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     Volume 9 Issue 44| November 12, 2010 |


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The Joyous Side of Abstract

Fayza Haq

Image of Nature, acrylic, 120x120cm, 2007.

Khurshid Alam Saleem, with glories and garlands galore from the cities of the US – ncluding Washington DC – Vienna and Peking held an exhibition recently at “Shilpangan”. Over a couple of years back, he held a similar solo at Bengal Gallery with great success.

Having begun his studies in 1969 at the Departments of Fine Arts in Dhaka, he is now based in New York and comes to Dhaka regularly to present his latest semi abstracts in oil and acrylic. Speaking, while putting up his works in the Gallery “Shilpangan” with brush and paint in hand, to apply some final strokes, he sat and spoke, almost without pausing for a breath, such was his confidence and poise.

Despite living thousands of miles away for so many years, Saleem's attachment to his motherland is obvious.

“Though I live in the US, I was born and brought up in Bangladesh, moving from Sylhet to Dhaka, at the outset. Emotinally I'll always be drawn to my motherland. However, by living overseas I'm exposed to the best in the west and even the eastern countries – such as China and Japan – and then bring it to Dhaka. I get to know the advancement of visual art in Bangladesh, and then go back to my base.”

According to him being abroad gives him the opportunity to visit galleries and also participate in different national exhibitions and exchange ideas with other artists.

“I study the differences and similarities – norms and lifestyles,” explains Saleem. I get to gather the philosophies and political ideas. I also feel the pulse of the socio-economic existence of people and regions. The world is my home. I'm one of those who believe in being a citizen of the world.”

Being an abstract painter, living in the west where the notion of abstract art was born, certainly gives him an edge over his deshi counterparts. It was Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and William Dekonin who were the masters of modern painting. It is their language, says Saleem, that best expresses existence in modern times, with mechanisation and industrialisation.


Image of Nature, acrylic, 120x90cm, 2007.

When he was in Bangladesh, Saleem was influenced by abstract painter Mohammad Kibria. When in New York , he saw the work of Rothko, his concepts changed with further education in the west.

“I realised that dull, dark colours are not necessarily needed to be modern, and with it,” says Saleem. Greys and black are not necessarily the most matured colours. I realised the similarities between the two artists. The fundamental difference between the basic abstract work in Bangladesh and that of mine is that I use colours, and bright joyous colours, at that. You will find ranges of red, blues, greens and yellow in my paintings. This is combined with muted shades of greys and browns. The black, white and pearly shades with collage and faint outlines of female figures are also found to offset them. In the geometrical forms of cubes, circles, lines and curves, are the representations of the bright flowers, feathers of birds, furs of animals.

Saleem’s inspiration, like many artists, is nature: “The rocks, rivers, their ripples and crests; the harmony of colours of treetops and the clouds are elements that motivate me to paint. The peace and harmony of nature is essential for man, as artists before and with me maintain. Man seen with his environment is the focus of present day artists, I believe.”

Saleem uses texture work and collages along with oils and acryrilics Leaves, barks , flowers , and other objects of nature are simplified and sometimes distorted – as in many abstract, and semi abstract artists' works. Fragments of rainbows, drops of water from drizzles, rays of sunshine are there in these bursts of passionate love for the creatures of God around me. “I could not be happy and content without them. Leave out nature and life becomes one dark prison cell,” says the artist.

Saleem says that he has enjoyed printmaking with years of application of paints with rollers with paints in the viscosity method. But after a time he comments he found this type of work somewhat unimaginative and stereotyped like “factory work”. Making prints , day after day, appeared like “factory- work”. Thus for now he prefers to be left alone with his acrylics.

In this exhibition one sees forty acrylic paintings. “I'm quite contented with what I've got so far,” says Saleem. “From the “Redwood Forest” to Malaysia and China, US Congress and such well known authorities have honoured me. This year I've participated with six world masters like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Francisco Goya. This, automatically, is an honour for Bangladesh too.”

Image of Nature, acrylic, 60x60cm, 2009.

Before 1969 Saleem lived in the village and graduated from a high school in Sylhet. For a time he was in Tangail.

“When I came to Dhaka city, what attracted me greatly was the picturesque sitting of the Art College, with its trees, sunken pond and the stress on green for students as a backdrop for education that stressed in aesthetics” says Saleem. “The set up of the education centre filled my heart and mind with peace and happiness. The idyllic setting sparked up my spirits.

“My first year teacher was Aminul Islam; next year I got Mahmudul Haque, who was then a new teacher. Next, in the painting dept, Kazi A Baset was the head, who was also an abstract artist, who had studied in Chicago.” He was filled with dreams about America. Mohammed Kibria was not my direct teacher, but nevertheless, when I met him last time I came to Dhaka, in 2008, he told me that he was very much aware of my progress as a painter. He told me that I had found a path of my own. My gut feelings are that Kibria has not been exposed globally – as he should have been. Bangladesh has not projected him adequately. For this the government and the artists' community is to be blamed.

While overseas, Saleem communicates with other eminent artists like Kalidas Karmakar, in the US, and Monirul Islam, who left for Spain, when he joined Art College. “I want to know how other artists, originating from Bangladesh – like Shahabuddin, and Wakilur Rahman – are doing,” says Saleem. “This goes for Shahid Kabir, who is a great teacher and matured artists winning name and fame as they say for his country overseas as at home.”



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