Artist Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, Mona Lisa, has amazed art aficionados for decades. The missing details of whom he had portrayed in the frame is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of all times. In his first solo in the Capital, Bangladeshi artist and photographer Manir Mrittik adds a new set of questions to the famous painting in his series ‘Alternative Masterpieces’, as he places himself in the protagonist’s shoes and captures his self-portrait in her place, bringing the piece together by cutting the photographs into horizontal and vertical strips and weaving it together, like the patterns of an Indian chatai (mat).
He captures himself again in Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s famous oil painting Girl with a Pearl Earring, his face replacing that of the girl sporting a blue headscarf and pearl earrings, while the artist’s famed black-and-white Frida Kahlo portrait has Mrittik’s face juxtaposed with Kahlo’s body.
“Leonardo’s painting is a portrait of a woman but many claim that it is a self-portrait. I try to put these questions forward by placing myself inside these paintings so that it gets another dimension,” he says. Thus, Mrittik’s exhibition “In the Realm of Ambivalence”, at Delhi’s Akar Prakar gallery, raises questions around gender by weaving the past and present together.
He lends a new dimension to photography as well, beyond what meets the eye, hoping to show the invisible, like the infrared and ultraviolet rays, through his photographs. After being intrigued by Dutch painter Van Gogh’s yellow sunflower paintings, Mrittik says he started farming for an entire harvesting season of the flower and witnessed it mushroom from a seed to a flower on a piece of land in Narayanganj near Dhaka. This became his inspiration for another series, ‘The sunflower is also mine in a way’, where the 43-year-old captures himself seated on a chair and surrounded by the beauty of these flowers. He says, “I am trying to find similarities between the earlier time and the contemporary time, between my life and his life in the social context.” He weaves the still-life portrait of Van Gogh’s sunflowers like a mat again by cutting them into strips.
The series ‘Natural Vessels’ brings out the artist’s attempt at comparing the body to nature and as its mere extension, with him capturing a farm plot near his house in Dhaka, replete with coconut and almond trees. He photographed it every week for four years, capturing how the land has changed over time. Most of these photographs have been painted over with gold leaf.
Mrittik says, “I am using the camera as a medium. Photography for me is like a quick drawing in a short span of time. My photographs are not the usual plain photographs and are not two-dimensional. They have another dimension. It is simply not based on technology but involves physical involvement.”