In conversation with Syed Abdullah Khalid | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 18, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 18, 2017

Standing the test of time

In conversation with Syed Abdullah Khalid

Syed Abdullah Khalid is considered one of the pioneer sculptors of Bangladesh. He is predominantly recognised for his brilliant work “Aparajeyo Bangla”, one of the most iconic sculptures in our country (made between 1973-'79). It was rare to find such a life-sized sculpture at that time. A versatile artist, Khalid has not only excelled in sculpture but also made a great impression with his vibrant paintings.

The sculptor has bagged Ekushey Padak this year for his lifetime contributions to arts. “I am feeling good to receive such recognition after so many years. It's better late than never,” says Khalid.

Imagination, love for nature and the motherland continue to drive his artistic endeavours. Khalid feels that a strong urge from within, together with artistic conceptualisation are necessary for the creation of great works. The reflection of time and the conspicuous connotations of life and nature are noticeably highlighted in his creations.

“Life and death are not the themes I think much on. The greater truth is the feeling of time. I do accept that truth in my life,” says the sculptor.

Khalid's “Aparajeyo Bangla” is a reflection of the Bengali conscience and indomitable yearning for freedom. The project was launched in 1973. When he was a young faculty member at the Department of Fine Arts of Chittagong University, the DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students' Union) committee commissioned him to build a monument that would depict the glory of the Liberation War.

“I started looking for people who would model for my miniature scale structure. In my layout, I planned for three figures where the centre one would be a farmer with a rifle on his shoulder and grenade in his hand. On the left side there would be a lady with a first aid box in her hand and on the right side there would be a student who would represent the young student body who took part in the war,” says Khalid.

Hasina Ahmed, Syed Hamid Moksood and Badrul Alam Benu, who are very close to Khalid, modelled for “Aparajeyo Bangla”. The artist closely observed the models' personalities and his close association with them enabled him to do justice with his portrayal. On August 15, 1975, the work suddenly came to a halt because of the heinous killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Political instability and the arrest of the then Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University, Abdul Matin Chowdhury, also disrupted the work.

Throughout the making of the sculpture, Khalid had to face anarchism and negative reactions from religious fundamentalists. The project remained incomplete till the end of 1978. Some fundamentalist groups tried to demolish the sculpture in 1977. However, the valiant students of Dhaka University fiercely guarded the work. After a long hiatus, the work began again in early 1979 with a new vision and dream. At last the project was finished on December 16, 1979. The sculpture was inaugurated by wounded freedom fighters.

“I think struggle is one of the most remarkable traits of human nature. The rewards we get without struggles are paled when compared to achievements accomplished through physical and psychological labours,” says Khalid.

After a brief meeting with the then Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University Dr. Fazlul Halim Chowdhury, Khalid restarted his work on carving the figures but his job seemed to have become more difficult than before. While working, his hands became swollen with bruises and cuts as four years of interval made that surface stronger and more concentrated. Whenever the hammer struck the structure it would spark with fire.

“I wanted to do something for my country. After the Liberation War, I had a plan to create a symbol which would inspire the forthcoming generations,” asserts Khalid, the model of an ideal artist.

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