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     Volume 8 Issue 89 | October 9, 2009 |

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Explaining the Unsolved Struggle

Shahabuddin Ahmed

Ershad Kamol

Bangladesh born, world-renowned artist Shahabuddin Ahmed is ranked as one of the top contemporary artists in France. He has shown his works extensively across the globe including the Museum Olympic Laussane, Switzerland and Bourn-En Brasse Museum in France. In 1992, he was one of Fifty Master Painters of Contemporary Arts, an award bestowed on him at the Olympiad of Arts, Barcelona. Bangladesh government has honoured the artist by awarding Shadhinota Puroshker in 2000.

A proud Freedom Fighter, Shahabuddin continues to dabble with the legacy of the Liberation War of Bangladesh in his unique painting through motifs, colours and compositions. Shahabuddin maintains that he does it because he thinks that the war has not ended yet and he is continuing the war through his art. The optimistic painter has the capability to overcome the constraints of time and space. The spirit of freedom has been featured in his paintings through fearless human figures that cut through the difficulties of life, giving one the reason to live. The force of his rhythmic brushworks with vibrant colours such as red, black and green can enthral the art lovers.

As an artist Shahabuddin showed his mastery at the initial stage of his career in the early 1970s. The young artist Shahabuddin challenged contemporary art trends that veered towards pure abstract painting in Bangladesh. Considering it the modern art form, leading Bangladeshi artists have usually worked with abstract forms. Shahabuddin successfully set a new trend: a blend of figurative and abstract expressions, which became very popular and the young artists of those days used to follow his style. His distinctive style: blending of oriental and occidental contemporary art forms-- has got plaudits even in Europe.

Though he lives in Paris, he often visits Dhaka to meet his friends and relatives and on all the occasions he displays his works in Dhaka. This time the expatriate artist came to Dhaka after eight years and had two exhibitions. He also observed his 60th anniversary this time with his friends and art lovers.

Shahabuddin is considered as one of the modern masters.

This time he has come after a long gap because he claims that the political situation during this period discouraged him to come to his motherland. "As a freedom fighter I could not accept that the anti Liberation War forces were ruling the country. How can I tolerate the fact that well known Pakistani Collaborators had become ministers just within 30 years after the Liberation?" asks Shahabuddin.

"After the rule of the Four Party Alliance, another undemocratic force ruled the country for another two years, which is also against the spirit of the Liberation War. In fact, I did not want to exhibit my art works in such political turmoil, since I use the spirit of freedom in my works."

Dynamic nature of life dominates Shahabuddin's work.

Isn't it monotonous to deal with a single topic? Shahabuddin Ahmed replies in an agitated mood, "Not at all. So many films have been releasing on the Second World War. Nobody questioned it as monotonous rather recognised the trend relevant. Similarly portraying the spirit of Liberation War is also very relevant and contemporary. What do you find analysing the political situation during the last 30 years? The spirit of Liberation War has been distorted repeatedly. To me the war has not yet ended. People are still suffering in rural areas. Still, we have failed to give them the real taste of freedom. I think as an artist it's my duty to remind the world the glorious victory of truth over the evil in 1971. My works delve deep into Liberation War, human emotions and sensitivity. In this sense my paintings will generate awareness on the spirit of Liberation War amongst the younger people who have the potential to take the country ahead."

But if Bangladesh is always in his mind why does he live in Paris? "Does anybody feel content to be an expatriate? Within a few months after going to Paris for higher studies at Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux- Arts School, the August 15 incident took place in 1975. Anticipating my life risk, my family members told me not to return home until the situation stablises again. I also thought it as a big problem and chose the challenging task of establishing myself as an artist in Paris," replies Shahbuddin.

Shahabuddin had to struggle a lot at the initial stage of his career abroad, something he says has helped him to develop as a mature artist. He had not enough money to hire a model for his paintings. "Initially I was my own model. I used to paint my body on the mirror. However, the shape of figure was not suitable for my paintings, since my works represent courage and victory. Then I used to imagine the muscular figure of the athletes for my models," says Shahabuddin.

"Now I'm a well recognised artist in Europe. The French government consider me one of the top artists in France amongst the four lakh artists in the country. Since I've developed my career in France and spent the golden age of my life there, I consider the country as my country. Still, each moment I remember my motherland, poor Bangladesh and its people and nature, and express those in my works. "

Shahabuddin likes experimenting with human forms. "Giving appropriate expression is a really difficult job," says the artist, "If human forms are not experimented with properly the art works become very cheap. Which is why most of the renowned artists of the world such as Michel Angelo and Picasso have experimented on human forms."

"I'm always fascinated by Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin. In fact, I'm inspired by his paintings and used to follow his works at the initial stage of my career. But, my stay in Europe has a great influence on me. Blending my origin and experience in Europe, I've developed my own style, which is different from the other artists in France. Watching my painting, at a glance, anybody can say that the artist is not of French origin."

How do the French people recognise Bangladesh? He replies: "The situation is changing dynamically. Now the French people consider Bengali people as a nation with potential, though earlier Bangladesh used to come to report only after disasters."

This optimism was firmly embedded in Shahabuddin when as a youth he was involved in the Liberation struggle for Bangladesh and had to face the various facets of life. According to him Bangalis will certainly be able to prove their potential overcoming the struggles.

Photo by Shawkat Jamil



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