One of the most eye-catching works at the recently concluded India Art Fair was a sewing machine made entirely of stainless steel razor blades. Created by Bangladeshi artist Begum Tayeba Lipi, the installation, titled Recalling 1 attracted attention as much for intricate detailing as its deeper meaning.
According to the 45-year-old artist, who has also co-founded the Britto Arts Trust, Bangladesh’s first artist-run arts platform, the razor blades are a reference to the strong women she grew up with in her childhood.
This, however, is not the first time that Lipi has worked with razor blades. In 2011 she created an installation titled Bizarre and Beautiful that had female undergarments made of blades as well, in a direct reference to both its protection to the wearer and a warning to the viewer.
She says, “My work addresses the marginality and representation of the female body and I want to question the sexual stereotypes that dominate women’s lives in Bangladesh and across the world. Razor blades in my work not only represent violence but also make reference to a tool used in baby deliveries in the more primitive parts of Bangladesh. I also associate the strength of steel blades with the tenacity of the women I have known… these women continue to defy the odds to keep families and communities together through their optimism.”
Lipi was born in 1969 in Gaibandha, Bangladesh and completed an MFA in drawing and painting at the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1993.
In 2002, she co-founded Britto Arts Trust, Bangladesh’s first artist-run alternative arts platform, dedicated to organising exhibitions, enabling international dialogue and exchange, and providing support to the country’s artists through residencies, workshops, and funding. Her art practice includes painting, printmaking, installation, and video to comment on themes including the politics of gender and female identity.
For instance, in one of her earlier videos created in 2010 titled I Wed Myself, she portrayed a bride with traditional makeup and formal attire preparing for her wedding, then cropped her hair and added a moustache to adopt the role of a groom. Juxtaposing these two roles within a single frame, the picture doubled up both as a husband and a wife, while a video of the transformation process was projected alongside.
The dual personality that was portrayed therein was to question the role assumed by gender identities and to bring home the fact that both masculine and feminine qualities could co-exist.
Lipi is not new to adulation and admiration. She was awarded the Grand Prize at the Asian Art Biennial, Dhaka, (2004). She was the commissioner for the Bangladesh Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011) and one of the curators for the Kathmandu International Art Festival, Nepal (2012).
She has had solo exhibitions at Alliance Française (1998 and 2004), Gallery 21 (2001), and Bengal Gallery (2007), in Dhaka, and participated in the two-person exhibition Parables of Our Times at Gallery Akar Prakar in Kolkata (2010).
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)