EAST LANSING, Mich. — It’s most intuitive to equate activism with a kind of direct action: collecting signatures, participating in a public protest, sending sharply worded letters, community organizing. The Artist as Activist: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, not only showcases the work of two extraordinary artists but also stretches the definition of activism in the context of an art practice.
Lipi and Rahman are husband and wife, and the exhibition features areas dedicated to their individual works as well as a section on their collaborative art-making. Lipi’s solo portion consists of a set of three chambers, each receding into a more closed-off and private sector of the Broad’s odd interior architecture. The antechamber features elements of a bedroom/bathroom environment, all painstakingly rendered in thousands of shiny chrome safety razor blades. The objects are unquestionably domestic: sewing machine, bathtub, dressing table, a pillow that shows the imprint where a head might lie. The fact that they’re wrought from a material that’s both common and physically harmful greatly complicates their semiotics — they are at once familiar, even alluring, yet dangerous.