Firoz Mahmud paints on canvases in the same manner that people living in southern rural Bangladesh meticulously render their mud huts from clay and cow dung – he then adds a stencil process to depict his history with oil colours
A dynamic artist, Firoz Mahmud, builds a strong connection between the history of Bangladesh and art admirers through his artistic vision. In his work, the New-York-based Bangladeshi artist represents history, the past and historical narratives.
For the last few months, Mahmud has had exhibitions in many cities and countries. Most of his recent exhibitions included painting, mixed media on paper, and performative sculpture in photo media. In New York, he has been exhibiting 20 mixed media paintings on paper.
The mixed media work on paper incorporates his quondam roots as storytelling and artistic devices, and most of his work has predominantly contour-based narrativity, using varied techniques and materials.
In his paper work, he uses idioms of backstories—such as: a historical palace, a mansion, a spice tree or herbaceous plant, a tiger or tiger's skeleton, an owl and symbolic shapes of owls, blessings of a fairy, citizens, the colonial trade and more.
With his signature style, Mahmud revives links of the Bengal region during the Mughal period, the British Raj era, the 1905 Partition of Bengal, East Pakistan era and connection of an independent Bangladesh. All are 25x35 inches and created on unevenly-edged homemade paper.
On installing artwork, Mahmud said, "Depending on the venue and concept, I – along with the exhibition's curator – decide on which artwork to exhibit, and then I make the installations. I have mostly created large-scale installation art for art museums and biennales."
As Mahmud is based in New York, his artwork – especially his large-scale installations – convey thoughts of diasporic and indigenous influence, and he enjoys expressing himself to the western world.
He shared, "I have been gradually developing the idea of focusing on diaspora art – or being a Bangladeshi artist based in the US – who has been creating artwork on indigenous motifs, as well as legacy and regional concepts of Bengal."
Western art entrepreneurs love different approaches to art than what they have, Americans and Europeans like differences and their proclivity is to search for new things.
Mahmud has been creating layapa stencil paintings on uneven canvases. Layapa is a Bengali term, which means rendering. Therefore, his layapa stencil paintings are generally large in size for their convenience of methods and techniques, and each painting has an uneven shape on one edge.
About his process, he said, "I paint on canvases in the same manner as the people living in southern rural Bangladesh meticulously render their mud huts from clay and cow dung. However, I use the stencil process to depict my history with oil colours. I stick adhesive tape on the canvas to cut the stencil according to the layout. After peeling them off, I apply layers of thick oil colour just like the clay mixture is plastered on the mud walls."
He coined the term "Layapa Art" or "Layapa stencil painting" during his research programme at the Rijksakademie in the Netherlands, and continued it in Japan, where he gathered ideas on Japanese woodblock printing.
The inspiration to install history, myth and narratives in his artwork comes from his childhood, educational background and passion for reading books. "My grandfather was a headmaster, a historian and a social reformer. My father was also in the teaching profession – although he later became a lawyer. Both of them used to tell the story and history of Bengal, legacies and mythology of our region and the subcontinent."
His family always encouraged him. Since the age of four, he started to scribble on his father's important documents. His childhood inspired him in shaping his career.
He said, "When I was at school, I would spend a lot of time at the Khulna Art College to learn from the seniors there. These were pivotal moments of my life during which I decided to become an artist."
For Mahmud, the theoretical and conceptual practice is very important in contemporary art, and of course, skill and effort help in accelerating one's career.
He advises young artists, "Maintaining sketchbooks and drawing layouts are always helpful in creating a noble piece of artwork. If a plan is made visually – and in advance – there are many chances to change and repeal your works in progress."
He believes the language of Bangladeshi art will soon change through identity, history and legacy.