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    Volume 9 Issue 4 | January 22, 2010|

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Tracing the dramatic idylls of lines, dots and dashes

Fayza Haq

Aminul Islam's exhibition at "Chitrak" contains samples of his works over a period of time, done, many decades back. A in his family , taking his course at the Fine Arts Institute on his own was inspitred by the Rennaissance artists such as Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and also by Gaganindranath Thakur ( who did the first figurative work in the Subcontinent in the 20s and 30s ).

With the persuasion of Shilpachary Zainul Abedin, Aminul Islam came away to Dhaka from Kolkata after the Partition of 1947, and met creative people here like Shamsur Rahman, Hasan Hafizur Rahman and Aladuddin Al Azad. In 1948 he joined the Department of Fine Arts, D. U. with Quamrul Hassan and Safiuddin Ahmed to guide him. Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin was then away in Karachi. After passing in 1953, Aminul Islam went to Italy on a scholarship. Coming home, three years later, due to the Suez Crisis, he could not go back to Italy. Also, he was offered the post of a teacher at the Art College.

" I was happy with the prospect," says Aminul Islam, "as I wanted to groom up promising students myself." He added that times then were different then. What they learnt in five years is learnt now," he says. Aminul Islam wanted to introduce experimentation, but the authorities felt that academic work should continue. At that time there were many exhibitions, so that there were limited sales. He himself, in his early days, had gone in for book illustrations.

While in Italy in 1955, he managed to sell two paintings for a good price, and with the money he bought a motorcycle and toured Europe. In London he had his friends Hamidur Rahman and Novera Ahmed, and staying in UK was made easy for him, The three went to Florence and saw the museums together. He also enjoyed being in Rome and Paris.

Talking about his paintings, taken from different stages in his life, Aminul Islam says, "You learn by seeing. We copy from nature and what is around us. Going from realism to abstraction has been a long process, although, I admit some artists take to abstraction, out of the blue just because others around them are into it. You simplify forms into geometrical shapes and so go into abstractions. A lot of my works are simply called "composition", which keep shapes and balance in mind. They have a lot of improvisation as one finds in classical music. If one wants to limit oneself to paintings that are easily recognizable, it would be like singing folk songs, veering away from classical. For me tradition means the culture of the whole world -- and not just village women, boats, rivers and mustard fields. "

Explaining why he had used mirrors on his canvases, in some of his work, seen elsewhere , Aminul Islam explains that this was to bring in the selfish images of the onlooker. Also, he wanted the viewer to be a part of the painting. This parley was taken, way back, at "Shilpangan".

Aminul Islam was indisposed during his "Chitrak" display. This was the case of most other senior individuals of the visual art and literature who were present at the opening of the drawing display at " Chitrak" , Faiz Ahmed, the noted journalist and litterateur, Sayed Shamsul Haque , authority on various facets of culture -- here and overseas -- and Murtaja Baseer the well-known artist, who studied in Italy, like Aminul Islam.

Numerous authorities on visual art and literature, young and old, had gathered at "Chitrak " on the opening evening at "Chitrak".

The setting at "Chitrak" on the weekend, on January 9 was as idyllic and romantic as always. The trees, flowering bushes, the darkening sky in the backdrop; the exchange of ideas over just a cup of tea and few snacks, created a festive mood despite the enveloping winter chill.

Faiz Ahmed, speaking to "The Daily Star" about the importance of lines -- as Aminul Islam's display was that of fanciful lines, dashes and dots says," In Bangladesh drawing has not progressed as it should have had. In the more serious and senior artists, of today, drawing is not seen as perhaps it should have had. However, even in the young artists of today, some interest in drawing is seen. This is, sometimes, taken from photos instead of sketches. Video art has crept in too. The depth and force of lines cannot be seen, as you put it.

"At first, the present teachers began with sketches, " says Faiz Ahmed. Touching on Quamrul Hassan, Faiz Ahmed says, "After the 1947 Partition he came to Dhaka, along with Zainul Abedin. After a few years, Quamrul Hassan was given a government job, designing borders for 'saris' i.e. for our cottage industry. Thus drawing developed from 1950 to 1970. After that, his students, whom he gathered around him, picked up the routine of drawing. In the schools, meanwhile, art students found drawing a bit too simple, or so they thought. Drawing remains the basics of visual art. Going on to abstraction, in an unarranged manner is not possible.

Commenting on Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin's sketches, Faiz Ahmed says, " Yes, the famine of 1942-43, in Calcutta -- where starving beggars with bloated bellied children -- who had almost no food at all, crows and pariah street dogs-- made Zainul Abedin famous. Drawings done by Abedin are unforgettable elements. These were done by The Statesman' in Calcutta, and this brought world wide fame unparalleled fame for Zainul Abedin .

"Before that the daily newspaper from Calcutta, 'Shadhinota'-- of leftist backing -- had encouraged the artist with his sketches. 'Shadhinota' had, in fact, printed his drawings in a separate massive collection .

" Later on, much later on, Aminul Islam, the subject today, had his exposure to western influences and finesse. This goes also for his counterparts, like Murtaja Baseer. Safiuddin, the oldest living artist, and Mohammed Kibria had lines which were dynamic too. The artists, who began their career under Zainul Abedin and Quamrul Hasan, had carried on with their studies in a serious and hell-bent manner. Qayyum Chowdhury; and later, Shahid Kabir and Monirul Islam -- who came even later -- had powerful lines as well. They, in turn, were, naturally, inspired by their teachers -- local and overseas. "

Murtaja Baseer, in turn, in his brief parley, rounding up, says" Aminul Islam's drawings, on display today, at 'Chitrak' are taken from nature, i.e. the tree trunks, foliage, rivers, waves, ripples the waves -- details, actual and real -- were added. All his drawings, were improvisations. I believe that the elements were there in his subconscious mind. The artist knew where to stop his lines and doodling. Aminul Islam's vision and prowess were remarkable, to say the least. "

Adding on how Italian Renaissance paintings and modern art have been combined in an inimitable way in Aminul Islam's work, Murtaja Baseer says, " Aminul's vision is like that of the Italian Renaissance painters. But his outlook is that of a modern man, not that of the 15th or 16th century. With the vision of a Renaissance painter, he accurately portrays the world in his mind, and the essence of nature around him. But this is an abstract form.

Asked to comment on the art world, in general, and giving a few suggestions about the way to success, Murtaja Baseer said, "Art and literature are based on a firm base; with painting one should have one's own identity; in literature one must have your own 'language'. Only then can one creative person's work survive." Dwelling on the quality of the art world today, Murtaja Baseer concludes "I believe that art, in Bangladesh, has undoubtedly advanced much more. This is despite the invasion of video art. The young local artist is much more of a technocrat than what we used to be, in our days. Now, modernization has cramped the artist's emotion. For today's artist the technique is much more vital."

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