Romancing the Blade

Roza Tekla Szilagyi
Oct 30, 2013 9:57AM

In Tayeba Begum Lipi’s first solo show in Turkey, the Bangladeshi artist presents works that exemplify her very literally cutting-edge artistic practice. Running from 1 November – 30 December 2013, Never Been Intimate will be on show at Pi Artworks, Istanbul.

Overlapping panels of shiny silvery metal take shape as everyday items, encompassing a bath tub, baby pram, picture frame, woman’s handbag and even a bra in what at first appears to be a smooth, tantalising and luxurious surface – as if each item were encased in its very own suit of expensive armour. Closer inspection, however, exposes a deadly beauty as each metal panel reveals itself to be a razor blade, the light reflecting off its honed edges. Meanwhile, as the eye focuses on a bikini seemingly comprised of soft gold mesh, one finds that it is instead made up of a matrix of tightly woven safety pins, the points of each mercifully encased in the catch.


With titles such as The Stolen Dream and Trapped, Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s works belie in turns an air of sadness and danger, turning regular everyday objects into items with an unearthly beauty that manages to encase deep emotion within a seemingly cold material. “Over the past two years I have been working with objects that I feel to be really intimate, yet are not intimate to me,” explains the artist. “There is a distance between me and the object, yet at the same time, I feel close to them.” Let’s Take a Break, a bathtub made of razorblades,exemplifies one such desire – how often do we promise ourselves we will take a break, maybe soak in the bath and then never manage to do so? Similarly, Comfy Bikinis, made of safety pins is rendered sterile, no longer a sensuous item of clothing.


The artist’s use of the razor blade dates back from her childhood. One of 12 siblings, the young Lipi was surrounded by the expanding families of her older brothers and sisters. A local midwife would attend to the impending arrival of each new addition to the family, and Lipi recalls how each was accompanied by the purchase of a brand new razor blade, which would then be sterilised in boiling water. “This image has stayed with me,” she says, “I was rather scared of the whole thing.” It was later, as an adult at a residency in Pakistan that she stumbled upon black razor blades at the local market. Intrigued by the idea of combining black and ‘white’ (blades), she debuted her work Edge. “What struck me was that everybody wanted to touch the work,” she says. “These were real razor blades, they were incredibly sharp, yet there was something tempting about the work and its shininess. I found a strong connection with this element.” Safety pins soon followed, partially inspired by the fact that they, like other sharp items, can be used as self defence items for women – keys, sharp pens, pins – these are all small items that women may carry with them or clutch in their hands. “The one thing that always comes to mind when I think of that is the idea that women are carrying these sharp objects and saying ‘OK, touch me, and you are going to hurt,” she smiles.


It was at the suggestion of her husband, fellow artist and long-time collaborator Mahbubur Rahman that she began fabricating her own razor blades, allowing her to work with different sizes and bend and manipulate each blade as required. The result was The Bizarre and the Beautiful, as part of the Bangladesh Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. Since then, razor works have encompassed items that represent Lipi’s desires (bath tubs, bikinis), social observations (women’s handbags and their social status) and personal stories (children and family). “The handbag in particular is new,” she explains, “as it is such a personal item for a women, not even my husband knows what’s inside my handbag! And yet there is a craze for women to have extremely expensive handbags, so I thought, OK, there’s something witty and fun I can play with here.”


The exhibition at Pi Artworks will showcase a selection of Lipi’s new works, from 2012 and 2013, and with their evocative titles, including The Nighty, Touch Me and Personal Entity, are both alluring and deadly, angry yet sad, drawing in yet pushing away. They are a testament to Lipi’s extremely personal stories and observations, and yet, in their cold, white beauty, hold a tenderness that one could never hope to hold.

Roza Tekla Szilagyi