Six decades of contemporary art in Bangladesh / Chapter 2 of all 6 chapters


Takir Hossain

Sadhana Islam

After mid 60s, a number of painters focused on nationalism in their works. They started to explore tradition, folk motifs. The artists of this genre worked more or less in a mixture of western naturalism, Bengal School and folk expressions. Samarjit Roy Chowdhury, Rafiqun Nabi, Hashem Khan are the main artists in the group. Let us have a look into the matter, one by one: 

Samarjit Roy Chowdhury’s (1937) canvas features tiny fish, cats, snakes, birds and animals. His lines crisscross over the canvas. Figures -- both male and female -- intimately appear in his works. His pure geometric compositions and delicate spatial arrangements denote fantasy, reality and nostalgia. His use of colour is both meaningful and ornamental. In his early days, Samarjit was preoccupied with the pictorial aspect of life, bringing in motifs like birds, fishes, boats and human being early years. These assembled impetus over the year. His center of attention changed from the tangible reality to a kaleidoscopic inner meaning of nature. His forms and treatment of colours remain intense. His concern for folk motifs and decorative patterns spread his message all over the canvas. In recent times, the painter has sought to blend a modern approach with his folk-based works. His recurring motifs are birds, kites, leaves, wild flowers, boats, plants and fish. Scribbles and thick lines crisscross over his paintings. His lines are not polished at all. The uneven lines create an individual language, highlighting a rural essence.

  • Samarjit Roy Chowdhury

Hashem Khan (1941) likes to render rural life and daily chores. His painting gives voice to the masses of our country. Green and yellow have been predominantly used in his works. Various abstract forms also find a place on his canvas.

Rafiqun Nabi’s (1943) paintings delightfully project the serene ambience of nature. He also does figurative work, painting rural folk, fishermen, kingfishers, broken bridges, buffaloes, boats, crows, wild flowers, people at leisure and gossiping. His landscapes transport the viewer to a higher realm. The artist arranges motifs in different combinations of light and shade.

After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, the art scene saw a renewed pledge to depict the aspirations of a new nation in multifarious expressions. During that time, a number of painters made the Liberation War, the subject of their works and a number of painters actively participated in the war. After independence, they expressed their experiences through art. There was also a revitalised search for tradition and heritage and a return to the figurative and the generation of the 1970s started working with diverse materials and idioms. 

After independence, another transformation had been happened in our art arena. Painters felt free themselves and their artistic creativities explored in well underway. During the time a number of painters went for higher training in different parts of the world. Some were permanently lived there and tried to establish themselves in the new horizon. As expatriate painters, Monirul Islam (Madrid) and Shahabuddin Ahmed (Paris) names come to the prominence. Both painters are dissimilar in their working styles. 

Monirul Islam’s (1942) prints are easily recognisable as he can translate life’s diverse dimensions with his signature style, techniques and innovations into captivating works, where subdued colours, lyrical lines, subtle textures and forms blend harmoniously. He controls his medium and his technique with a certain mastery. His specialty is his delicate lines and the balance between use of space and composition. Use of space is an important aspect of his paintings and prints and the artist likes to work with unusual forms and shapes -- transforming them amazingly into tangible expressions. An admirer of nature, Monir tries to replicate colours and harmony prevalent in surrounding environment through his works. The space that is found in his works is aptly related to the perspective of the themes. In his compositions, the artist uses doodles, sharp lines, dots, tiny motifs and a lot of symbols.

  • Monirul Islam

Shahabuddin Ahmed (1950) has been extensively influenced by Serbian painter Vladimir Velickovic. Ahmed’s signature traits are vibrant figures and their poignant movements. Each movement makes what amounts to a distinct look and language. The language is closely connected to the time of the country’s turbulent birth and its significant aspects. His paintings encapsulate ecstasy, affections and torment.

