By all accounts, the pioneer of the modern art movement in Bangladesh. In 1943, he produced a series of sketches on the famine that had affected much of Bengal the same year. This series became popularly known as the famine sketches and brought him to prominence in the Indian sub-continent. After the partition, Zainul played a leading role in setting up a government art college in Dhaka which would later become the Institute of Fine Arts. In his involvement with the then newly founded art college, Zainul was an inspirational figure and mentor to many art students who would later emerge as prominent artists of Bangladesh. Zainul’s work reflects his preference for realism and predilection for folk forms and primary colours.
Selected Artists of Bangladesh
In his formative years, Safiuddin Ahmed was exposed to the realist style as well as the style of the Bengal school. In the early 1940’s, Safiuddin made a series of woodcuts based on his frequent visits with the santal community. This series became popularly known as the Dumka series. Safiuddin relocated from Calcutta to Dhaka during the partition and was a member of the group which helped establish the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka. In the period that followed, Safiuddin began using elements of folk tradition, blending bold colours with traditional design elements in his depiction of rural landscapes. In the late 1950’s Safiuddin further developed his printmaking technique in London. This resulted in many modern techniques finding their way into his work as evident in the copper etchings of the floods that gripped the country at that time. In the 1960’s, Safiuddin worked in a semi-abstract style employing geometrical shapes and traditional patterns.
Mohammad Kibria is generally considered to be the father of modern abstract art in Bangladesh. The artist’s early works were largely influenced by the Neo-Bengal school, but Kibria’s interest soon shifted to expressionism and post-impressionism. Kibria spent several years in Japan between 1959 and 1962. There, he was exposed to museums where he could study the art of modern masters first hand. The Japanese lifestyle and aesthetics left an indelible mark on Kibria's life and was pivotal in the artist’s transition from a representational style to an nonrepresentational abstract one. According to KIbria, there is no success or failure for an artist; art is simply about expressing one’s inner feelings.
Monir attempts to record his mental impressions in visual and tactile imagery, making his compositions both lyrical and resonant. The fluid lines, spontaneous colours and dancing shapes all contribute to create a kaleidoscopic field of vision. Monir’s basic composition maintains a subsuming spatial arrangement. He puts images in abstracted contours, familiar objects blend into the background. He often garnishes his work with calligraphic jottings from Bangla script.
During his time at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Shakoor came in contact with the Revivalist Group which sought to restore the indigenous traditions and ethnic art. Shakoor mixed figures with symmetrical semi-abstract forms for dramatic effect. Later Shakoor began to depict scenes from Bengali folk literature and incorporated calligraphy into his work.
Eunus’s style has undergone many changes over the years--from academic and figurative to nonrepresentational abstract. His cityscapes are sensitive and haunting portrayals of a decaying time and their geometric and staggered composition make them poignant. In his composition, Eunus subtly explores depth of field to suggest density and fullness. Traces of human figures, natural objects and familiar forms cluster in that field. He maintains a fine balance in his compositions between smooth paint areas and delicately textured surface.
Sheikh Afzal is one of the foremost portrait painters of Bangladesh. Afzal once worked with semi-abstract forms and bright colours but later turned towards realism. Some of Afzals works portray children engaged in work meant for adults in bleak surroundings. While in his portrayal of adults, one finds a lonely figure engaged in quiet contemplation.
Hossain’s work is primarily driven by the expression of human emotion. His figures are stylistic rather than realistic. The intermingling of forms, where one figure dissolves into another expresses the dependence we have on one another for basic emotional needs. The same idea is expressed in his compositions with solo figures which tend to evoke a feeling of longing and loneliness.
Working in a largely expressionistic mode, with symbolic figures dominating the canvas, Mohammad Iqbal eloquently expresses the flipside of urban life. His canvases are crowded by outcasts and shadowy figures who occupy the fringes of society- mendicants, homeless migrants, fakirs and sanyashis. His works have a simple composition: figures are foregrounded by a contrasting colour scheme, while heavily textured areas distribute light and shade. His colours, dominated by red and blue, and forms of familiar everyday objects, create a tension in his work, though, in the final analysis, he emphasizes peace and tranquility.
