This review text on artist Nazia Andaleeb Preema published for her biographical book PREEMA DONNA (ISBN 978-984-34-7377-6) publish by Cosmos Books, 2020

Visual art becomes very significant in the creation of identities and the expansion of knowledge.  Our time can be marked as a civilization of visual art or as the century of visual communication. Nazia Andalib Preema, a name as such who strives throughout her life working for visual communication and strategic use of it for leadership in the creative community, women empowerment, and self-freedom. She believes “Art is a connecting dot for every creative practice” and making platforms as such where young people/artists can become that ‘dots’ to building our creative economy is our social responsibility. She sees “Artists are entrepreneurs” and every artist should work to build visual and cultural awareness to society. This thought inspires her to take the different artistic journey as well as art marketing, building networks and creating new alternative platforms for young creatives. This dedication marks herself as a multidisciplinary visual artist and simultaneously holding prestigious positions such as Director and Creative Editor of Bangladesh Brand Forum, President of Women in Leadership (WIL) and Founder of Bangladesh Creative Forum. These positions adhering versatility in creative platforms prevails her as a Women role model to our creative industry. 

To analyze Preema’s creative endeavors many of us will agree to look into her fascinating life journey, and I’m no exception to that. Andalib believes her ‘art is a process’, a process of learning and reflecting the society, a process of becoming an artist and acquiring the talents of leadership. She thinks her journey started 25 years ago when her father died leaving her alone with her mother and siblings. At that very young age, she had to face the harsh reality of our society towards living fragile women and children. Overcoming from every encountered challenging situation with grace, integrity and diplomacies, gave her a strong will power to stand alone. She started to educate herself in Fine Art and simultaneously use that expertise doing consultancies at corporate creative sectors as she realized the design, fashion, architecture, media, graphics, and all social visual engagement got influence from the Visual art /Aesthetical philosophies. This inspiration of working on fine art to corporate creative sectors gave herself a strength to make her feet grounded as a multilayered creative individual today! 

Preema’s Journey through art:

In my view, what distinguishes Preema’s art from her other activities is the nature of its relationship to its public, which can be summed up as, “it’s the viewer who completes the work.” And yet to say that, if the viewer completes the work is to say the work is never finished because there is always another viewer who will complete the work differently. Thus, my purpose is to not defining Preema’s artworks rather investigate her process of art that works as a catalyst or connecting dot to her professional or personal life philosophy. 

Preema started professional art career with her first solo show ‘Prarombho’ – ‘The new beginning’ at 1999, and the name seems acted metaphorically to her all artistic endeavors. The endeavors which she strives for, all fueled from practicing art itself, as she quotes “I want to people see the light. Art is not only light (Illumination) but also very crucial.”

Graduated from Faculty of Fine Arts in Painting, Preema doesn’t limit herself on two-dimensional surfaces only. She was seeking versatility and contemporaneity and she had the horizon to invest in. Her journey starts from painting, graphic design, digital media and later on video art, sculptural installation, and performance. Above all, she showed a great spirit in painting and enthusiasm in performance/live art. She has done more than 20 solos, 50 group exhibitions, and residencies in the local and international arena which marked her as a successful multidisciplinary artist among the contemporaries of Bangladesh. Though the lenses of critical theories and examination, her work may not fully conquer the battle, but in the social aspects of a woman and being an artist in Bangladeshi conservative society, and her remarkable visibility than others, wins every heart! 

Most of her created paintings dwelled between figurative and abstraction, starting from her first painting series ‘Senses’ and following ‘Paint and Pixel’, ‘Mysterious strokes’, ‘Labyrinth of Abstraction’ to the ‘Staring Women’.  I think her abstraction also leads her in the later figurative journey especially ‘Objectified’, ‘Castle in the Sky’ and ‘Staring Women’ series. Her canvases of abstract and figuration are contemplative and distressed respectively, which stand as a referent of both a pleasure and a challenge for us.  