During the early 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, a number of earnest painters have come to the light with great zeal and zest. There is no doubt that Bangladeshi art has enriched in touch of them. Their working styles are bold, thought-provoking and their themes are clearly visualized our political, social and cultural arena. Some of those painters articulated their mode of expressions with pure realism while some others with pure abstraction, semi-abstraction or surrealism. Syed Abdullah Khalid, Mahmudul Haque, Hamiduzzaman Khan, Kalidas Karmakar, Abdus Shakoor Shah, Dr Abdus Satter, Shahid Kabir, Tajul Islam, Matlub Ali, Chandra Shekhar Dey, Farida Zaman, Mominul Reza, Kamal Kabir, Sadhana Islam, Ranjit Das, Naima Haque, Mohammad Eunus, Jamal Ahmed, Mostafizul Haque, Ivy Zaman, Shiekh Afzal, Kanak Chanpa Chakma, Kazi Rakib, Afrozaa Jamil Konka, Mohammad Fokhrul Islam, Mohammad Iqbal, Maksudul Ahsan, Goutam Chakraborty belong to this group. Still their works helped them creating different realms of their own through their specialisation: 

Syed Abdullah Khalid (1942-2017) mainly dealt with the seasonal flowers of Bangladesh. He is overwhelmed by the vivid colours of spring flowers, especially Sonalu, Radhachura and Krishnachura. The painter used close-up views of the branches of trees containing patches of flowers of different colours and then distorts the work by splashing colour pigments. As an abstract expressionist, Khalid’s focus was on colour and its various facets. He also experiments with unstructured forms and vague compositions, which are scrupulously used in his works. The artist has applied colours directly; piling up thick and at times thin layers on the canvas, and has created images that are bold and dynamic. Strong brush strokes make a textural state in his works which have not been intentionally done. At times, he deliberately creates a texture according to the paintings’ distinctive requirements. He concentrates more on the application aspect and this trait creates a personal hallmark for his creations. In his long chequered life, Khalid has gradually transformed his style into pure impressionism, where colour is the main focal point in his paintings and forms have been diluted there appropriately. 

  • Syed Abdullah Khalid

Mahmudul Haque (1945) has a fascination for compositions and forms. He has done oil, acrylic and prints which can be characterised according to the use of solid forms and compositions. He is fervently fond of experimenting and trying out new-fangled shapes and techniques. The change is mainly technical and sometimes it seems he is more conscious about the space and compositions. His works explore kaleidoscopic patterns and an imaginary world.

Hamiduzzaman Khan (1946) finds peace in his work, which can be sculpture, painting or drawing. Most of his sculptures are either stylised figuratives or abstract forms, in painted steel, concrete cement, bronze and other metals. Hamiduzzaman has also tried his hands at painting. His inspired images evoke a symbiotic relationship with nature, a marriage of landscape and a vision that enables the artist to use nature's most elegant palette and views with advantage. The different phases in Hamiduzzaman’s work can easily be identified. He has been able to create a new language, working with colours, lines and some sculptural and architectural images.

  • Hamiduzzaman Khan

As an intense onlooker during his lifetime, Kalidas Karmakar (1946 -2019) could closely observe the transforming socio-political and economical conditions of the society. Generally he set out as a naturist and landscape painter. In the early stages of his career, nature played a major role in his works. The painter felt that the nature has an endless source of splendour, mystery and anonymity. He discovered inspiration in the elaborate detailing of glimpses like light filtering through the leaves, sound of river’s wave, the silence of nature, dense foliage, the play of light and shadow in nature, flora and fauna as well as many others. Each of these elements contained a new story for him. Kalidas’ images reflect anger, frustration, suffering, death, destruction and his subjects encapsulate the misery of common Bangladeshis in times of war, floods, cyclones, famines, political and economical turmoil.

