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Shahid Kabir, the painter of humans and humanity

Art collector Rezwan Rahman’s outstanding display in Baridhara

Published : Sunday, 15 July, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1220

From left: Artist Shahid Kabir, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and art collector Rezwan Rahman

From left: Artist Shahid Kabir, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and art collector Rezwan Rahman

Rezwan Rahman is a devoted and an avid art collector. His collections hold works by contemporary Bangladeshi master painters and several famed painters in our country. He has always been very interested in new ideas and contemporary culture and art has always been a significant part of his thought process. His collections also have diverse specimens- there are figurative, non- figurative, pure forms and compositions, an objective section, a landscape section and an abstract or cutting edge section.
Recently collector Rezwan Rahman showcased five egg tempera based paintings of renowned artist Shahid Kabir at his residence, Baridhara in the city. The artworks are mainly on the theme of Lalon, one of the significant series which brought him into limelight in Bangladeshi art milieu.

Among the prominent thoughtful artists of Bangladesh is Shahid Kabir. He paints painstakingly his subjects the oppressed people, their regular activities and useable items as well as unnoticed portions of our ambiance. His art features particularly the underprivileged and subjugated community. Their destitution and struggles are recurring subjects of his works. He reflects on their sufferings and untold miseries in his works.

Kabir had attained fame for his series on Lalon and Baul as early as in the 1980s. He left for Spain in 1981, only to resurface in the Dhaka art scene in 1997 after a gap of 17 years. And as he came back home, he did so with gusto introducing a simple idiom that thrives on depiction, or rather, on creating an impression of every-day reality and objects. Water vessels, teapots, flower vase, rotten fruits, brick fields, riverscapes and working women also appear in his paintings.

Kabir strives to merge himself with the protagonists of the paintings. When he creates the oppressed men or women, he goes into the detail of the characters. He converses with them intimately. Consequently, their facial expressions and body language are very noticeable in his works.
Kabir achieves the painterly gestures by building up layers of paint. He never starts with a plan, because it is simply more interesting to him to not know what is going to happen before it's actually happens. He works on many layouts before arriving at the final visual scheme.

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Most of the protagonists of his canvas are deprived and marginalised people. His works are time-consuming and attention-grabbing. On the topic of selection of his subjects, the painter said, "Even though my parents were relatively well-off, I ended up spending my time largely with daily wage earners." The painter has also portrayed several themes like boiling water in a kettle, cooking rice in earthen pot, foaming beer glass, burning pot, old shoe, a small tree with different angles and more. Beside the subjects, he is also rendered to old-age people, scarcity and their pitiful lives.

 It is a very significant aspect that the painter can easily portray their melancholy with his intense feeling of deep affection. The painter can both thicken and minimise his colours and approach varied layers of human emotions. Most of his paintings articulate a tangible quality. But his strokes are not malleable and refined ones of a paintbrush. Some of his works, he mingles the colours (acrylic and oil) with brick and wood powder, burnt sand, straw and other economical materials. Besides brush and spatula, the painter is also distinguished by the use of his fingers, knives, spears and blades.

The painter has also portrayed several large sized portraits and scenic beauty with impressionist style in his chequered career. He observed pastoral life not only with his own eyes, but also with his heart and lost himself in the rural setting. He grew up at Banaripara in Barisal and his works are a nostalgic reflection of his childhood days.

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With the tendency to see the sublime in the mundane, the artist brings to the canvas glimpses of the peripheral and the marginal - namely, artists' models, shadhus and floating people - the othered individuals whose voices are never heard in the aestheticized environment of the elite society. Not that he attempts to lend them a voice they deserve to have, or subverts high with the low; what he accomplishes is a detour by depicting his chosen locus and its inhabitants in portraitures or by capturing an unassuming moment in the lives of his models. By doing so the artist acknowledges their existence, thereby elevating both space and inhabitants, through aesthetic reconnaissance, onto the level of 'being'.

Kabir paints passionately, keeping in mind the entire gamut of sensibilities he has developed an attachment to - summed up in what we may call the essence of life and the erotics of living. By achieving a nostalgic patina through application of mild impasto and a painterly fluidity the artist has captured his subject matters that also include objects as references to the lives of his models.

Both humans and objects serve as a point of departure for the artist to celebrate and mediate the low-brow setting aside the highbrow, not in line with what preceded in the form of European avant-gardism (recognisable in Picasso's portrayal of prostitutes with a vengeance), but in tune with A Pair Shoes and Potato Eater a la Van Gogh. The Moderns of the Shantiniketan school who chose to lend primacy to Santal existence or rudimentary life, can also be mentioned in passing, only to travel further into Anselm Kiefer's realm where landscape assumes a symbolic gesture. Kabir sticks to the simple diction based on the vastness of a near-sensorium schema a la Kiefer, yet this only serves as a springboard to enter the alter-space which is laid out in landscape format; and the dematerialisation which helps this sixty-five plus artist to set his personal tone of expression, can only be seen as an extension of that schema.

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The European Moderns, whose narrative was soaked in declassed individualism during the times of the avant- garde, which was later subjected to huge perceptual and strategic overhaul, courtesy of the artists of the post-avant period in Germany (Kiefer, Beuys), Paris and Spain (members of the Arte Povera), one may deduce that Kabir chooses to avoid all such complexity to opt for a linear, noncritical imagery. As he develops an aesthetic attitude towards the low-brow existence of his models and objects, he does so by abstracting them from the web of social reality. Their travails of destitution and the struggles for survival are set aside to lend them a 'humanity' they otherwise lack when looked at through the lens of development narrative.

As a bohemian, Kabir restlessly walks from street to street, and has portrayed prostitutes and street women, the starving people, dying mothers with their children. His works are technically outstanding and he has made great efforts toward demonstrating the Spanish landscape, nature and more. It can be easily said that the prints are visual narratives and that the artist felt it from the bottom of his soul. He took interest in printmaking as the medium could easily reach out to the common people.

Kabir is more than an artist. He is a witness to the human drama but a witness with a skill that interpreted his intimate observing into art. It is not that Kabir shies away from portraying poverty and pains of the common people; his aim is to bring out the affection and ecstasy in the life of those we commonly label and recognise as the    downtrodden.

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