How an artist embarks on a journey of discovering fine arts could be a story in itself. For Bangladeshi-origin artist Fariba Alam, born and settled and New York, it began with the painting that her parents — both artists and scientists — had made when she was barely a child. It was in 1999, when she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work on a photography project in Bangladesh, that Alam set out upon her own visual path and arrived at her current practice through the foundations of photography.
Influenced by biological patterns, mathematical diagrams, pixels and architectural blueprints, Fariba Alam is now in Delhi (for her first solo show in India) at Shrine Empire, where 37-year-old Alam incorporates photography, projection mapping, textile and tile installation in her new body of work titled ‘Lace of Stars’ which will feature eight such mixed-media works.
Reminisces Alam, who received her B A from Columbia University (1998) and M A from New York University (2004). “There is a painting that has been in our home for as long as I can recall. This painting was the result of a collaboration between my parents, a grid of interesting colours — oranges and muted blues. When I was around age 8, my father explained to me that the painting was a visualisation of the tetradic colour scheme, a reference to the colour wheel and Isaac Newton’s light theory. I latched on to every word when my father than explained that Newton then associated each colour with a sound on the musical scale.”
Alam’s parents migrated from Bangladesh to the US in the late ’50s and even though her work may not reflect a direct influence of her country of origin, she admits that “one direct way in which I reference my family is that I weave archival family photographs into my works — old wedding images, ancestral portraits from both South Asia and our family in America — in the early 1960s and 1970s. Some of my previous collage and tile works also reference colonial photography and postcolonial imagination, particularly in the Indian subcontinent since the 1840s.”
Coming to the current show, Lace of Stars, the central theme behind this collection of works is the fragmentation of the female body and an interplay between light and shadow, and soft and rigid forms. “There is also a strong visual connection to the sky, movement, darkness and revelation. The name Lace of Stars was chosen to convey a sense of patterning and connecting of the dots, visually and thematically. Lace of Stars, like many of my works, also refers to a constellation and a fantastical backdrop, reminiscent of the Islamic parable The Night Journey (Mir’aj) — a story in which the Prophet Mohammed takes a mystical voyage from Mecca to Jerusalem at night, riding a creature which is half-angel, half-horse.”
Speaking of symmetry and mathematical diagrams, and the usage of tiles in her work, Alam says that she is deeply influenced by her studies of Islamic architecture and the usage of tile comes from that reference. “I love the glossy surface of tiles, the solidity, and the ability to serialise squares or create a pattern and symmetry simply by rotating a tile over and over again. Printing photography onto tiles allows me to combine the hard lines of architecture with organic, softer black and white, grainy imagery.”
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)