greatest Bangalis of the last thousand years by Bikash.
portrait paintings is a hedge against oblivion. Having one's
portrait done by a reputed artist seemed like sure shot at
immortality for the rich in olden times. It also was a thing
of pride. History of both Western and Eastern art is replete
with evidence of such pride-fuelling, age-defying acts. However,
it all changed at the onset of modernism. When Picasso wielded
his brush to put his severely subjective version of portraits
on canvases in the beginning of the last century, this sense
of historicity took a beating. And on top of that, having
one's portrait painted by an artist was no longer the prerogative
of the rich. The modern painters started painting the portraits
of common people, even sex workers, and this has changed things
one century later, in Bangladesh, portraiture seems like a
genre practised only when commissioned. Most portraits nowadays
are done to appease their patrons. As such, portraiture as
a genre has never been given the status of a full-blown art
form. It is with this view in mind that Gallery Shilparag
at Dhanmondi arranged for an exhibition where 18 artists showed
their ability to produce a good likeness of their chosen personalities.
Ali Mamun by Saiful
Ahmed by Taufique
wanted to have a show of the major portrait painters of Bangladesh.
And we also wanted the artists to have painted the portraits
of internationally famous people," reveals MB Huda, the
proprietor of Shilparag. But things went a different way.
The exhibition that the gallery planned was scheduled to take
place six months ago. "The devastating floods and the
grenade attack on Awami League's rally forced us to keep postponing
the inaugural date," says Huda. During this time, he
and his associate Mahmudul Hasan kept changing their plans,
and in the end, it turned out to be a huge task.
a sense that getting art works from eighteen artists was something
of a managerial nightmare. However, in the end the result
was stimulating, if not mind-blowing. Most of the portraits
are of recent yields. Even Monirul Islam, the eminent expatriate
artist produced a portrait of his domestic help which he completed
with this exhibition in mind. Although the gallery, at first,
asked for portraits of eminent personalities, in the end self-portraits
and even experimental portraits were submitted, which added
to the diversity of the show.
midst of all the paintings one gradually realises that, here
in Bangladesh, the genre is practised with a strong zeal only
by a handful. It was Sheikh Afzal who used to reign over the
artdom during the eighties. Although, Shishir Bhattacharjee
did only a few, his portraiture had a character of their own,
which tended to scour the soul of the subject and lay it on
the configuration of the face. As a realist, Afzal still retains
the acumen he was famous for. In this exhibition his handling
of Kamrul Hasan's portrait reveals his ability to capture
the essence of a personality.
times, Shahjahan Ahmed Bikash made his reputation with commissioned
works. The dexterity with which he tackles his subject is
something to be reckoned with. His BBC 2004 is a homage to
all those who made it to the top of the list of the BBC poll
for the greatest Bangalis of the last thousand years. The
painting is the biggest canvas on display.
finesse, SM Saiful Islam had shown an extraordinary knack
for details. Especially in his portrait of Nasir Ali Mamun,
he comes off as something of a super-realist.
if capturing the personality with empathy is considered a
sign of a good portraiture, one must refer to a very old piece
by Shishir Bhattacharjee. His water colour entry dates back
to 1980, when he was still a student of the Fine Arts Institute.
Another such portrait of an early date is by Nisar Hossain.
It's an expressionistic rendition carried out during his studies.
realist approach that is practised in the art academies has
been handed down to a newer generation of artists. In works
by Shafin Omar and Abdus Sattar Taufique, personalities such
as Humayun Azad and Shafiuddin Ahmed come alive.
the senior artists, Jamal Ahmed, Alakesh Ghosh and Abdul Mannan
brought in their stylistic ardour to their portraitures. Ahmed,
in fact, does not veer from his paintings that usually use
the faces of subaltern men and women. Mannan, however, remained
faithful to the photographs he used as his source.
Bhashani by Mannan
of a boy by Shishir
experimentally prone works come from the older generation
artists. Rafiqun Nabi and Qayyum Chowdhury simply come up
with their self-portraits and Samarjit Roy has just toyed
with some female faces that look more like exercises in a
rather sketchy style. Hamiduzzaman Khan's "Lalon"
is an experiment in expressiveness, a reminder of the early
interesting set of portraitures comes from Nasim Ahmed Nadvi.
His water colour-like treatment on canvas lends his works
an altogether different characteristic. With MF Hussain he
is at his best. His works are like examples of portraitures
being a complete form of artistic expression.
the response the exhibition has generated, the gallery has
decided on a plan to repeat this show each year. "We
have the intention to have a portrait show each year in consort
with the other yearly shows like the one on landscape,"
says Huda, whose smallish gallery is out to create this curatorial
practice of doing shows centred on particular subjects.
titled "Portrait" took off on October 1 and will
continue for the next two weeks.
Hasan by Afzal
Azad by Shafin
(R) thedailystar.net 2004