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     Volume 8 Issue 59 | February 27, 2009 |

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A Glimpse of Zainul's Early Works

Fayza Haq
Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin

Chitrak's latest exhibition of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's early works is something that is being showcased (until February 28) for the first time. This is the personal collection of Dawood Farhan, who takes pride in tracing his family back to the 1857 Mutiny against the East India Company.

When his parents and other members of his family migrated in 1948 from India they brought a number of these paintings, along with works of European artists. Many of the paintings, which had been hidden away to avoid the notice of the invading Pak army, were eaten by white ants, when forgotten during the turbulent period of 1971.

"My father told me a lot of things about Zainul Abedin, who was a family friend, and often stayed with them at Baliganj in Kolkata. Many of Zainul Abedin's paintings were kept at artist Anwarul's Huq's house .

Water colour (1935)

Anwarul Huq was a member of the family, and when he died many of Zainul's works came to me. By the time I was 40, I had a fair collection," says Farhan. He says that his father taught him to have great respect for the Bangali artists and intellectuals, like Zainul, who went to study in West Bengal. "If Zainul Abedin had been trained in Europe too, in his youth, he would have been an even more powerful painter, I believe. When Zainul sketches or paints a boat, fisherman or a village woman, they all have characteristics of their own. He brought out the natural beauty of Bengal, years back," says Farhan.

It was the cultural background of his family that made Farhan take a deep interest in art and artifacts. In his job, Farhan went to remote places of Bangladesh which provided him opportunity to visit the homes of nawabs and zamindars, where his love of art could feast on antiques, of which he has quite a collection. This includes table clocks, watches, chandeliers, wall plates, paintings, hand-written Holy Qoran of Emperor Aurangzeb, etc.

Although most of the drawings and water-colours have sepia dominating them, the one showing women in coloured "lungis" and blouses, plucking crops and filling the baskets on the backs is particularly moving. The painting pulsates with cobalt blue, red and green. The watercolour depicting the bearded man, looking down, with a "gamcha" and beads on his neck, is stirring too.

The mud, straw and brick houses, with a few trees in the backdrop and one or two occupants seen standing in front, are simple washes, but do not fail to enchant. The other numerous scenes from the villages, with men cleaning their nets next to their boats, with rows of green fields at the back, introduce vegetable patches with women working in them, sitting next to small boats.

Other powerful drawings include the ones with women working in the go-downs, storing, cleaning and stacking, despite the simplicity of the colours and lines. Fishermen with their brunt brown complexion, and their "lungis" tied up high to their waist, working in the overwhelming heat, searching for fish in the shallow waters with their nets and hooks, bring out the vibrancy of village life. The boy sanding with his fishing basket and staring at his tiny catch is also a rare piece of work.

The woman in her white sari, holding on to her pitcher in one hand and her child on the other, passing under a collection of waving, green banana trees, is a striking image of tranquility. This has a profusion of black, sepia, purple and sepia washes and lines.

Even though the sketches and drawings were simple, with a minimum of lines and colours, it is a treat to be able to feast on a master's early attempts.


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