As a critic, we face one of the greatest problems and greatest pleasures of abstract painting are -color. Color exists as an unbroken continuum, but the language that directs our perception breaks this continuum down into distinct areas that are selective hues. In Preema’s canvases, we see predominantly Red, Blue, Yellow, Green and Black and that all are dear to child psychology or pure curiosity. After scrutinizing her works more closely from past to the recent one, I feel Andalib's painting does not begin from color but from the spiritual and the creative, from the Form - Form that is outlined! This outline could be the society, the people, the relations which inspires her, indulge her, dilute her or hinder her progressive thoughts. Her journey through a surface and colors subconsciously search for ‘Forms of her experiences’ and that’s the point where her figuration invades the abstraction.  She feels an urge to reflex the positive and negative gestures of herself and society in her canvases. Where she also admits, “I frequently come back to abstraction, this fuels my whole journey in every aspect.”

On the other hand, her preconceived figurative works 'Knitting the Veil', 'Under the veil' and ‘Staring Women’ touched the contexts of women in our patriarchal society which she denotes as epoch of “urban fundamentalism”. Especially ‘Staring Women’ she portrayed women whose views and voices are suppressed or banned to show their physical entity through veils. Her figures/faces of women presented in monumental form - black veiled figures, shy yet elegant portraits, strikingly black outlined, expressive bold eyes filled with potentiality. Again, in her ‘Castle in the Sky’ series, we see completely opposite with expressive figures. Here her canvas is filled with gestural drawings of sensual body parts or full explicit figures (mostly women) presented with an erotic gaze. I believe both of the series have questions for society on women’s liberation, empowerment, and freedom.  

Preema’s other achievement lies in her performance and video works, which she started 10 years back to adapt contemporaneity in her artistic language. Her earlier work was more performative and staged, day by day she developed it with challenging ideas reflexing social identities, body, sexuality, experiences and other contemporary social peripheries. ‘Marry My Egg’, in Art Basel 2014; ‘Identity’, in Dhaka Art Summit, 2016 could be a good example of unleashing her negative reflexes with positive synergy and discourse. Her performances are natural and communicable with multiple artistic discourses. Her recent works ‘Ico-Lation’  
Performance & Video installation in Asian Art Biennale 2014, ‘Intimacy Conflict’ in Fukuoka, Japan 2016; ‘Checking Identity and Cause of Performance’ in train from Budapest to Bratislava 2018; ‘Movement with Rhythmic Air’ in Krakow Poland 2018 and ‘Body Drawing’ in Prague National Museum TAC 2018 – are more mature and commendable, as here she wants to challenge her identity, body, and space provoking audiences with their aesthetic judgments. 

Through performance or new media art Andalib “also explore the new possibility to reach to the next level challenging own limits”. In her real life, truly her foot seeks to cross borders of body, time and places. For art, work and self-exploration she has already traveled more than 70 countries. Interestingly, we can see this reflection of independent nature in her installation entitled ‘Wish I could Go Anywhere’ with self-worn shoes/stilettos, and a collage painting 'Cosmopolitan Women' both presents her international presence, her desire and critical views on women identity and freedom in contemporary society. 

It seems, Preema shows a special interest in adapting multiple styles in painting and also investigating diverse mediums of expressions. This is the admirable thing in her art practice, that she is ready to learn any time and every possible language of communications that gives her the freedom to reach the next level. But at the core of everything if we hear her words- “when it’s veiled then it is fundamental when it’s figurative then it is sexual, when it’s abstract then it is universal.”, we can imagine her all artworks have a question toward social representation of women, a desire of their freedom and contemplating for a path to be unique/leadership. However, we can say, Preema’s practice in art is to connect the dots in her professional and personal life. she practices art "to see what this whole existence is for." This spirit paved her way as a liberated woman in a male-dominated society and this journey gives her freedom of voice and solitude in life. 

-    Kehkasha Sabah, Independent Art Curator


Disclaimer: This writing is based on Artist’s personal interview with writer. Artist’s all quotes are collected from interview sessions with her consent.  


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