Today (June 23) marks the 94th birth anniversary of eminent painter and printmaker Shilpaguru Safiuddin Ahmed (1948-2012). One of the founders of Dacca Art College (now the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka), Ahmed was a friend and colleague of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin. From 1948 to 1979, he served as head of the Department of Printmaking at the institution.
Ahmed entered the world of fine arts encouraged by his mother after his father passed away in the era of the British Raj. He studied in Calcutta. Ahmed earned fame for his lyrical prints from the time of Partition (1947). When he finished studying in Calcutta at the Government School of Art in 1943, Romendranath Chakraborty, the principal, taught him printmaking, although it was not in his syllabus. Mukul Dey also guided him at one stage. He later studied printmaking in London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts.
Ahmed's art mainly focused on rural panorama, pastoral life, landscapes, memories of 1971, the Language Movement, floods and other natural calamities as well as Santal life.
The Shilpaguru's artworks evoked romanticism coupled with the meanderings into the world of dreams and symbols. Imagination, reality and experimentation went into his works in grey, black and white. In sharp contrast to that was his neat and precise prints where waves, curves, lines and dots blended with one another to reflect sunshine and harmony over the land of rivers, boats, and birds in the valleys. Bulrushes, tree-tops, bushes and human beings were woven into his tapestry of dreams and reminiscences of the raindrops and musk-laden emerald and mustard fields of the Bangladeshi countryside.
Ahmed used muted colours along with his more buoyant ones but the overwhelming message was that of peace, tranquility and harmony for days to come. Man was seen as working in unison with nature so that the farmers, fishermen and honey-gatherers were seen as the triumphant heroes of Bangladesh. Blending in the impressions of European masters with the impact of the Indian icons, Ahmed made his own creations as his mood and imagination took him.
Ahmed was known for his woodcut engravings. He devoted much time to a single piece of painting and print. Black was the predominant aspect in his work. From the beginning, the maestro experimented with black and its mysterious tones, tenors and layers of colour. His pencil and charcoal sketches too are in black. His lines created a distinct idiom where one could learn about his perseverance, longing and devotion to art.
Some of Ahmed's outstanding achievements included the President's Gold Medal by Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta; first prize in the category of black and white in International Contemporary Art Exhibition, New Delhi; first prize in the category of black and white (etching and drawing) in Inter-Asian Art Exhibition in New Delhi and Patna Maharaja's Gold Medal. He was a recipient of the prestigious Ekushey Padak and Shadhinota Puroshkar.
Ahmed's first solo exhibition was held in 2008 by Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, on his 86th birthday. A two-part exhibition was later held in December 2010, with all his works, titled “Shilper Oshesh Alo”.
He passed away on May 20, 2012 at the age of 90.