Art in our time
“The days of the art movement are behind us,” says noted artist Murtaja Baseer. However, the art scene in Bangladesh is often referred to as a thriving one. Although Baseer feels that art pursued as the goal of a group of artists has seen its demise, art as the expression of the individual has blossomed in the last twenty or so years. If the pre-independent era is marked by creative actions on the part of the pioneers who banded together to make a mark at the national level, the post–independent period is defined by the thrust towards the expansion of the horizon through various art practices.
Today, in the absence of group activities, where young and old have combined their might, newer idioms are being practised through individual effort. Not that the idea of artists working in groups has vanished all together; it is the spirit of pursuing a single school of thought that has taken a beating. While in the sixties the young and the aspirant modernists like Mohammad Kibria, Aminul Islam, Murtaja Baseer, Kazi Abdul Baset and many of their contemporaries set out to pursue the ‘Abstract Language’ borrowed from the West, today the younger generation artists choose to avoid such homogeneous goals. They want variations, they want newness. But, how far have they progressed in their endeavour to claim a niche of their own in the creative domain? How do they fair in the context of the rapidly changing art scene of the world? After 34 years of independence where do the artists of Bangladesh stand?
What Murtaja Baseer refers to as the art movement of their time, first made its public appearance in January 21, 1951. That was the inaugural day of the first of the two consecutive annual art exhibitions by the Dhaka Art Group, a group comprising the major artists of the country as well as the students of the Government Institute of Arts (GIA), which is now known as the Institute of Fine Arts (IFA). The show was held at the then Litton Hall, part of the Shahidullah Hall at present. “Its patron was the Prime Minister Nurul Amin himself, and the president of the Dhaka Art Group was Zainul Abedin,” says Baseer, who was then a student of elementary 1st year. The show was a combined effort by the teachers and students of the GIA. For today’s students of art academies there is no such luck of putting up a show through such collective effort where all the stalwarts of the country are active participants.
“The visitors used to swarm the exhibition. We, the students of the GIA, used to put up posters in different schools of Dhaka, and the teachers of those schools used to bring the students in groups in horse-drawn carts to the exhibition. We worked as volunteers to explain what water colour, lithograph or even oil colour meant,” recalls Baseer. At that period, when artistic activities were confined to a handful of students and teachers of the newly established GIA, the only art academy in the country till 1970, special care was needed to educate the public regarding art. GIA was established by Zainul Abedin with the help of Kamrul Hasan, Anwarul Haq and Safiuddin Ahmed in 1948. Its inception marked the beginning of the art movement that followed.
Today, the art students of the IFA can hardly imagine the need for putting up posters in the schools around
Advance-2, Shahabuddin Ahmed
Dhaka. At present, there is little activism on their part to promote art. They live in a changed situation, where the need for banding together to promote art has subsided. Today’s artists are not burdened with such duties; they can afford to invest all their energy to make art and to put up exhibitions. The movement or the organised efforts in the fifties and the sixties have certainly contributed to the situation that now exists.
“The modern art movement gained ground in the then East Pakistan, the west wing was less responsive to the influence of the West. They did not start to practice abstract art, we did,” says Baseer. Though the movement of the sixties was heavily influenced by few prominent American Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko or Cliford Still, it paved the way towards liberalisation. It is to this liberalisation that Bangladesh’s art owes much of its present accomplishments.
Monirul Islam, an artist who has been living in Spain since 1969 and who has become a
Composition by Nasima Haque Mitu, one who relentlessly trys to relate abstract principles with recognisable objects
national figure in that country, believes that “art transcends the national boundary, as colour, line and form has no national identity”. This very ethos has more or less governed the art world of Bangladesh since the beginning. However, there is this idea of regional identity or the question of producing art that carries the imprint of the socio-political reality of the country that has come to the surface from time to time. In the post-independence era, painter Shahabuddin, who has been residing in France for the last 21 years and the sculptor Rasha have provided the antidote of the purely aesthetic world of colour, line and form. These two artists, in their passion for depicting the legacy of the War of Independence, brought a nationalistic fervour to their art. Read the rest of this entry »