Artist finds strength, hope and inspiration from attack victims
In conjunction with the 2013 Georgia Regents University Women’s Studies Symposium “Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Voices: Health and Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century,” the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art will be showing works of art by Mahera Khaleque in its Creel-Harison Community Art Gallery beginning March 1.
Khaleque, native of Bangladesh, began her formal education in art at the Institute of Fine Arts, Dhaka University, in Bangladesh in 1989, where she received an associate’s degree in fine arts in 1994 before moving to the United States in 1995. If it seems like four years is a long time to get a two-year degree, Khaleque has a valid reason for that.
“You’ll see that I went there in ‘89,” explains Khaleque, “but it took me a long time to get a two-year degree associate degree because I went to university in a time when Bangladesh was going through a very politically unstable time. There was a dictator and people wanted to get rid of him, so there was a big revolution. Because of that, the university had to be closed from time-to-time.”
After coming to the States, Khaleque received a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from York College of Pennsylvania and two master’s of fine arts degrees from Purdue University; one in painting and one in visual communications. It was while at Purdue that she was inspired to create the works that will be exhibited at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. The works featured in the exhibition focus on the issue of gender violence and are specifically inspired by survivors of the acid attacks perpetrated against women in Asia and the Middle East.
“Truly, I started thinking about this issue in 1999 when I went to Purdue University for my first graduate studies — MA in painting,” says Khaleque. “I was pretty lost at the time. I didn’t know what to do during the first semester, going from very traditional, realistic training to abstraction. One day my professor comes to me with a newspaper, it was the New York Times from the day before, and he asked me, ‘Did you see this piece of news, an acid attack on women in Bangladesh?’”
Khaleque had not seen the article but she was aware of the issue.
“I kind-of know about this issue,” she says, “because when I was home it happened and I read it in the papers there… I thought to myself that when I was at home I never thought about these things and in that way it really affected me. I started researching and when I went home after the semester I met with some of the acid attack survivors in the burn unit, I went to women’s rights organizations where more experienced acid survivors counseled newcomers, teaching them about their own life experiences and telling them stories about how to survive.”
“I felt really connected… and while it is a sad story, I also saw a lot of strength and hope in the survivors. It was at that point that I thought maybe I could use this body of work to create awareness, but also to somehow connect my art to myself.”
In addition to spreading awareness through her painting, in 2011 Khaleque contributed a book chapter called “Acid Attacks in Bangladesh” to Crimes Against Women (Nova Publishers). Her artwork has been seen in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Bangladesh and Iran. Mahera Khaleque: Restoration
Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art’s Creel-Harison Community Art Gallery
March 1-April 25 | Free
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