Tajul Islam (1946) has been inspired by his guru Rashid Chowdhury, and has established his individual style -- particularly in terms of patterns and colour compositions. Luminous colours, geometric compositions, floral imagery and organic forms are recurring features in his tapestries. Tajul is deeply inspired by nature and its elements -- plants and trees of several sizes, blossoming flowers and thick bushes. Some of his tapestries feature open spaces. Most of his tapestries depict surrealistic images where unfamiliar forms and blurred compositions as well as human figures merge together. The artist has also created many waves, semi-waves, curves, semi-curves, semi-circles and fragments where one can find rhythms. 

Matlub Ali (1946) has worked on varied themes, portraying them in his personal style and technique. His themes have always been closely connected to the soil of Bengal and its people. Many of his works delve deep into pure abstraction. The themes emerge in his works symbolically and at times according to his paintings’ characters. He also likes to paint semi-realistic images (focusing on horizontal, vertical lines and compositions). In some of his works he has sought to incorporate various symbols and signs of his expressions -- denoting realism, semi-realism, pure abstraction, abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism.

  • Matlub Ali

Abdus Shakoor Shah (1947) is widely recognised for his folk motifs and visual ballads. Over a large span of his career (from 1996), Shakoor has been working on folk motifs. The ballads of “Mymensingh Geetika” -- the famous Mahua and Malua love stories, “Nakshi Kanthar Maath”, “Gazir Pat” and “Manasha Pat” are recurring themes in his works. The painter uses animal figures such as elephants, bulls, dogs, cats, tigers, parrots, peacocks, birds and serpents -- all as pleasant and decorative motifs. Shakoor’s painting career began in 1978 when he was studying in Baroda University in India. His passion for art was fuelled by discussions on arts by his teachers in the university. During his study in Baroda University, he started experimenting with different styles, forms and colours. He was specially moved by the spirit of Bengali art. The works of Jamini Roy also influenced him at the beginning of his career. But over the years he developed a unique style, adapting it from our folk art.

  • Abdus Shakoor Shah

Dr Abdus Satter (1948) is one of the prominent disciples of Oriental Art. He demonstrates his impulsive talent in oriental expressions, with minute details. The artist usually portrays women in natural settings. He also focuses on the female visage, birds and various aspects of nature in symbolic manner. His faces symbolise dreams, beliefs and desires. Warm colours, technical detail and mellow textural intensity are common traits of his works. His works have a sense of sophistication and tranquility. Over the years, sitting women, contemplative and romantic belle have been recurring themes in his works. His paintings and prints attempt a difficult compromise between the lyrical abstraction and the pictorial articulation where line and colour are vital ingredients.

Chandra Shekhar Dey (1951) prefers to go into details and his lines are provocatively stimulating. Scribbles, lines, hazy figures and unfamiliar objects are noticeable in his works. The agony of struggle, the power of desire and the strength of joy, pulsate throughout his works. He is one of the painters who belong to the generation of painters whose view on life and art was profoundly impacted by the War of Liberation. The sharply contrasted use of light and shade bring about memories of loss and pain in many of his paintings.  He combines elements of folk, shreds of myth and vivid, interactive forms to bridge the gap between reality and fiction.

Farida Zaman (1953) is noticeable for her depiction of the lives of fisher-folk languishing in our country. As a socially aware painter, her works reveal the harsh life of working class people. Her canvases are engrossed with fisherwomen and their torments and dilemmas. The artist eloquently articulates the cruel reality of the fishing community. Fish, fishing nets, sea and river birds are her forte. Cats, dusky and lean women are other recurring subjects in her paintings. Her line drawings represent one of her main artistic traits. She prefers using crimson, blue and yellow on her spacious canvas. Her paintings also have the look characterised by illustrations.

Mominul Reza (1951-2019) was a contemplative painter who lived in Bogura. The painter’s forms and themes are simple but stand out for their arrangements and eloquence. His paintings are noticeable for their light quality. In earlier times, hangers or clothespins were recurring subjects in his works. Straight lines and psychedelic colours give the works a distinct look. Before his death, the artist was focusing on colour and form a well as blue, green compositions mingle with each other intimately.

