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and unconscious.” ‘Composition’, there is no doubt, reflects, this viewpoint. The display of man or human forms in the landscape, is recurring theme in Moore’s work, explains Syed Masud Hossain, culture and science programme manager of the British Council. He says quoting the introductory notes of the exhibition that landscape and nature were fundamental and he consistently used bones, shells, stones, pebbles, flints and found pieces of wood as source material. As well as the large-scale bronze works, Moore produced carvings and incorporated modelling techniques in his work. He was also a prolific draughtsman and printmaker.

Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Maquette for Winged Figure’ (1957), also explores the relationship between figure and landscape. The pierced hole that she creates in the winged figure is characteristic of a phase or her work since 1931. She is one of the early masters to use strings in sculpture, about which the artist once famously said, “(It is to show) the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills”.

The exhibition will also display ‘Table Piece’ (9176-77) by Anthony Caro, who was a part time assistant to Henry Moore when in the early 1950s he founded ‘Modernism’. It should be noted here that Caro moved on from doing figurative works after he met the American sculptor David Smith in the early 1960s, opting for sculptures welding or bolting together collections of prefabricated metal, such as I-beams, steel plates and meshes. “In a radical break with his working method Caro began to make abstract coloured sculptures which were independent of base or pedestal so that they inhabited their own space. He developed his own abstract language breaking the association of sculpture with the outside world, in particular the human figure,” Masud says. It was in 1966 the artist started working on Table Pieces’, which were actually a composition of found materials, some of which were arranged on tables, rusted, waxed or varnished. Masud explains, these were not seen as maquettes but as complete bronze works in their own right. In his work ‘Table piece CCCX’ 1976/77 he introduced elements such as handles of implements and incorporated the table to work with the sculpture rather than simply being used as a base or pedestal. The Table Sculptures represent an ongoing series of work that has continued to the present. Caro worked with lead, bronze, wood, ceramic, clay, aluminium and paper, with steel remaining his primary material.

Barry Flanagan, too, makes use of found materials, so are Jane Simpson and Bill Woodrow, while the last two use domestic objects and materials, Flanagan uses ‘poor materials’, such as sacking, flax, sand and rope. Simpson’s work witnesses an intermingling of every day objects like utensils with silicon rubber and wax. In her 'Belle' (2000) a designer Philippe Starck lamp and three tables are used with a refrigeration unit.
Jim Lambie, another sculptor, uses bits and pieces from contemporary city life like mirrors, shoes, hangers, handbags, record sleeves, gloves, thread and buttons. The artist has once said, ‘covering an object somehow evaporates the hard edge off the thing, and pulls you towards more of a dreamscape. The hard, day to day, living edge disappears’. In 'Let it Bleed' and 'Micro Dot' (2001) Lambie combines music and popular culture. In Flanagan’s ‘The Cricketer’ (1979), the modelling of the original clay by hand is obvious, and in Woodrow’s ‘Long Distance Information’, which is also the title of the exhibition, a camera and a walkie-talkie are still connected to the car from which they have been severed. “It shows the ever changing nature of exchange of information in this globalised world and the advent of telephone communication, Masud says.

Another British artist Richard Long documents his journey or ‘walks’ through the world’s hinterlands. Like the contemporary Post-modernist artists of his time Long resorts to photographs, texts and maps to depict reality. In ‘Three Moores, Three Circles’ (1982) he uses texts to describe his feeling of being in an English landscape. Like old landscape artists, the harmony between man and nature, needless to say, plays an important part in his work. Long says that he considers landscape sculptures between two ideological ends—“Making monuments”, and “Leaving only Footprints.” Photography and everyday objects find their way in Richard Wentworth’s works too, in his ‘Making do and Getting By’ (1978), colour prints made of transparency, he shows the mundane daily objects like chair and wall clock through which he depicts a bigger picture of human ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Made of nickel plated brass pins, canvas and glue, Mona Hatoum’s ‘Prayer Mat’ (1995) has aggression and an aura of hostile quality, with a compass in the middle suggesting her dislocation and alienation. Michael Craig Martin, on other hand, dwells on reconstruction. He explores themes of nature of art and representation. In Picturing: Iron, watch, pliers, safety-pin’ (1978), a conceptual work done on the wall, portrays mundane household object, as an artist he demands the viewer of artistic knowledge, “As opposed to an appreciation of the crafts skills, he is a propagator for the imaginative demands in art,” Masud says.

