A Garden Where the House Was

Soumik Nandy Majumdar



Mahjabin Imam Majumdar’s recent works in this show titled ‘The Missing Tales’ evoke an inescapable sense of loss and pain. Ironically, it is this same set of paintings and drawings that also stir up the most enchanting images of life and paradise, both sharing the same space and the same memory. With deftly encrypted allusions to place, people and faith, Mahjabin’s works revolve around cultural and political predicaments.

 She creates intimate images of personal encounters; her images reflect the poised moments empowered with the vision to construct and dismantle, to whisper and scream, to ponder and forget, to smile and worry. The pictorial language too is endowed with the facility to stimulate our senses, as it were, with the subtle aroma of cinnamon and saffron along with the fetidness of the persistent smell of gunpowder. The representational idiom Mahjabin works with is all embracing, sensuous, textual and emphatic. The communication functions at several layers, circumventing the hackneyed rhetoric while un-layering the piles of drudgery and hopelessness resulting from incessant suffering.




 Ajmal Khan writes –

‘My name is Parveena Ahangar
and many mothers like her

I have many other names whose names
I don't know; they are known as the ‘disappeared’


Kashmir – as a place, as a site, as a synonym for ceaseless violence – surfaces like a drenched flower in these works. Illuminated by fragrant light and soaked in blood, the name Kashmir is never pronounced literally in these works but assumes a poetic visibility through the array of subliminal images, painted or photographed, drawn or inscribed. The place and its people emerge in these visuals not merely as a geographical reference but as multitude voices, as a collective anguish, as a desperate attempt at embracing as much as possible, across time and space. Specificity of reference melts into whispering yet stern voices.




This is how exactly Mahjabin transcends the referential trapping and moves on to a visual dialogue where the names become nameless only to take rebirth in multiple identities. The faces, as poignant as blooming flowers, seem to have taken shelter in the only elements they are left with – fear and faith. The former casts long shadows of apprehension where as the latter provides the anthem of love and a sense of being.

The moving images of faces – of women particularly – stare at us whose hands cannot be washed off the guilt. The engaging images of the women and their innermost dwellings magically evoke a vacant and chilling presence.

We feel shamed.

We find it difficult to escape from what Jelaluddin Rumi wrote in 13th century –

‘Your face is a garden that comes up where the house was.

With our hands we tear down houses and make bare places.’




Faces of women are often seen in the mesh of the architectural shadows. They are often seen with more than one pair of eyes. They are not alone any more. Each one of them carries the memories of several others.

Loneliness is felt casting a haunting shadow on the elderly man who appears in some of the images. The elderly man etches himself in the pages of the Holy book where verses float across like fleeting clouds brocaded with shimmering lights.

Mahjabin eschews any idea of divine apparition and reconstructs the images at another register conceived as palimpsests of reminders. These palimpsests contain marks, stains, burns and touches of faith. Faith, in the way she evokes here, is not a doctrine; it is like the first ray of the sun in the dawn.

She makes it descend ‘by the stars’. 




Each voice adding one more name. Each image adding one more musing.

Unmistakably, the artist is on a voyage of empowerment.  She finds herself immersed in the concerns she chooses to address as she rises up from the ashes like a phoenix as well. Mahjabin’s impeccable sense of visual detailing juxtaposed with abrupt silences in the space suggests that she is not transfixing a singular idea. She is recalling the missing tales no matter what.

‘..yet they rise,
like always they will part with their names
again –
and grow irises, tulips, daffodils,
and wild belladonna, yes that too
on beloved graves –
beatifying the dead,
on the day of the saints they will make a fire,
cook a feast, serve and fast
and send blessings to the living..’


Ather Zia, a notable poet from Kashmir writes the above lines as her fingers tremble to reach ‘the innermost slums of our hearts by a waiting Jehlum’.