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    Volume 9 Issue 17| April 23, 2010|

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The Rhythm of Cascading Life

Fayza Haq

Blue water, Lift ground aquatint and etching -Safiuddin Ahmed

Along with elements of songs, dances, giant papier-mache masks, buntings, and rainbow colours of clothes to celebrate "Pohela Boishakh", Dhaka was celebrating the tenth founding anniversary of Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts. This was done with a series of painting exhibitions -- beginning with famous master artists -- like Safiuddin, Mohammed Kibria, Qayyum Chowdhury, Hashem Khan, Rafiqun Nabi, Monirul Islam and Mahmudul Haque. Many of the artists were there to liven the occasion of the press conference -- with "bon mots" and witty asides. Monirul Islam's talk was the most amusing one. The others too spoke with lively anecdotes spun around their own experiences. While Monir doodled -- as the speeches progressed -- Rafiqun Nabi looked on with amusement wrapping his face.

The master painters were dressed in bright printed Hawaii shirts and were full of joie de vivre and bonhomie wrapped the enthusiastic journalists, who had come for the afternoon . "Murgh-pilau" was served on the occasion while Rokeya Sultana's temparas's scintillating colours enlivened the cafe, where the function was held. In the exhibition halls, was the neat arrangement of Jalil Bhai --- who had been serving Bengal Shilpalaya for ages now, with the devotion of a bulldog, as one may comment. Rain or shine, he is hammering and pasting his paintings. The pictures somehow had a new spark of their own, even when they were seen ever so often, such as the perennially popular woodcuts from Safiuddin Ahmed's personal collection. Dark green and red boats outlines and forms appeared to interlace each other along with the passages of waterways. Orange and black dots, crosses, oval lines, smudges, circles and formed patterns and motifs of the waterways and boat outlines that mesmerised the viewer. At times, circles the patterns appeared like eyes staring at the viewer. In reality they were the eternal boats of the Bengal waterways. The lines and colours sang of peace, harmony and contentment of yesteryears. The prints, "Blue waters" and "Fishing time" by Safiuddin Ahmed -- done in the early 60s -- appeared neat, clean, geometrical, and pleasing to the eye. It was anything but outdated although done decades back. Boats, big and small, meeting the blue and white water, had an idyllic cadence of the nostalgic past. The boats often appear to be seen from the top.

Waiting, Acrylic on canvas-- Syed Jahangir.

"Boats of Bangladesh" by Safiuddin Ahmed also usher in the calm and beauty that was of the past. One no longer sees the clear water, the restful people nor the magnitude of the tranquillising effect of nature on man --when people were mostly fishermen and farmers -- and the land was humming with the celebration of life. In yet another woodcut "On the way to the fair" (1947) we have bare-topped people in "dhotis" carrying umbrellas and cooking utensils, riding on donkeys, with domestic animals following at heel. Although bent double with household items, the journey appeared an idyll. The bounty of nature -- trees, leaves, shrubs-- are done in black. But on images one is in woodland as green as anyone can envisage -- such are the suggestions of the powerful strokes. There appears to be no rush in this rhythm of existence. Even "Flood" (1956) has no element of clamour or despair, as such. It is a natural calamity. People appear to take it in their stride-- with diligence and calm. The horror, pain and scarcity do not appear to overwhelm the people.

Monirul Islam's three mixed medias spoke for themselves, with their opalescent hues and Miro-like touches of colours. The pearl-like hues formed the backdrop of one painting which had pillars of swirling gray that lead you to people working in "The Evening song". The hustle and bustle of the people are brought in lines and gentle suggestion of splashes of dark pink, orange, and glitzy green added to beige and brown fine lines and strokes. Monirul Islam's other two-- "The cosmic dialogue" and "The way to Meghna" are also acrylic on board -- done here in Dhaka -- when the artist was twice home to be with his ailing, mother and elder sister.

It is here, recently in the metropolis, that Monirul Islam, an artist of international repute, received the highest civil order from Spain. This was in the exhibition hall of Bengal Gallery, with members of the Spanish Embassy looking on, and innumerable local artists, cheering on with bouquets of fresh flowers. The opal skies, the suggestions of the boats, the block of blue to the right, splashes of red to the left, along with bars of muted blue and turquoise added to the pulsating suggestions of optimism. The artist's "Cosmic dialogue" ushered in the technical progress since the Renaissance and before, when the Arabs took over the teachings of the Greek navigators and their treasure trove of learning. The colours have been added with delicacy, precision and passion.