Mariele Neudecker’s ‘Mountain’ (1955-8), done with pastel, watercolour and filter floss has a fairytale quality attached to it. Heavily swayed by the 19th century landscape painting, this piece pushes the tension between the landscape and reality on the brink. Done in stark green David Shirgley’s ‘New Leaf’ (1995), reclines against the wall, as though it had just been fallen from a tree. The work has humour, and a dark display of the superficiality of life. Humour is also a leitmotif in the works of Simon Patterson, who, Masud says, “Once replaced the names of stations on the London Underground map with names of philosophers, film stars, explorers, saints and celebrities.” In ‘Wild Bill Hickock’ he shows us a slide rule, which, in modern times, has been replaced by the digital calculator. The same theme is repeated in John Wood and Paul Harrison’s conceptual work ’66.86’ (2004), a looped DVD projection. It depicts a minimialist-esq white space in which a criss-cross of white ropes is pulled across the screen in a rhythm. This performance, in which the viewers are, at times, have been made aware of the artists’ presence, is repeated.

Nathan Coley’s painted harboard work Bajrakli Mosque (2007), is the most recent work of British sculpture displayed in the exhibition. And it has a story, a significant one, to tell. Built in 1575, the mosque was turned into a Catholic church in the middle of the 17th century, before the Turks returned to make it a mosque again. It now serves as the only mosque in Belgrade, Coley’s work, done in painted hardboard, plays with light, creating a pool of mirror, making it a general symbol of faith.

Andrea Rose, head department of visual arts the British Council (London) thinks the exhibition traces the way in which British sculptors throughout the 20th century have sought new means through which to express themselves and the world around them. The accelerating pace of change, globalisation, the increasing flow of people and ideas into and out of Britain has all contributed to a rapidly altering landscape. Our sculptors have responded to this with extraordinary vim, experimenting with forms, appropriating new materials, and irreversibly shaking up the idea that sculpture is simply the study of objects on plinths. “The aim of the exhibition and education programme,” she says, “is to develop and enhance critical dialogue, encourage open discussion and develop awareness of the environment and climate change through sculptural practise. The education programme will provide skill based workshops and lectures to enhance English language skills, written and verbal, increase knowledge of sculptural processes and techniques involving metal work; casting, incorporating recycled and industrial waste as well as use of found objects and photographic documentation work in contemporary sculpture.”

Claire Mitten, one of the artists in resident, cannot be agree. Mitten, as an artist, primarily works on found object, and she thinks that the workshops that she is going to run will provide an opportunity to exchange cultural similarities and differences surrounding the use of colour. “We will look at colour theory and differing palettes of ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’, and the use of colour in pattern, decoration and ornamentation,” she says. Mitten will also work collaboratively with local artists in deconstructing and reconstructing to build an installation work. “It will provide an opportunity to discuss contemporary fine art practice that blurs the boundaries between disciplines and challenge ideas of permanence. It will promote discussion about process, the finished and the unfinished art-work,” she says.

In a world dangerously divided along the lines of violence, bigotry and hatred, art and literature remains the only resort for those who believe in a united happy liberal future. The exposure to contemporary British sculpture that ‘Long Distance Information’ is going to bring will surely give a boost to the country’s art scene. It will be interesting if the British Council carries on doing such cultural exchanges, art, after all, is the true voice of love.
Artist Biography:

Henry Moore was born in Castleford, Yorkshire in 1898. He studied at Leeds College of Art where he met Barbara Hepworth and at the Royal College of Art, London where he later taught. His first solo exhibition was at the Warren Gallery, London in 1928. In 1932 he established the sculpture department at Chelsea School of Art, London. Moore moved from London to Perry Green in Hertfordshire in 1940 where he lived until his death in 1986. He was an official War Artist from 1941-45 and was awarded the International Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1948. Moore had his first London exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain. The Henry Moore Foundation was set up in 1977, a charitable organisation which still administers the allocation of grants and scholarships to promote sculpture in Britain and abroad. The Foundation recently restored Moore’s house Hoglands which opened to the public in May 2007. Moore’s work has been exhibited extensively and he is represented in many national collections.

Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. She won a scholarship to study at Leeds College of Art where she met Henry Moore and the following year won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, London. She graduated in 1924 and was awarded another scholarship to study abroad for a year. She travelled to Italy where she stayed for two years and learnt the traditional Italian technique of marble carving. In 1934 she became a member of Unit One, a group of artists and architects based in London. She married Ben Nicholson in 1938 and they moved to St Ives, Cornwall in 1939. Hepworth exhibited widely throughout her career. She represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1950 and in 1959 won the Grand Prix at the 5th Sao Paulo Bienal. She had retrospective exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1953 and 1962 as well as the Tate Gallery, London in 1968. Hepworth lived in Cornwall until her accidental death in 1975.

Anthony Caro was born in New Malden, Surrey in 1924. He studied engineering at Cambridge University before studying sculpture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London and at the Royal College of Art, London 1947-1952. Caro was a part time assistant to Henry Moore from 1951-1953. He taught at St Martin’s School of Art, London in the early 1950s and later 1963-1974. A number of his students were to become successful artists; Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, and Gilbert and George. He had his first solo show at Galleria del Naviligio, Milan in 1957. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1966, together with the painters; Richard Smith, Harold Cohen, Bernard Cohen and Robyn Denny and at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1969 with the painter John Hoyland and was a prize winner on both occasions. He had his first retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London also in 1969. Caro was knighted in 1987 and invested with the Order of Merit in 2000. He has exhibited widely and is included in many national collections. He lives and works in London.

Barry Flanagan was born in Prestatyn, North Wales in 1941. He studied at Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts 1957-1958 and at St Martin’s School of Art, London 1964-1966 where Anthony Caro was the course tutor. He later taught at St Martin’s School of Art 1967-1971. Flanagan had his first solo exhibition at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1966. He had his first retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 1977 which toured to the Arnolfini, Bristol and the Serpentine Gallery, London. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1982 and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1987. His work is included in national collections and he has exhibited extensively. He lives and works in Dublin.

Bill Woodrow was born in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire in 1948. He studied at St Martin’s School of Art, London 1968-1971 and at Chelsea School of Art, London 1971-1972. Woodrow had his first solo show in 1972 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. In 1983 his work was included in Transformations: New Sculpture from Britain at the Sao Paulo Bienal. In 1986 he had a solo exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh and was short listed for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery, London. He had a solo exhibition at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1991. An exhibition of his bronze sculpture ‘Fools Gold’ was shown at the Tate Gallery, London in 1996. Woodrow has undertaken a number of major commissions, including a large bronze sculpture ‘Regardless of History’ for the Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London in 2000-2001. He has exhibited extensively and is represented in many national collections. He lives and works in London.

Richard Long was born in Bristol in 1945. He studied at West of England College of Art 1962-1966 and at St Martin’s School of Art, London 1966-1968. He had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf in 1968 and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1976. Major exhibitions of his work were shown at; Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1986, Hayward Gallery, London in 1991, Kunstlammlung Nordhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf in 1994, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo in 1996, the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in 2000 and Tate St Ives in 2002. His work was shown at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1994 and most recently at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh in 2007. He is included in many national collections. Long lives and works in the West of England.

Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1952 and studied at Beirut University College from 1970-1972. She travelled to London in 1975 and stayed when civil war in the Lebanon prevented her from returning home. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, London 1975-1979 and the Slade School of Fine Art, London 1979-1981. She has exhibited extensively and been included in numerous major group exhibitions. She had a solo exhibition at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1994 and was short listed for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery, London in 1995. Hatoum undertook a residency on the DAAD International Artists’ Programme, Berlin in 2003-2004. She lives and works in London and Berlin.