Kamal Kabir’s (1951) purpose has been to capture the mystery of the world below water. The world makes him always puzzled and his search for beauty and for contemplation on the waterworld has influenced him to hold up in his paintings a vibrant blithe picture of the marine world. The poetry in the aquatic produces a surge of sensitivity in him, enabling him to hear and interpret the sounds, colours and rhythms in and around the marine world. The sturdiness of his lines (thick and scribbles) and colours are inspired by the world underwater and have evolved from a more traditional style to semi-abstractions that propagate wide-ranging views and imaginations. Kabir’s canvases sometimes are lavish in abstract images with colours and ambiguous forms. But this semi-abstraction does not in any way obstruct the viewers’ perception of the artist’s feeling and pensiveness. 

  • Kamal Kabir

Sadhana Islam (1954) has earned popularity through Batik medium. Her batiks are not limited to illustrating the traditional ballads only. She also uses calligraphy stylistically on batiks which sometimes includes human figures along with birds, nature and animals. Each work depicts a complete story that highlights the Bengali identity. Her works are closely related to the local myths, beliefs and visions. Besides batik, the artist has done many paintings through the egg tempera and she has widely focused on folk motifs. Over a large span of her career, she has been working on folk motifs and ancient ballads. She has also used different kinds of birds, rural life and different social, cultural and religious rituals, boats, riverine life and greenery – all as pleasant and decorative motifs. Beside batik and egg tempera, she has also worked with acrylic, oil, dry pastel, charcoal and others. Most of her works highlight bucolic and rustic elements, flowers and birds in different genres, rural women carrying pitchers, peasants fluting under the tree, lush foliage, bulls and buffalos.

  • Sadhana Islam

Ranjit Das (1956) has his gaze fixed on the course of social life and time as a vehicle for setting in motion the socio-cultural and political drift of the day. It can be indisputably stated that he is one of the most versatile Bangladeshi painters, equally adept in portraits, landscapes, visual rendering of socio-political and economic issues and other topics of the society. For his unique characteristic, the painter has gone through various phases of experimentation and each process visualises an idiosyncratic artistic view. It has been deeply detected that Ranjit’s figures articulate many moods where melancholy, bliss, rage, sympathetic and unstable emotional states are frequently immersed. He has always had an attempt to provide an emotional delineation in his drawings and he wants to produce drawings/paintings that not only describe how we look physically but also capture mental and emotional states. The painter has also projected many animal forms with figural expressions that convey many mind-boggling expressions. 

  • Ranjit Das

Naima Haque’s (1956) paintings have a delicate touch of reality with focused projection. Her works denote purity and spirituality where soft colours and tiny forms are prominent. She has an inborn sense of colour, which makes her works lively and expressive. Bright colours with sketch-based human figures and varied animal forms are also recurring features of her works. She is also known as an illustrator. Some of her paintings have a delicate touch of pure abstraction. Scribbles, rectangular forms have been set against different hues. Her works also highlight graphic lines. She is comfortable in any media, whether it be oil or acrylic or water- colour or even crayon. She loves to vary her style. In her compositions she is trying to say something. The colours and forms communicate to many. 

Mohammad Eunus' (1954)  paintings hit me like waves of power, truth and revelation. He paints romantic landscapes, nostalgia, social turmoil emblematically and primeval mythological motifs before he sets his canvases on the floor or easel, throw and flick and drip paint on them. Then he minimises the amorphous forms and shapes and added an aesthetically balanced appearance. As an intense onlooker, Eunus closely scrutinises the changing socio-political and economic conditions of the country. His manipulation of forms, scattered muted drawings and cognizant brush strokes create a language simultaneously natural and contrived. His palette swings between mellow and bold, strokes between rugged and controlled conjuring up a visual playground for joy and ecstasy. 

