Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed's 9th death anniversary: Behind the artist’s depictions of the colour black
Born in Kolkata in 1922, Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed spent twenty-five years in the city, before he was uprooted and shifted to Dhaka during the partition. Art historian Professor Syed Azizul Haque in his memoir on the artist mentioned that Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed considered black as the king of colours. He found it difficult to use black on his canvas.
So, in order to know the colour and tame it, he took long bicycle journeys to different places. During the 1930s and 40s, often, he went to Sealdah station in Kolkata at night to practice. He gained experience with the colour while working with wood-engraving. His first most notable painting through wood-engraving is 'Ghare Fera' or 'Barir Pathe' (1944), which shows a combination of buffalo, palm tree and sky. The landscape is set in Dumka, Santiniketan. The sky is predominant in this painting done against the light; as a result, the colour of buffalo and palm tree is dark black; Set at dusk, the light on the earth erodes a lot, but its hue in the sky stays.
When he went to London, Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed's fascination and curiosity towards black remained intact. He seeked help from his teachers to master the colour. In this perspective, he used a variety of blacks through etching-aquatint. His mind however, was not satisfied with this practice.
For more than three years in the 90s, he worked tirelessly to create a set of sketches, through the use of black. It was only towards the end of his career that he showed some satisfaction of mastering the colour. He named these images 'Black Series'.
The reasons for his biases or his diligence for black is unknown but what is known for a fact is that Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed enjoyed challenges. He engaged himself in difficult tasks, so, mastering black seems to be befitting with his nature. He spent hours making many sketches, and picking the draft of his choice from them to start working on the main one. He mastered light and shade in his works and perhaps it is for the desire of light that he recognised the austerities of black.
This year also marked his birth centenary. Commemorating the life and works of Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed, his family has set up a museum and working space for young artists at Safiuddin Shilpalay in Dhanmondi, Dhaka.