Michael Craig-Martin was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1941. He studied at Yale University, USA as an undergraduate and postgraduate student 1961-1966. He taught at Bath Academy of Art 1966 -1969. His first solo exhibition was at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1969 and he was Artist-in-Residence at King’s College, University of Cambridge in 1970. His work was shown with Tony Cragg in the 5th Indian Triennale in 1982. Craig-Martin has taught at Goldsmiths College, London since 1973 where Damien Hirst was a student. In 1994 he was appointed Millard Professor of Fine Arts and subsequently made Professor Emiritus of Fine Art. He curated the touring exhibition ‘Drawing the Line’ in 1995 and represented Britain at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1998. He was made a CBE in 2001. Craig-Martin has exhibited extensively and has been included in major group exhibitions; ‘Intelligence, New British Art’, Tate Britain, London 2000 and ‘Live in Your Head’, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2000. His work is in many national collections. He lives and works in London.

Richard Wentworth was born in Samoa in 1947. He studied at Hornsey College of Art, London 1965-1966 and at Royal College of Art, London 1966-1970. He worked as a part time assistant to Henry Moore in 1967. He had his first solo exhibition at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery in 1973 and from 1984 showed regularly at the Lisson Gallery, London. He was awarded the Mark Rothko Memorial Award in 1974. Wentworth has taught extensively including Goldsmiths College, London 1971-1987. He undertook a residency on the DAAD International Artists programme, Berlin in 1993-1994. He had major retrospectives at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 1993 and Tate Liverpool in 2005. He has exhibited extensively and has been included in many group exhibitions; ‘Life/Live’, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, ‘Material Culture: The Object in British Art of the 1980s and 1990s’, Hayward Gallery, London. He showed in the international section ‘Iconografias Metropolitas’ at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 2002. His work is in many national collections. He lives and works in London.

Jane Simpson was born in Watford in 1965. She studied at Chelsea School of Art, 1985-1988 and the Royal Academy Schools, London 1990-1993. She has exhibited extensively and was included in Damien Hirst’s exhibition ‘Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away’ at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994. She was also in ‘Sensation; Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection’, Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1997. In 1999 she was the IASPIS fellow to Goteborg. She recently had a solo exhibition ‘Still Life’ at the New Art Centre Sculpture Park and Gallery, Roche Court, Salisbury in 2006.

Mariele Neudecker was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1965. She studied at Goldsmiths College, London 1987-1990 and Chelsea School of Art, London 1991-1992. In 1997 she received the sculpture prize at the 7th International Biennal of Sculpture and Drawing, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Her solo exhibitions ‘Until Now’ at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham toured the UK and Germany in 2000 and ‘Over and Over, Again and Again’ showed at Tate St Ives and Tate Britain during 2004-2005. She recently had a solo exhibition at Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery in 2007. She has exhibited widely and has been included in major group shows. She lives and works in Bristol.

David Shrigley was born in Macclesfield in Cheshire in 1968. He studied at Leicester Polytechnic 1987-1988 and at Glasgow School of Art 1988-1991. He had a solo exhibition at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow in 1995. He had solo exhibitions at The Photographers Gallery, London and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London in 1997, Surfacing – Contemporary Drawing, ICA in 1998, Camden Arts Centre, London in 2002, DCA, Dundee in 2006 and recently at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London in 2007. He has exhibited extensively and has been included in major group exhibitions including ‘British Art Show 5’, 2000 and ‘Here and Now, Scottish Art, 1990-2001’ 2001. He lives and works in Glasgow.

Simon Patterson was born in Leatherhead, Surrey in 1967. He studied at Hertfordshire College of Art and Design and Goldsmiths College, London 1985-1989. He was included in Damien Hirst’s exhibition ‘Freeze’ in 1989 and in the same year had his first solo exhibition at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow. He has exhibited widely and in 1993 was included in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale. In 1996 Patterson was nominated for the Turner Prize, Tate Gallery, London for his solo exhibitions at the Lisson Gallery, London and the Gandy Gallery in Prague. He had a solo exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh in 2005. He lives and works in London.