Flood, wood engraving-Safiuddin Ahmed

Mahmudul Haque's representation of Nature, with their cascading blues, layers of shades of chocolate browns and mauves, won one's heart immediately. Dots, dashes, images-- merging into each other -- suggest the evenings in Bangladesh -- with human beings and nature coexisting in almost ethereal harmony. Black and white texture work added to the drama of the compositions. Both the elements of rest and energy are hinted at by Mahmudul Haque's works. His bars of red and texture works in grays -- with oranges in the central focus -- are also buoyant, and spark off elements of joie de vivre.

So did the realistic and yet stylised human figures by Baseer Mirza -- as also his unique representation of leaves and wings of butterflies and moths -- in their startling rhapsody of shades of orange and black. The details of the clothes, jewellery, facial features of the women, the details of the interior of the room etc. enchanted the viewer with their realism and eye for the minute.

Hashem Khan brought in strokes of shimmering red, black, oranges in abstract but bold strokes that brought in the flamboyant dances, happy songs and other elements of jubilation of celebration of life in Bengal through the ages. "Every man has a song of himself within him. This is my song," says Hashem Khan, when spoken to, in his red and white printed Hawaiian shirt, a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that catches on.

In Sayed Jehangir's works one found an abundance of gold and cobalt blue. They spoke of the land and rivers of Bangladesh. The artist, with years of successful painting behind him, had introduced the fishermen and the women, the farm and riverside workers. The neat patterns formed by resting boats at the riverside -- his trademark -- were there too. Bars of land, the gilded disc of the setting sun in the horizon was included. Waves, muddy banks, harvesting patches -- with gleaming gold of the ripe harvest-- were there with sweeps of flat colours. One saw the villagers in tranquil motion -- working their hearts out in the heat and rain. The continuous, unabated struggle of the people was presented in each piece, with meticulous care and flamboyance. The message is: There will be a tomorrow.

The still life and figure works of Rafiqun Nabi, brought in a happy and confident play of colour compositions, specially in the depiction of the poet Rabindranath. The barge, the surrounding birds, the ripple of the waves and the bard in his flowing clothes and cascading trailing beard certainly presented poised creations, as did the others even though the simplest of clothes were introduced and the simplest choice of lines and colours. Well-loved stripes and checks decorated the clothes in the artist's theme of togetherness of a family. The typically Bangladeshi features with large, restful eyes and rounded faces were brought in with freshness. Rafiqun Nabi's depiction of the family, with the child holding on to a bird and the seated woman with the burst of gold flowers were eye-catching and remarkable.

Trees, leaves, blossoms, birds, kites in the air, and the combination of the nouveau and the traditional was seen in Qayyum Chowdhury's paintings at one end of the main hall. The artist had left a lot of space to perhaps suggest space. These were in raw red, orange, black and green. Loops, circles, lines, dots along with more elaborate geometrical representations of life -- in the form of hedges, banana trees, faces of women, children's hands, masks -- brought in harmony and gaiety for the onlooker.

Needless to say there were Shahabuddin's muscular figures of men at war during the 1971 struggle. The energy, fearsome struggle and bravery of the battling men brought in the daredevil spirit of ordinary people fighting for their land and freedom of expression.

Speaking to some of the artists before lunch, one gathered some more of the painters' aspirations and focal points. "Some of the work was begun in Spain but they were all completed here," says Monirul Islam about his works. "The title 'Through the window' brings in the cover of a curtain, which gave the texture of the print. This in turn, is touched with watercolour. I combined acrylic with oil on the paper. In 'Meghna' I bring my years of leisurely life on its banks -- tracing from my childhood days. 'Dialogue' contains elements that might appear figurative to some, depending on how they view the colours, lines and dots. 'Evening Song ' aims at capturing an ambiance which I treasure."

Qayyum Chowdhury did not hesitate to call the show "'a memorable one' -- because Bengal Foundation did so much to promote our culture, particularly painting and music. This is doubtless a remarkable event that highlights the necessity of patronization of painters. Bengal Foundation promotes our work both at home and overseas."

Touching on his own work, Qayyum Chowdhury says,"My work here is based on 'The Embroidered Quilt', which is the title of my series at the exhibit. I improvise the quilt, which is the pride of our artisans, in my own way. I hope the composition and quality of my painting drives home the point."

"The figurative manner in which I work is continued here," says Rafiqun Nabi in his infectious smile and good humour." The stress is on the composition. The colour is a subjective one. I try to maintain an element of drama -- even when doing still life, such as the 'yellow flowers' -- with the waiting women's figure behind them. Each time one paints, one hopes that this will be better than the ones before. Yet one is never quite satisfied with one's work. And this eggs us on, I believe," Rafiqun Nabi adds.

Meeting the artists in person and exchanging repartee added to one's knowledge of each work of art and its elemental joie de vivre. And so the select few from the collections of the master painters of Dhaka enlivened the souls of those even blasé with viewing colours, textures and forms through the seasons.


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