Munem Wasif’s series of photographs and videos of an undefined land elucidates land’s disassociation with its complex characteristics and eventually creates dialectic relationship between a land and its identity. Situated on the edge of a blurred boundary of Bangladesh and India, the mundane land hides human interaction with its surface and exposes ever-changing curves with Wasif’s repetitive frames. It seems that frames rarely move from each other, slows the time and motion, blurs the character of a land, and disassociate its political and geographical identity. It rather questions identity of a land when it is used and referred with a significantly historical and political context.
Unlike his other works with personal intimacy and humanistic vision, Wasif’s dispassionate and systematic approach in this series, mimics one’s role for investigation, topographic study, geological survey or a mere aesthetic search. His meticulous method of observing a land over a long period of time, throughout different lights and seasons, seems similar to recording something, but not in a planned way with any specific purpose, rather it purposely lacks vision and looses control, in oppose to careful framing. Empty banal land remains almost the same and it carries very insignificant changes when a man or a vehicle intersects with the frames.
The chosen land in this series is a mere observer of hundred years of land dispute, colonization, 47’s divide of the subcontinent and mass-migration, 71’s liberation war of Bangladesh and the current border tension with the neighboring country, India. Absence of any profound identity for its existence never diminishes its presence, and its body carries the wound of aggressive industrial acts, such as stone collection and crushing. The intellectual malady over the ownership if this land might be an essential problem, and the issue of controlling and molding the landscape, and man’s political relationship with the land is inevitable to know its context, but Wasif’s work is not a definitive act of understanding the totality of deeds, rather deliberately ignorant of them with the help of an unconscious camera, to merely show land’s lone existence over a period of time. The vantage points of the frames only gives a starting point, but doesn’t provide any conclusion. Look-alike frames and ambient sounds once overcome the optical unconscious of the camera and bounces elusive feelings and absurd sensitivity.
Wasif’s video pieces exposes the limits of a medium, when the video is used for capturing the stillness of a place, both by not moving the camera and recording predominantly still objects. These suspended motions in the video enhanced his photographic expedition of a land by hyper-repetitive framing and camera exposures. This process also mutes the characteristic performance or distinction between video and photography and blurs the viewer’s association with a medium. Ambient sounds of both nature and man blended with the synchronized disturbing noises. Throughout the process, the complexities of the land is not overlooked and tied with various sensibilities to challenge existing resonance of the land.
By Tanzim Wahab
Land of Undefined Territory, premiering at the Dhaka Art Summit 2016, is partially supported by the Samdani Art Foundation. The work was initiated from the workshop No Mans Land, 2014 organized by Britto Arts Trust.