Jim Lambie was born in Glasgow in 1964. He studied at Glasgow School of Art 1990-1994. His first solo exhibition ‘Voidoid’ was held at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow in 1999. He has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows including ‘British Art Show 5’, 2000 and ‘Days Like These’ at Tate Britain in 2003. He was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2000. He represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale 2003 with Claire Barclay and Simon Starling. He was short listed for the Turner Prize, Tate Britain, London in 2005. He is included in many national collections. He lives and works in Glasgow.

Wood and Harrison; John Wood was born in Hong Kong in 1969 and Paul Harrison was born in Wolverhampton in 1966. They both studied at Bath College of Higher Education where they met and began to work collaboratively; Wood from 1988-1991 and Harrison from 1987-1990. Wood lives and works in Bristol and Harrison lives and works in London, Bristol and Wolverhampton. Wood and Harrison have exhibited extensively; two person exhibitions include ‘Twenty Six (Drawing and Falling Things)’, Chisenhale Gallery, London 2002, ‘Notebook’ Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art and Art Now / Lightbox, Tate Britain 2004. They have been included in many major group exhibitions; New British Video, MoMA, New York, 1997 and ‘British Art Show 5’ 2000.

Nathan Coley was born in Glasgow in 1967. He studied at Glasgow School of Art 1985-1989. His work relating to the Lockerbie Trial was included in the Tate Triennale ‘Days Like These’ at Tate Britain in 2003. He has had solo exhibitions at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 2004, Haunch of Venison, London 2005, Jerusalem Syndrome, Cooper Gallery, University of Dundee, 2005 and he was in ‘The British Art Show 6’ in 2005. He had a recent solo exhibition at Mount Stuart Trust, Isle of Bute 2006. He has been short listed for the Turner Prize, Tate Liverpool 2007. Coley lives and works in Dundee, Scotland.

Bio and photo courtesy: The British Council, Bangladesh

© Ahmede Hussain

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bangladesh: The Roadmap for Democracy

When the caretaker government led by Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed assumed power one year ago it promised to liberate democracy from the clutches of money and muscle power; in his first speech to the nation the newly appointed Chief Adviser laid out his vision for a free, liberal and democratic Bangladesh. To materialise that plan the government has launched a war on corruption, hordes of alleged corrupts have been arrested, many of whom had thought themselves beyond the reach of law. It has also revived core institutions needed for a functioning democracy like the Election Commission, Public Service Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission, which were rendered dysfunctional by sheer nepotism and mismanagement of the previous Four-Party Alliance government. But the question that boggles everyone's mind is how far away are we from bringing the train of democracy back onto the track that was derailed one year ago? The road to democracy may be steep, there may lie hindrances at its every turn, but history has taught us that it is a journey worth taking. Democracy, after all, means empowering the masses, creating a society based on freedom, equality and economic justice. There is no denying that the country does not want to go back to the politics of factionalism and conflict we were kept hostage to by some political parties before January 11, 2007: it is, however, equally true that an unelected government cannot run the country for long, the people of this country deserve a government elected through their vote. So far, the major political parties have shied away from reforming their rank and file, the undemocratic nature of which has made the 1-11 a necessity. The Election Commission is set to pass electoral laws to make the electoral process more democratic and transparent. As the government celebrates its one year in office we try to find ways to make the next general election meaningful. How should the big political parties, which do not have any internal democracy, start the process of democratising themselves? What should the EC do to make sure that people have the choice to elect among clean and competent candidates, unlike the previous elections when crooks fought with crooks, criminals with criminals? How will people be given back the power to change their fate? Where should the beginning of our new journey towards freedom start?

In all the three general elections that have been held after the restoration of democracy in 1991, muscle and money power played a decisive role. We have witnessed the birth of the so-called 'cadre culture' where young men, most of them students, have been used as cannon fodder by the big political parties. Student politics, which has such a glorious past of vanguarding our war of liberation, have become a mere tool in the hands of the politicians. To fund themselves, the student and youth organisations and their leaders turned to mugging, extortion and manipulation of government tenders. The politicians themselves, especially the coterie that ruled the country in the last five years, and turned a blind eye, have given shelter to these goons, some even have made their way to the top leadership of these political parties. So a criminalisation of politics has slowly taken place in the country where for some crooked politicians and businessmen general elections have become an easy way of earning a few quick millions. Politics has become a moneymaking venture where an investment of a few crores during the elections will yield 100 times more, to make that happen, to get their money back, some politicians have resorted to nepotism, on which thrives corruption and abuse of power. The parliament remains dysfunctional, the quasi-dictatorial democracy in the last 16 years have bred a politics of confrontation, opposition MPs are not allowed to talk in the parliament, street agitation, and politics of confrontation have become the order of the day.

