Ranabi: Artist, Activist, Legend
"In my life of 80 years, I have been in the arts for 65. In that time, all I have done is, I have learned. I am still learning, and maybe if I live a few more years, I will be worthy enough to be called an artist," said the legendary Rafiqun Nabi, adoringly known as Ranabi, in the opening ceremony of his retrospective exhibition yesterday, in a moment of pure humility.
The month-long exhibition commemorates the great artist's 80th birthday (November 28), arranged jointly by Gallery Chitrak, Rafiqun Nabi's 80th birthday celebratory committee 2023 -- at the Bangladesh National Museum and Gallery Chitrak simultaneously.
"We are out of our depth when it comes to talking about an artist like Rafiqun Nabi, he is one of my most treasured confederates. Our friendship goes back a long way when we used to secretly mobilize against the Pakistan regime around 1966/67 – Nabi bhai, along with his friends, used to help us with posters we needed", said cultural personality and renowned actor, Asaduzzaman Noor, MP, who presided over the event.
The chief guest of the exhibition was Jatiya Sansad Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, MP, who noted in her speech, "We can see the painstaking journey of our nation through his paintings over the years. He is one of the rare art 'historians' of our nation who curated our history through his paintings. His most commendable artform is perhaps his satirical arts, such as in Tokai. We used to wait for the newspapers only to see his cartoons."
Many more dignitaries spoke during the event, including the special guest, Dr A A M S Arefin Siddique, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Dhaka, Professor Nisar Hossain, an eminent artist and Dean, Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, Director General of Bangladesh National Museum, MD Kamruzzaman.
Near the end of the event, the dignitaries unveiled a historically important book collection, "Tokai O Onnano Cartoon".
Previously On the eve of the opening ceremony of the exclusive exhibition, Rafiqun Nabi, the harbinger of the famous cartoon character 'Tokai', talked to The Daily Star. "Artists are always young at art. They see the world differently. Age cannot limit their creative thought process and practice," he said. "Starting from the British era to Pakistani regime to independent Bangladesh till date, I am ceaselessly working with love, passion and socio-political consciousness and commitment to Bangladesh's nature and humanity."
He continued, "I don't know whether my works will encompass eternal time or not. However, I have dedicated my entire life to it. I always kept my creative spirit erected beginning from my school, till date. I have tried to take essence from my beautiful motherland and portrayed diverse works mingling with my aesthetic lens and senses."
He asserted that unlike foreign artists, we never indulged in self-centric mundane interests of reputation. Rather, he was involved in many glorious movements; be it: political, cultural or educational. Our founding father of fine art, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin together with his contemporaries, established the art institution what is now the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka, which brought forth many legendary artists, critics, designers and many other art professionals in the country.
"Abedin sir emphasized on creating movement using the weapons of art and education. I feel proud to be a part of that noble initiative. Again, we were involved in many glorious movements ranging from the Language Movement to the Liberation War," he said. "We took part in those movements and processions with cartoons, posters and caricatures feeling a solemn responsibility for the society, our political identity and above all, humanity. We, the artists, and not any political party, ideated many slogans, posters and cartoons for many processions and movements. Yet, we worked for nourishing our souls and for a living," said the artist.
During the event, Professor Nisar Hossain mentioned that two exhibitions will be held simultaneously. Hundreds of artworks have been collected from various collectors for museum exhibition.
Another initiative has been taken to make the artist's birthday festive on November 28. Starting from 3pm on the day, the weeklong exhibition will be held at Zainul Gallery-1 and 2, Faculty of Fine Art, University of Dhaka. The special exhibition will feature Rafiqun Nabi's cartoons, book covers and posters. Apart from this, a four-volume book will be officially published on his cartoon collection. Another book, titled 'Unoshotturer Chhora' will be published, where the artist embellished this collection of rhymes published in 1969.
The author is an artist, art critic and a contributor for Arts & Entertainment, The Daily Star.