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     Volume 7 Issue 36 | September 5, 2008 |

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Fading Beauties

Pen sketch, Curzon Hall by Tushil

of the Old City

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Dhaka's 400th birth anniversary is being commemorated with mixed feelings. While we may celebrate the glory of Dhaka's remarkable past, it is impossible not be touched by the sobering realisation that the city, especially the old and historically significant part, is in a decaying, crumbling state. Many archeologically precious structures have been buried or destroyed forever; others are on their way to an unnecessary demise. Yet even now it is hard not to be mesmerised by Old Dhaka, it's impossibly narrow alleys that lead the way to a lost city adorned with old houses with ornate staircases, open courtyards and ornamental facades. All this is captured in a unique exhibition by a group of young artists who go by the curious name of 'Walk and Work'. This is apparently what they literally do, that is walk or rather travel to places and paint what they see around them. Their first exhibition in 2005, was on the Chittagong Hill Tracks where the group went to and tried to capture on their canvases, the beauty of the landscape and lifestyle of the people who live in these areas. This exhibition, at Zainul Gallery at the Institute of Fine Arts, that started on September 3, has an even more ambitious plan.

It is not just about painting pretty pictures of Old Dhaka (although they are visually very pleasing) and putting them up for a show but about creating a sense among people, of what is being lost. These structures are truly treasures of our past and the paintings have the haunting quality of documenting something that may disappear in the near future.

(L) Back of a house in Old Dhaka by Adnan (M) Boro Katra, Chawk Bazar by Tunir and (R) St. Gregory's School by Russel

Old Dhaka by Sadek

“We, as a people, are very apathetic about our archaeological heritage”, says Md Adnan Sufian, a member of the group, “when we went to these areas we found that the local people living there had no knowledge whatsoever about the historical significance of these places.” The paintings that depict different sites of Old Dhaka are accompanied with brief histories to inform the visitor about the archaeological significance of each site.

“Dhaka's unplanned urbanisation has had a devastating effect on these old structures” says Md Ahkamul Haque Tunir. “On top of that we don't preserve anything but allow buildings such as these to just decay. Dhaka for example, is a city of cables with wires covering every open space possible,” a reality depicted in Md Al Akhir Sarker's painting of Shakhari Bazar, an area of major archaeological interest.

The group members, in fact, chose the areas they would focus on and then went there and painted what they saw and felt. Thus the exhibition is a remarkable collection of works depicting different spots of the old city. There is Tunir's Boro Katra in Chawk Bazar, for instance, Sadek Ahmed and Adnan's images of Farashgonj, Akhir's on Shakhari Bazar, Mukaddas Sadi Tushil's pen sketch of Curzon Hall and Md. Rashed Kamal Russel's image of St. Gregory School.

An interesting part of the exhibition is a 12 foot long mural showing the changes in Dhaka's landscape. Starting with ancient structures such as Dhakeshwari Temple and Eid Ga Masjid, the mural goes on to other symbolic sites Boro Katra, Choto Katra, Binod Bibir Masjid moving on to modern landmarks such as the Shangshad Bhaban and flyovers.

The exhibition, which goes on until August 8, has captured the dreamy nostalgia that is so palpable in every nook and cranny of Old Dhaka. But it is also an appeal to preserve the priceless architectural gems that are so seeped in neglect and collective ignorance.

Shakhari bazar by Akhir
Old Dhaka by Sadek

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