No internal democracy exists in the big political parties. Even though both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have led the great democratic revolution of 1990, inside their respective parties they have remained two incorrigible autocrats. The top tier of their parties is accountable to no one but the party chiefs who handpicks them. The party-chiefs' wishes remain a command for the central leaders, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is a case in point: according to the party constitution the party chairperson can hire and fire anyone, even the party secretary general, she can give nomination to anyone she deems fit, she is accountable to no-one. Sheikh Hasina, too, has never tolerated dissent: honest, competent leaders like Dr Kamal Hossain had to leave the Awami League for challenging Hasina's leadership.

How both the parties fund themselves remains a mystery. Gone are the days when, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was at the helm of the AL, the parties depended on the donations of the masses to run its day-to-day activities. Now the parties rely on extortion, donations of enthusiastic criminals looking for favours, and huge 'nomination fees' before the elections. Most of the major political parties do not have a bank account from where its running costs are funded, the party chief's personal account is the party's bank account; it is as feudal as it can get.

To begin with, the major political parties must realise that, in the changed scenario, they must reform themselves, and reform has to take place from within the parties, with sincerity and efficiency. They must ensure free and fair elections in various tiers. Leadership should be elected by the ordinary members of the parties, and it has to be held in a transparent manner. The parties must disclose the statement of its income and expenditure and should make the names of its patrons public.

The EC needs to set a ceiling to the amount that the parties can receive from its members and ordinary people as donation. Rules or regulations are not enough to change a culture of criminalisation and unaccountability that has taken root in the country in the last couple of decades.

The political parties should keep this in mind that for democracy to thrive it is imperative that a democratic society is established. In a true democratic society political parties work as agents of change, as harbingers of equality and justice. The glorious tradition that we had in our politics, where political leaders worked truly for the people, the life of sacrifice that leaders like Bangabandhu, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, Tajuddin and Comrade Moni Singh had led should be revived. Politicians themselves have to shoulder the responsibility of bringing about a change in politics and the beginning of this change should start soon.

The so-called dynastic politics, the practise in which sons, daughters or widows of the chiefs become the de facto leader of the party should be dropped.

History teaches us that when leadership is imposed from the top, it causes problems, even though it may seem right and convenient in the short run. Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have tried to lead the nation in the last two decades, and events in the run up to the gory days of October, November and December 2006 suggest that these two leaders are not capable of bringing any positive change in politics, instead their arrogance, their mutual dislike for each other, not to mention their ideological bankruptcy have pushed us to a situation where an artificial, suffocating prospect like the state of emergency we have to make do with to save ourselves from further anarchy. On top of it all, the level of corruption and nepotism that we have seen in the last five years, has revolved around an alternative centre of power called Hawa Bhaban that Tarique Rahman, Khaleda's firstborn, and his cronies had made for themselves. The situation that this symbol of corruption and abuse of power has created, along with the then opposition's relentless persuasion of a politics of confrontation have taken our country to a newer and grimmer level of anarchy and lawlessness. The feudal loyalty that the two Begums used to generate is waning and it is time for the honest and efficient leaders of the BNP and AL to rise up to the occasion to bring about a change in politics. Politics in the new century must be based on ideology, the days of opiating the voters in the name of two late leaders or leading ladies should be done away with; we, as a nation, will not be able to move forward, if, instead of the parliament, politics remains in the streets, if getting elected translates into having a license to plunder people or sending a bunch of dishonest thugs to the parliament. The parties have to break away from the culture of non-accountability and impunity that they have been immersed in for so long.