  • Mohammad Eunus

Jamal Ahmed (1955) has been successfully documenting Bengal’s scenic beauty as well as nubile women in all their curvaceous beauty, gypsy women, oarsman, boatman, flood-affected people, bucolic panoramic view, riverine people, metropolis, bauls, mendicants, working class people over the decades. Pigeons, horses, fishermen, disadvantaged people and their daily chores are recurrent themes in his paintings. Besides painting of the rural life and its people, Jamal is an accomplished portrait painter. Realism is his forte; his acrylic based paintings depict the exact quality of drapery or the skin tone of a man or woman. 

Mostafizul Haque (1957) studied Japanese styles of painting at the University of Tsukuba. His paintings feature figurative (particularly animal) elements. The painter has focused on different animal forms (particularly horse, buffalo, vulture) from assorted perspectives. Haque’s work also features uneven ground, rigid forms and carries varied tones in different parts of the canvas.

Ivy Zaman (1958) is well known for her theme-oriented sculptures and paintings. Her focus is on forms and pure compositions. The sensuous forms she creates, in the backdrop of nature, are as realistic as they are exquisitely elegant. Upon careful examination of her works, one finds that the artist tries to combine archetypal images with local materials found in her surroundings. She explores the boundaries of expressions with the varieties of birds, animals and botanical motifs like seeds, roots, trees, foliage as well as numerous indigenous forms. Her casts in bronze and other metals (for sculpture) have become noteworthy in the Bangladeshi art circuit. Amidst the forms and shapes of her sculptures, the underlying message is the eternal beauty of nature. Her abiding love for nature dates back to her childhood days in Bogra, where she and her friends used to stroll on the banks of the river Korotoa till the small hours of the night. They were enraptured by the boats with lanterns and the reflection of the silver moonlight on the river. Other enduring memories are those of flocks of birds winging their way home and silent darkness -- all of which are expressed in lively and innovative ways in her work.

  • Ivy Zaman

Sheikh Afzal (1960) has delved deep into the ambience of pastoral greenery and foliage, riverine life as well as bucolic culture. He prefers seasonal changes, tranquil landscapes, ponds, people engaged in collection of date juice and fishing in knee-deep river, mustard and green paddy fields in autumn, rainy days and winter days. He portrays the landscape in its essential harmony. Though Afzal lives in the city, his umbilical cord is seemingly intact with his birthplace (Jhenaidah). For this reason, the subjects of his paintings recurrently represent pastoral life and its vibrant fluctuations.

Kazi Rakib (1958) is a well-known artist for articulating creativity in glass painting. With extreme care and laborious diligence, he has made many glass paintings where figure and non-figurative motifs, visages, flora and fauna, fishes, green foliages, pebbles and stones as well as underwater world have been highlighted. In keeping with his experimental nature, he has worked in pen, pencil, watercolour, acrylic, pastel, oil pastel, oil, screen-print, collage, terracotta, woodblock, xerograph, copper, steel, glass and more. His paintings create an expression on the essence of a colour and what the colours really mean. Over the years, he has developed a number of techniques, which are very expensive and time consuming, requiring immense effort and devotion.

Kanak Chanpa Chakma (1963) has been working on ethnic themes for a long time. Her works invariably feature indigenous people and their daily chores. Imposing texture and mellow surface with meticulous space provide a personal hallmark to her works. She is inspired by the vivid colours of indigenous attire, the hills, forests, jhum cultivation, pristine blue waterfalls, dance and music in other words, anything that defines life in the hilly areas of Bangladesh. Her works also capture the serene moods associated with Buddhism and its various spiritual aspects. The semi-realistic and the abstract mingle in her works. The figures in her paintings are lively and easily communicate with the viewers for their expressive traits.

Samiran Chowdhury (1963) is now recognised as a pure abstract painter and prefers to highlight in pleasant splendour the themes of the spiritual world and emotions. Samiran’s paintings, infused with great spiritual intensity, engage the viewer with great emotional force, inspiring contemplation and meditation. At a point of his artistic career, he did figurative work -- painting men and women, animals, kites, rickshaws, boats, ships, pigeons and sunflowers. During that period, he had a great penchant for portraying the female form against diverse backgrounds.

