Asma Sultana: Long Lost Lullabies
Solo Art Exhibition
Asma Sultana: Long Lost Lullabies
July 19 – August 6, 2023
Opening Reception: Saturday, July 22, 2023, 3-6 pm
Gerrard Art Space Inc., Toronto
Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 2-7 pm
After nine months of bloodbath, Bangladesh was born; Asma Sultana was born five years after the liberation war ended in 1971. It was a short soul-wrenching struggle for independence that many do not know about or the world has long forgotten. The battle was brief, but the casualty was enormous- like a short story with a hopeful but tragic ending. The shadow of this war looms large in the collective psyche. Bangladesh achieved its costly freedom; as with any other birth, it was bloody and indelibly painful. Bangladesh was a victim of the violence of war perpetrated by an occupying military and political force and their local collaborators. Citizens have suffered horrifying torture and lost many lives through the worst war crime in recent memory. Systemically, as a policy of occupying force, women were brutally raped, and many got pregnant; some were aborted, but many were born in a society which not ready to accept them. Children, including the unborn, were also the victims of this war; they lost their lives before seeing their mothers’ faces. Many children were born instead of the massacre—many were adopted by unknown families from foreign countries—from all over the world—in another sense, Bangladesh lost them too in that segregation.
Nonetheless, the story did not end there; it’s been fifty years since the liberation war, and the sacrifices those war children have made to achieve not only a country or a flag but also the identity of the Bengalis. Alas, their great sacrifices were forgotten. Like other cultures, in Bangladesh, mothers used to sing lullabies to their children to put them to sleep—no one sings anymore—the custom was overlooked because the collective memories are darkened with confusion by the politics, religion, and aggression of troubling historical discourses. Many Bangladeshis knowingly or unknowingly carry the wound in their hearts of that unrecognised genocide. Fate is singing its lullabies today, not to put everyone to sleep but to awaken them from sleep. This is the time to revisit the forgotten history of the liberation war and the forgotten memories of the children of the war.
Through Sultana’s autobiographical work, she seeks the certitude of her identity from the personal level to the universal- as a diasporic immigrant, displaced dreamer, and minority freethinker. Her creative process is evolving around her quest to know herself, her culture, her country, the world, and the universe in which she was born and lived. She constructs, deconstructs and reconstructs her life experiences in the East and the West. To conceptualise that, she uses her uprooted hair as the thread to embroider or needlework and make dresses, patterns, and portraits. She uses her thumbs and fingers instead of brushes or pencils to draw with ink on various surfaces.
Moreover, she employs used objects from her daily life and modifies them by adding her discarded hair, which she has stored carefully. She wanted to give her biological existence a place in her art. The process of collecting, cleaning, and storing her hair one by one is like a mindful ritual for Sultana, carefully arranged activities like taking care of someone or something. Human hair is a filamentous biomaterial that contains dead cells and DNA; her hair contains her DNA, representing herself or her self-portrait. The way the hair falls from the body, leaves fall from the trees, and seeds dispersal for germination, migration, and displacement is happening in nature every moment; it is part of life.
Textile and embroidery are integral parts of Bangladeshi cultural heritage; Bengal textiles have had a rich history since the ear of the cabinet of curiosity. Many great museums display Bengal textile art; her work represents that part of her ancestral identity with a contemporary twist. Long, dark black hair is a mandatory feature of female beauty in Bangladeshi culture; her grandmother, whom she had never seen, since she died of childbirth, possibly, Sultana inherited the quality of her hair from her grandmother. She decided to cherish that embroidery culture and treasure the legacy of storytelling through her art. Characteristically, her work is multidisciplinary; she prefers to combine mediums, techniques, and concepts to convey the complexity of modern life in time and space.
Asma Sultana is a multidisciplinary artist. To conceptualise her autobiographical work, she uses her hair and thumbprints as her media to explore her identity in time and space. Asma organised and curated many solo art exhibitions and participated in many group exhibitions in many different countries. She was featured in print and digital media—her work is in many private collections. In her diasporic identity, she is Bangladeshi-British and working in Toronto. She is trained in Fine Arts and Art History from Bangladesh, England, and Canada. She studies Art History at York University, Canada, and Oxford University, England.
Gerrard Art Space Inc.
1475 Gerrard St E
Toronto, ON M4L 2A1