The caretaker government has taken the firm and commendable step of reconstituting the Election Commission, removing the three stooges of Election Commissioners who were bent on holding a farcical election in January 2007. The newly formed EC led by ATM Shamsul Huda has decided to introduce national identity cards for the voters, which, with the help of the armed forces, is going on in full swing. A long-overdue step though it is towards holding a free and fair election, the introduction of national identity card is not enough for making the electoral process transparent and free from the vile power of money and muscle.

The EC should set a guideline for the political parties, which they must follow to register with the commission. Registration with the EC should be made compulsory, and no political party that preaches hatred and religious intolerance should be allowed to participate in the election.

The EC needs to make the personal information of the candidates public; yearly it should also check the audited income and expenditure account of the political parties, the submission of which has to be made compulsory. The commission should give an efficient effort in informing the voters about the past performance of the candidates and the political parties, a booklet containing this, along with a summary of the party manifestoes can be mailed to the voters. The EC must also encourage a mass voter awareness campaign. In countries like Bangladesh educating the voters is the key to good elections, and the EC should take all-out measures to make each voter participate in the electoral process.
The war criminals, against whom there is documentary evidence, must not be allowed to contest in the elections at any level and the government must initiate the process of identifying the war criminals to bring them to the book. Our new journey towards a democratic future will remain flawed if those who indulged themselves in killing, looting and raping during our war of liberation make their way to the parliament, which has happened in the past, and we can see what has happened to the country and it is politics because of this. Recent comments made by some leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami make it obvious that the party and its leadership does not feel any shred of remorse for actively opposing Bangladesh's birth by forming death squads in 1971. That we have failed to bring these criminals to justice is indeed a burden on our conscience and it is time to relieve the nation of this unfinished legacy of the past.

In the three previous general elections, from the very outset of the day of campaigning, election laws were violated, government funds were used to lure voters, and yet the EC remained an apathetic bystander. Even though several citizens' groups raised their voice for electoral reform, the issue was addressed until this government assumed power. Electoral laws must be strictly enforced to make sure that campaigns do not turn into a display of money and muscle power.

The number of street processions should be limited for each candidate; political debate and accountable electioneering like door-to-door campaign must be encouraged. In order to be eligible for becoming an MP a person should at least be a graduate, we must not forget that a member of parliament is, after all, a people's representative employed by the people through their mandate. In this complex world of globalisation, to lead a country like ours one needs be educated to a certain extent and it should be made into a law.

We also need fresh blood in politics: we need young men and women who will be able to meet the challenges that the 21st century has thrown at us, shunning paths of violence and confrontation that we have witnessed in the last two decades, a new leadership must grow, and it should grow from the bottom of our grassroots politics. The EC should think of disqualifying those who have already been elected to the parliament more than thrice so that the room for new leadership grows.

The commission has already earned the trust of all the major political parties. Now is the time it should concentrate on finishing the voter list and launch an awareness campaign to educate the ordinary voters, it can also consider electronic voting in selected centres. The EC secretariat has to be separated from the prime minister's secretariat. Its full independence as a constitutional body must be ensured.

To consolidate democracy we need to strengthen democratic institutions like the Anti-corruption Commission, bureaucracy needs to be depoliticised, the government must also put more emphasis in creating a culture where honesty and sincerity is rewarded and rule of law is established. This cannot be done in a few months; neither will it be possible to bring all major corruption suspects to book. But the process that Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed has started, the precedence that it has set, needs to be continued after an elected government takes power in December. The Right to Information Act is a catalyst in the journey towards a truly transparent democracy, an empowering instrument for ordinary citizens to question the discrepancies associated with red tape, something that is key in the fight against corruption. The office of an ombudsman, moreover, must be set up to create access for the ordinary citizens.

The government should also sit with all the major political parties to reach a consensus on issues of national interest, before the next general election takes place the parties must vow not to take the country back to the bleak days of 2006. Every political party has emphasised on political reform and there is a national consensus on the trial of war criminals. The train to democracy should start moving now, and it should move faster, a bright new democratic future is staring at us in the face; history will not forgive us if we miss this opportunity to build a truly democratic Bangladesh.

First published in The Daily Star on January 11, 2007. It can also be read at:

© Ahmede Hussain