  • Samiran Chowdhury

Afrozaa Jamil Konka (1963) made a shift from Oriental to Realistic art in her early days. Though she changed her field of study, she tries to maintain a correlation between her present working style and Oriental art. She largely focuses on the female visage and various aspects of nature. The faces symbolise her dreams, beliefs and desires. She reveals her views with expressions -- in bold lines, rough textures and bright colours. Recently, the painter’s themes mirror various social, political and environmental issues. Beside the issues, birds, flora and fauna have been placed in the limelight by the artist in a number of her recent exhibitions.

Mohammad Fokhrul Islam (1964) delved into dots, points, monochromic images and architectural lines. Glow, simplicity and straight lines are noticeable features of Fokhrul’s works. When one looks at his works more intimately, innumerable combinations of lines and tones are noticeable. But the interesting thing is that the lines and tones do not have a chaotic or monotonous impact on his works. 

Mohammad Iqbal (1967) is recognised mainly for his theme- based paintings. His canvases are engrossed with various visible and shadowy figures. The background of most of his compositions is occupied by abstract forms, delightful colours and soft tones. Most of his paintings are oil-based as he is comfortable in the medium and had his higher education in Fine Arts on Oil Painting in Japan. Before going to Japan for his higher studies, the painter's works focused on saints and Bauls. Some of the other motifs in Iqbal's paintings are middle-aged figures, children, animals, ancient edifice, rivers, vessels, hills and sky. Some of his paintings clearly highlight pure composition. The compositions convey his fondness for translucent lines and tiny forms.

  • Mohammad Iqbal

Maksudul Ahsan (1966) is one of the distinguished and thoughtful painters who earned acknowledgment at the early 1990s. Social and urban life and its socio-economic aspects, as well as the surrounding atmosphere have made a great impact on his several periods of works. His works plunge deep into childhood, nature, social and political disorder, partition of the sub-continent and after its effects, human relationships, personal loss, social injustice, gender discrimination and more. As a socially aware painter, Maksud’s paintings always highlight social and political turmoil, psychological disorder of human being and he also limns the moving and remarkable sights around us. Figure and animal movements both have also captured simultaneously in some of his paintings done in different periods. Maksud emblematically focuses on the strength and power. He also tries to highlight the gallantry of masses.

Goutam Chakraborty (1965) is known for his miniature paintings. In search of perfection, he devotes much time to a single piece of work. The painter has distinguished himself as a remarkable artist, revealing his creativity by using alluring forms, subtle and subdued colours on canvases with refreshing and lyrical forms. He has used the canvases in semi-realistic, semi-abstract and sometimes in surrealistic modes. Goutam has worked on a number of themes. His world of animals is rich in symbolic effects. It consists of cats, horses and elephants. An interesting aspect of Goutam’s work is the presence of crimson, yellow and a white bar across each composition, sometimes straight but often bent.

  • Goutam Chakraborty

Another important event for our art scene was Asian Art Biennale. In 1981, first Asian Art Biennale was held in Dhaka. Since then the festival has been organised by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. The Biennale brings a festive mood among the artists, art enthusiasts and critics. The festival has given us a chance to introduce with overseas painters' artworks, their styles, techniques and themes. Our artists started to prepare with new ideas and techniques. From that time, our artists' especially young painters started to experiment with themes, lines, compositions, forms and textures. During the phase, many bright painters tried to establish their hallmarks and personal languages.

… To Chapter 3

About the Writer
Takir Hossain is an art critic and cultural curator. He has been writing on contemporary Bangladeshi art and culture for a long time. His keen interests are on art and literature. As an art critic, his criticisms have been incorporated in many reputed artists’ books, brochures, national and international art journals as well as many other varied forms of creative publication. On many occasions, the critic has presented keynote papers for national and international seminars. He has also graced the position of a jury member in a number of art competitions and carnivals. In his vibrant career he has covered several international exhibitions held in different countries across Europe and Asia.
The writer can be reached at