Quamrul Hassan is widely credited with starting a modern art movement in Bangladesh from the middle of the 20th century. The artist was also deeply influenced by Picasso’s contour drawings and cubist style in the expression of the human form. He is notable for his contemporary interpretation of traditional folk forms. One of the recurring themes in Quamrul’s work is the oppression of women. Here, one finds a sense of romanticism in the expression of hardship through the use of sensual colours. Quamrul work can be found across a broad range of media types including oil, gouache, watercolour, pastel, etching, woodcut, linocut pen and pencil, He also revived the pata or scroll painting with stylized figures to create a sense of perspective.
Sultan began his formal training in art in Kolkata. However, Sultan left art school without completing a degree avnd spent several years travelling the sub-continent. After the Partition, Sultan spent several years in West Pakistan and support from the government allowed him to travel to the United States and exhibit his work there. Sultan returned to his native Narail in 1953 and lived close to the land in quiet seclusion. Sultan is best known for his depiction of everyday rural scenes. Villagers often depicted with exaggerated features with bold lines outlining both figures and objects. Sultan’s watercolours use bright colours whereas his oil paintings tend to be more drab.
A veteran artist known for his flamboyance both on and off the canvas, Baseer was one of the earliest entrants at the then newly formed Government Institute of Art (now Faculty of Fine Art) in 1949. Over the years, his creative talents have flourished in diverse art forms and modes of expression. He draws on elements of history, tradition and art, as well as the tension inherent therein. There is an individualistic dialectic in his work and sensibility. He explores forms in the abstract and brings out the abstraction inherent in the forms. Although it is inappropriate to categorise him under one trend or another, Murtaja Baseer’s works have a marked propensity for abstract realism.
Kalidas’s compositions are neatly organised, with soothing use of colours and sensory arrangement of space. There is a tactile quality in many of his works, especially those done on handmade paper, where images are sometimes embossed. Kalidas is a thinking artist who likes to transmit his feeling and passion for life to the viewer. In his later years, Kalidas experimented with different media, combining oil and gouache, or Chinese ink and tempera.
Looking at Shahabuddin's paintings, one is immediately struck by his dynamic figures, his bold and sweeping brush strokes, his celebration of speed and motion, and his sense of drama that makes his figures champions of some cuase. That cause is often Bangladesh's liberation war of 1971. Shahbuddin's early works show a closeness with nature and humanity. Over time, his depiction of figures have become more suggestive with figures dissolving into swirling brush strokes.
Nasreen Begum had her education in Dhaka and Baroda, India, where she focused on lithography, etching, woodcut and screen print. She picked up orientalist art of the kind that art institutes of the subcontinent promote, Later, Nasreen moved to other styles, but retained her preference for watercolours. Her compositions became a celebration of colour, light and simple shapes and forms she culled from nature. Her work became more suggestive and rhythmic. On the whole, though, Nasreen’s works emphasize the celebratory rather than the desultory aspect of life. She maintains that her search is for both the known and unknown in nature, which takes her to the tiniest leaf of grass as well as to the dancing waves of the sea.
From her early days, Kanak Chanpa Chakma has been experimenting with a range of styles and expressive modes--from realistic to abstract and nonrepresentational. The hills, valleys, lakes and human figures represented in her paintings belong to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where she was born and raised. Kanak saw from close quarters the dislocation and suffering of the people of the Hill Tracts which she projects in her work. This has resulted in her work becoming more realistic with time. Whether drawing-based or colour-based, her work explores cultural and psychological spaces, where time is an urgent presence.
Rafi Haque began with an accent of the self, on personal sufferings, anguish and despair. In time, he became socially committed, his private feeling pushed back by the sufferings of others. His main medium is paper lithography and his work is marked by intelligent use of line and texture. Lines are often broken, forms and hand written text are scattered along the surface, while scraps of newspaper are worked into the surface to create a collage-like effect. His subtle colours provide a soothing contrast to chaotic forms.
Rebeka Sultana completed her Masters degree in Painting from the Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. She has participated in several selective exhibitions held in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Japan. Rebeka Sultana is the Assistant Professor in the college of Textile Technology. She is a flamboyant colourist of strong impasto and flat grounds. Her motifs of faces have sarcastic feminine introversion, which she expresses in her portraits and welcoming figures of sensuality.