Zainul Abedin was a painter and a political activist involved in the development and advocacy of fine arts in his country from the end of the British colonial era through the tumultuous decades of Bangladesh’s infancy. He is also considered by many to be the most foundational figure in Modern Bangladeshi art. His best-known works are his sketches in Chinese ink on simple packing paper portraying the horrors of the great Bengal famine of 1943—a catastrophe that killed at least 3 million people, due in large part to British food diversion and hoarding. Still, his work transcends the strictly political, attaining a broader humanism that is timeless and cross-cultural.
He was Born in Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, on 29 December 1914. He was admitted to the Government School of Art in Kolkata in 1933 and graduated with a first class degree in 1938. After graduation he joined the same institution as a teacher.
The Great Famine of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin
In 1943 the Great Bengal Famine killed about three million people. Zainul Abedin Was touched by the devastation of the Famine which was caused by the colonial policies and other reasons during the World War II and drew a series of sketches depicting the misery.
Though Zainul had little material help to offer to the starving, helpless people, he paid his greatest tribute to the famine victims through his famous famine sketches. He drew the sketches on cheap, brown packing paper with Chinese ink and a flat brush used of oil painting.
This was Zainul’s way of showing the world what the starving and dying Bengal people were going through.
In 1970, he organized the nabanna festival at the Shilpakala Academy. He drew a 65-feet long and 6 feet wide scroll called nabanna (in Chinese ink, watercolor and wax), in celebration of the mass movement of 1969, in which he depicted the story of rural Bangladesh in phases.
Illustrating the constitution
Soon after the liberation of Bangladesh, Zainul was invited by the Government to illustrate the Constitution of Bangladesh which he did along with three other artists. They used folk art and designs form nakshi kantha, the famous embroidered quilts made by rural women of Bangladesh.
In 1975, a year before his death, Zainul Abedin set up the Folk Art Museum at Sonargaon and the Shilpacharya Zainul Sangrahashala, a gallery of his own works in Mymensingh. The Folk Art Museum was set up to preserve the rich but dying folk art of Bangladesh.
One of the characteristics of Zainul Adbedin’s paintings is the black line. He has made use of the line in many of his sketches including the Famine Sketches. He has painted in a wide variety of styles.
After his return from Slade School of Art, he began to draw in a new Bengali style where folk forms with their geometric, sometimes semi-abstract representations, the use of primary colors and lack of perspective were prominent features. Some of his well-known paintings are Dumka (watercolor 1951), sandals: Return (watercolor 1951), The rebel Crow (watercolor 1951). Two Women (gouache 1953), Painna’s Mother (gouache 1953) and Face (oil painting 1971).
His last days
Zainul Abedin died of cancer on 28 May 1976. He drew his last painting, Two Faces, while he was lying sick at the PG Hospital just before he died.
He was buried in the campus of Dhaka University, beside the Dhaka University mosque, with access from the Institute of fine Arts which he had founded.
Quamrul Hassan (Bengali: কামরুল হাসান, 1921–1988) was a Bengali artist. Hassan was born in Kolkata, India. In Kolkata, where his father, Muhammad Hashim, was superintendent of a local Graveyard. His paternal residence was in Narenga village in the Burdwan district of West Bengal. Quamrul Hassan studied at Calcutta Model ME School, Calcutta Madrasa and later in the Government Institute of Arts, also in Kolkata. He graduated in Fine Arts in 1947.
In Bangladesh, Hassan’s fame as an artist is perhaps only second to that of Zainul Abedin. Hassan is often referred to in Bangladesh as Potua, a word usually associated with folk artists, due to his down to earth style yet very modern in nature as he always added Cubism other than the folk style to his artworks. In addition to his artistic legacy, two of Hassan’s work have come to be part of Bangladesh’s political history. The first of this is a monstrous rendition of Yahiya Khan, the Pakistani president who ordered genocide in Bangladesh. The second was just before his death, mocking the then dictator of Bangladesh, Hossain Mohammad Ershad. This sketch was titled Desh aaj bisshobeheyar khoppre (Our land is now in the hand of the champion of shamelessness).
