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     Volume 4 Issue 13 | September 17, 2004 |

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Shomomon Shohojon

A New Beginning for Art in Southern Bangladesh


The Kadam, Koroi and Debdaru trees lining the Munsi Meherullah Road in Jessore town seem to huddle together in the rain. Most of the stores are closed for the weekend. Just a few "photocopy and phone" shops open at the Doratana turning. Located about half a kilometre from the Doratana turning, Charupith stands in the heart of Jessore town, opposite the Women's College. Inspired by the philosophy and vision of the maestro S. M. Sultan, and under his guidance, Charupith's journey began in 1985. Through the years the art research institute has grown through the sincere efforts of the two artists Mahbub Jamal Shamim and Mokhlesur Rahman.

Charupith is establishing the first permanent art gallery in the Southern region of Bangladesh. On September 10, 2004, the gallery was inaugurated through the exhibition entitled "Shomomon Shohojon". The Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts is Charupith's companion in this endeavour--an exhibition showcasing the work of 41 artists. Featuring the work of artists from Dhaka, Khulna and Jessore, "Shomomon Shohojon" also introduces first generation maestros Zainul, Quamrul and Sultan. It also includes the work of newer, emerging artists, providing a sense of continuity in terms of style of the development of art in Bangladesh. It is the hope of the Bengal Gallery and Charupith that the exhibition will also succeed in connecting non-Dhaka audiences with the Dhaka-centric mainstream art scene.

The launching ceremony of "Shomomon Shohojon" was in the evening. The gallery premises of Charupith were all dressed up for the occasion, drawing all eyes to it. A styrofoam statuette almost five feet high sat at the entrance of the narrow street a red-headed woman, wearing a black bordered orange sari. Over her head was the legend "Shomomon Shohojon". We passed her by and walk along the earthen road--trees and vines on our left, a wall on our right. The wall was is covered with panel-painting. The artist Sohel explained: "I thought that black and white would go very well with the shadowy, half-light, half darkness of Charupith. So I used only black paint and Aica."

After the wall, the main entrance to Charupith. An open space, covered with grass and ringed with Krishnachura, Taal and Kadam trees just waiting to give us shade. However, the sun had hidden his face in the clouds for that day. There was even a lake nearby. The whole place seemed put together to present an image of nature's perfection.

The guests had started arriving from 5:30. Students of the Charupith Shishu Shikkhalaya arrived with their parents in tow, the poets and musicians of Jessore were here, a group of 15 had arrived from the Khulna Art College. Teachers, students, journalists, homemakers--we were meeting all sorts of people.

The inaugural ceremony began. Mahbub Jamal Shamim, the Principal of Charupith ascended the stage with selected guests. The Director General of the National Museum, Mahmudul Haque was the Chief Guest, the special guest was sculptor Hamiduzzaman Khan. The programme was chaired by Abdul Hasib. Also seated on the stage were Co-Chairperson of Charupith Bimalkumar Roy and the Bengal Foundation's Director, Luva N. Choudhury. The guests were welcomed with corsages of yellow marigolds. Then Shamim stood up to speak to the invited guests. He welcomed all: "What is happening here today is of great importance to us, a dream that has been in our hearts for over a decade. Today the door to fine art has been opened for the Southerners." He expressed his hope that all Jessore inhabitants would walk side by side Charupith and its dream, commencing an era of artistic inspiration and creative imagination in all spheres of life in Southern Bangladesh.

Luva N. Choudhury spoke on the Bengal Foundation's interest in bringing mainstream art out of Dhaka city and across Bangladesh. What Bengal Foundation needed to make this vision real was a companion organisation, sharing the same vision and located in the relevant areas. When Charupith approached the Foundation, a friendship was immediately formed. Artist Mokhlesur Rahman told the audience about how both he and Shamim used to dream of an institution like Charupith even when they had been students. It was in 1983 that their dream first became a reality. That year a group exhibition of 23 artists was arranged at the Jessore Public Library an exhibition inaugurated by S. M. Sultan. "Then Charupith was established in 1985, and today, after so many years, we are finally able to see the launching of our gallery. We have been able to successfully launch the gallery through "Shomomon Shohojon", largely due to the efforts of the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts." He trusted that all citizens of Jessore would be part of this wonderful effort and that art lovers throughout the country would provide their support and friendship to the institute.

The inaugural continued till 8 in the evening. It was then that the gallery and the exhibition were formally opened to viewers. The gallery comprises one large hallroom and two smaller rooms nearer to the entrance.

"Shomomon Shohojon" featured 56 paintings and sculptures of 41 artists. The paintings included watercolours, oils, prints, drawings acrylics. A mixed crop of artists participated in this exhibition--from young aspiring painters to eminent artists like Abdur Razzaque, Abdus Satter, Abdus Shakoor, Abul Barq Alvi, Aminul Islam, Hashem Khan, Shishir Bhattacharya, Tarun Ghosh, Rafiqunnabi, Qayyum Chowdhury, Mahmudul Haque, Mohammed Kibria, Mokhlesur Rahman, Monirul Islam, Samorjit Roy Chowdhury, Sheikh Afzal and Sheikh Sadi Bhuiyan along with the works of the three maestros Zainul, Quamrul and Sultan, were also featured in "Shomomon Shohojon".

Artist Rafi Haque who was present at the inaugural remarked that "Shomomon Shohojon" was a rich exhibition. Major trends and styles were well-represented and the quality of the pieces included was excellent. The inclusion of Zainul, Quamrul and Sultan pointed towards the birth of fine art in Bangladesh, while the works of Kibria, Aminul Islam and Hashem Khan spoke of a time when the East and the West were merging in terms of the language of artistic expression; cubism, impressionism, expressionism, abstraction were shouldering orientalism, trying to find their own places, trying to give birth to something new and unique. The Kibrias and the Aminul Islams were searching for their own paths which they eventually found. Of the paintings on display at "Shomomon Shohojon", especially notable is Qayyum Chowdhury's "Fishing in Floodwater", which uses pieces of actual fishnets on the canvas, turning it into a collage. All in all, "Shomomon Shohojon" can comfortably rival any similar exhibition in Dhaka.

Urmi Akond, a under-graduate student of Khulna Art College, said that "Shomomon Shohojon" was an opportunity for her, as looking at the work of artists of different generations was a learning experience in itself. Also the establishment of the gallery in Jessore was heartening; they would no longer need to search far to visit exhibitions or to hold their own.

Nahida Parvin, whose daughter was a student of the Charupith Shishu Shikkhalaya, confessed that apart from the simple pictures in the drawing books of her child, she had had no clear idea about art. "This exhibition has shown me that art is something greater and grander."

After looking over the exhibition and the gallery, it was time to refresh ourselves with tea and snacks. Lovely pithas designed in the shape of flowers, fried potatoes and sweet and hot tea.

Charupith is planning an exhibition and workshop to be run by sculptor Hamiduzzaman Khan in the near future. They are also thinking of building a "sculpture garden". Developing and researching festival accompaniments is also a dream of theirs. As the busy yet festive day ended, we all began to share in these dreams, hoping for a long and successful journey for Charupith.



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