Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin: His life and Times
In the eyes of researcher and museumologist Jahangir Hussain
Published : Friday, 4 May, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 543
"Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin: Jibon O Karma" (Life and works of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin) is a biographical book written by distinguished researcher and museumologist Jahangir Hussain. The book has been published from Mowla Brothers. The book's author Jahangir Hussain had been working as the keeper of Bangladesh National Museum. He is also the chairman of International Council of Museum, Bangladesh.
This is a biographical work. Such kinds of publications are rare in our country. The paper quality is quite up to the standard and the printing is superb. The book has been admirably edited. It is certainly a matter of great satisfaction that such a book has been published in our country.
Jahangir Hussain's worthy articles have added a unique aesthetic dimension to the book. He has tried to depict the significant chapters of Zainul's life and achievements in his articles. From the maestro's childhood to his death, all the moments come up in the book gradually and present a lively and intimate look.
The book is a collector's delight. There is a lot of variety in the book. The pictures are bright and the captions help the readers to know about the background to them. On reading the book, you can easily get a clear conception about this maestro and his contribution to contemporary art in our country. The author has tried to bring all Zainul's important works to light in the book. One need hardly say that Zainul Abedin is one of the greatest modern artists in our country and naturally holds a distinguished position in our sub-continent.
Jahangir planned to publish the book after he had been overseas and had met foreign artists, critics, curators and gallerists. It was especially when he visited Europe that he felt the need for a book that would introduce others to the kind of research work which he has done in Bangladesh. This book not only depicts Zainul's works but essentially also focuses on our culture and heritage. Many foreigners, often at sea about our art and culture, cannot but find this work revealing.
Jahangir Hussain is the chairperson of ICOM (International Council of Museums), Bangladesh National Committee and Board Member, ICOM-ASPAC (International Council of Museums Asia-Pacific Alliance). He is also curator of Asiatic Society Heritage Museum. Hussain was the keeper (Director of the Department of Contemporary Art and World Civilization of Bangladesh National Museum). There he worked for 32 years starting from administration and curatorial to all the way up to directorial roles acquiring vast experience. As holder of double degrees he gained versatility while working in various museum projects. He was trained in museology in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1993. He took various other trainings locally specialising in, curatorial work, management cultural affairs, exhibition, international affairs administration, and international liaison. Jahangir is member and country chief of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) where he regularly championed Bangladesh's museums agenda at international level. He travelled to Austria, Netherlands', France, China, South Korea, Malaysia, and India for attending workshops and conferences arranged by the ICOM and UNESCO. Each host country provided an insight to the operational and cultural role of their respective world famous museums. He also visited the British Museum in the UK and some museums in Italy to understand her international approach and presentation methods. He has arranged several exhibitions and seminars in Bangladesh National Museum. He also arranged seminars and rally as Chairperson of the ICOM-Bangladesh. Jahangir is also the Board Member of Martyr Barkat Memorial Museum, University of Dhaka and Sunamgonj Heritage Museum, Sunamgonj (2014-2016).He is Life Member of several Research and Academic Institutions. He oversaw and directed establishment of various new museums and wings of museums. He has two books and several articles in his credit.
Zainul Abedin (1914-1976), the leading figure in the history of modern art movement in Bangladesh. A well-known figure for his leadership qualities in organising artists and art movements, Abedin took the initiative to found the Government Institute of Arts and Crafts (now Faculty of Fine Arts) in 1948 on Dhaka University campus, of which he was the founding principal. This institute trained and nurtured an entire generation of artists whose works reflected the changing times. Qamrul Hassan, Safiuddin Ahmed, Shafiqul Amin, Anwarul Haq were contemporaries of Zainul Abedin. This was the generation that depicted the changing social reality in their art.
It is noteworthy that the first batch initiated of the Government College of Arts and Crafts in 1948 with the students of Aminul Islam, Hamidur Rahman, Abdur Rahman Bhuiyan, Abdul Kader, Mohammad Ismail, Alfazuddin Khandakar, Nurul Islam, Khaled Chowdhury, Shamsul Alam, Imdad Hossain, Julfikar Ali, Probash Sen, Loknath Dhor, Bazle Moula and Ali Humayun.
During the 1950s, Dhaka was a quiet and green city. Painters frequently visited Buriganga river, Waiz Ghat and other attractive places to portray nature with the guidance of their teachers. Zainul Abedin especially stressed on drawing and he successfully instilled in them an interest in this genre of art. The students also portrayed political chaos, economic crises, city life, rural life, still life and other themes. Some of them were greatly influenced by internationally acclaimed impressionist painters.
Born in Mymensingh, Abedin grew up in the serene landscape by the river Brahmaputra - the river being a source of inspiration to the artist from an early childhood. In 1933, the artist enrolled at Calcutta Government Art School. Later he joined the faculty of the same institute after his graduation. He was an influential member of the Calcutta Group of progressive artists. A series of watercolours that Abedin did as his tribute to the Brahmaputra river earned him the Governor's Gold Medal in an all-India exhibition in 1938.
"Famine Sketches", a series of paintings Abedin made in 1943, addressed the dearth of food created by the British Raj. Bengal was affected the most by the famine. That series earned Abedin international acclaim. Drawn in Chinese ink and brush on cheap packing paper, the series is a compilation of haunting images of intolerable cruelty and the utter helplessness of the masses dying of hunger.
The sketches brought the artist all-India fame, but more than that they assisted him find his rhythm in a realistic mode that fore grounded human pain, anguish, struggle and remonstration. The "Rebel Crow" marks a high point of that style. This meticulous brand of realism that united social inquiry and protest with higher aesthetics was to prove useful to him in diverse moments of history such as 1969 and 1971 when Zainul executed a few of his ground-breaking works.
Abedin paintings throughout the fifties and sixties reflected his preference for realism, his aesthetic discipline and his fondness for folk forms. But after a couple of years, the iconic figure went back to nature, to rural life, and the daily struggles of man. Needless to say, he is well-known for his landscapes, which mainly delve into scenic and panoramic beauty of rural Bengal. The works were mainly watercolours.
He was involved in the Liberation War movement. He was in the forefront of the cultural movement to re-establish the Bengali identity. In 1975, Zainul Abedin set up a folk museum at Sonargaon, and a permanent gallery in Mymensingh (Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala) to display some of his works. He became actively involved in a movement to preserve the cultural heritage of Bengal.