After partition of India, Quamrul Hassan came to dhaka which was then the capital of the eastern part of the newly founded Pakistan and, in collaboration with Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, established the Government Institute of Fine Arts (at present, the Institute of Fine Arts) in 1948. He taught at the same institute till 1960. In 1950, Quamrul Hassan organised the Art Group in Dhaka.
The East Pakistan Small and Cottage Industries Corporation was established under the leadership of Quamrul Hassan in 1960, and he worked there as Director of the Design Centre till his retirement in 1978. After his retirement, Hassan worked as a free-lance artist.
Quamrul Hassan was a constant painter. Even in the midst of company, he would keep on doodling or sketching. While presiding over a session of the Second National Poetry Festival held on the Dhaka University campus on 2 February 1988, he drew a sketch of a snake, satirizing Lieutenant General hussain muhammad ershad, the army general who had become president of Bangladesh through a coup. Hassan had barely completed the sketch when he suffered a massive heart attack.
Getting inspired from Zainul Abedin, Jamini Roy, Quamrul Hassan chose to give the folk art tradition a breath of life by incorporating modern ideas in it. He always borrowed the two-dimensionality of pata paintings of fork art in his work, he also attempted to give the quality of three-dimensionality in it. Instead of using mixed colors, in most of his paintings he used primary colors like pata painters. Sometimes, like folk artists, he applied flat colors without creating tonal variations. However, he has attempted to create color perspective by using various colors in one plane, so that a sense of height, distance can be created in the image. This technique was inspired from Henri Matisse. Patriotism was born in him due to his involvement in folk art. Some of his notable works are: Goon Tana, The Happy Return, Biral, Nabanna, Gorur Snan etc. All of these paintings highlight the lives of lower-class people which has been the topmost priority of his paintings.
- President’s Gold Medal (1965)
- Independence Day Award (1979)
- Bangladesh Charu Shilpi Sangsad Honour (1984)
- Fellow of Bangla Academy (1985)
Hassan died on 2 February 1988 after suffering a massive heart attack while attending the National Poetry Festival. He was buried beside the central mosque of the University of Dhaka.
Novera Ahmed (May 29, 1939 – May 5, 2015) was a modern sculptor of Bangladesh. She was awarded Ekushey Padak by the Government of Bangladesh in 1997. She is credited with the original design of the Shaheed Minar, a historical memorial monument for the martyrs of the language movement of 1952.
Ahmed jointly worked with Hamidur Rahman on the original design of the Shaheed Minar, Dhaka. During 1956-1960, she had done about 100 sculptures in Dhaka. Out of her 100 sculptures, 33 sculptures are currently in Bangladesh National Museum. Ahmed’s first exhibition was held in University of Dhaka in 1960. Another exhibition of her works was held in Lahore in 1961. Her last exhibition was also held in Paris in July 1973.
This modernist stalwart breathed her last on May 5, 2015. She was buried in the city of Val-d’Oise in France. She was much attached to her adopted domicile in the last days of her life. From 1984 through 2015 her partner in wedlock has been Gregoire de Brouhns. Novera Ahmed embodies the angst of her time. She isolated herself from the general trends of thought. This isolation vested her with a unique personality, turning her into a reclusive loner. She lived the silence in her art, the silence that gave her the freedom that she so cherished. This need for isolation cannot be separated from the idea of modernism, definitely not in the case of Novera and the history of her art speaks of that. We will look at history and think she is there, in a different land. In Bangladesh there have not been sculptors of her calibre preceding her and one comparable is still rare to find. In this life we have simply made gestures towards her work; the rest will be done by the grand beyond and for that we depend on the ever after. hopefully true vindication will be served in the ‘elsewhere’.