Hashi Chakraborty, nickname Bachchu. I only heard his mother call him by this name when she used to come to Bangladesh to visit her son. He was born in his maternal uncle’s home in Gournadi (1948) and grew up in Barisal in his own house. A two-storey wooden house in a spacious area in front of BM College, trees, bushes, a lotus pond with an uncanny dawn, Aswini Kumar Town Hall, Shankar Math, Jibanananda’s house, a Kali Bari – these are the things amidst which his restless days of childhood, adolescence, and early youth had passed. In parallel with this eternal nature, there were eternal poverty, his father Sushil Chakraborty and Uncle Foni Chakraborty’s left-wing political ideology and repeated imprisonments, and his mother’s struggle. His personality and artistic mindset developed like foliage, in an amalgamation of all these factors. His fascination with painting began in school life when, in want of experience, his inquisitive mind sometimes crossed the social barriers, as he told me later.
Dhaka Art College, 1967. His father and uncle were still political prisoners. He got admitted to Art College with his mother’s permission. The capital city Dhaka was surely a new experience for a young man hailing from an area outside Dhaka. Though he was initially carried away by the political zeal for some time, tying a red flag on his head and chanting slogans in rallies, within a short time, Hashi Chakraborty was bound to leave it all and join the life of an art student.
There were two powerful groups of senior artists when Hashi Chakraborty came to study at the Art College. In the first genre, also the dominant one, artists prioritised content to express their artistic thoughts. The main proponents of this group were Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan, SM Sultan, Safiuddin Ahmed, Khwaja Shafiq Ahmed, Anwarul Haque and Mustafa Monwar who resorted to realism. A group of their students later came in direct contact with western art. They brought the western tradition to our art. Some of them followed the pure western style and some practised semi-abstract art forms. Major artists of this group were Aminul Islam, Mohammed Kibria, Hamidur Rahman, Abdur Razzaque, Murtaja Baseer, Rashid Choudhury, Devdas Chakraborty, Qayyum Chowdhury, Kazi Abdul Baset, sculptor Novera Ahmed, Syed Jahangir, Nitun Kundu, Hashem Khan, Samarjit Roy Choudhury, Abu Taher, A Matin, Mahtab, Shamsul Islam Nizami and Anwar Jahan. In the post-war reality, young artists didn’t find either of these two streams adequate for expressing their dreams and possibilities.
Hashi Chakraborty reminisced that time in his essay Amader Shilpokola O Shilpodorshon: “Our time was restless and we were young. The social, national and economic tension in the war-ravaged country had made the artists restless as well. We were not finding relief in the artworks around us. Or it can be said, we wanted to find out a unique way that would also be the best. Our perception was different from that of our predecessors—that is why we needed a different channel for expressing ourselves. Our experience was still not rich enough but the desire to be expressed was intense, more than that. It should be kept in mind that like today, every door of the world was not open before us. We were ready to write down on our exam paper whatever minimal news about the art of other countries we learned through reading art history but we were not tempted to follow that. We were looking for a distinct art language but it was not fully known to us. Besides getting acquainted with the works of our teachers who returned from abroad, we had seen low-quality reproductions of foreign arts. However, we were in need of such allusions and forms that would create intense conflict between image and meaning, and could express our wishes, desires, failures, and struggles for success through symbols. In that context, our art became more or less symbolic. The restlessness, disappointment, protest, outrage, and youthful romanticism of that time found expression in our works in their distinct forms. A surrealistic vibe was also experienced in some of the artists’ paintings. Realistic, abstract, semi-abstract, whatever the style, the expression was symbolism, that was the uniqueness of that time.”
The main proponents of that genre were Chandra Shekhar Dey, Hashi Chakraborty, Monsur Ul Karim, Kazi Hasan Habib, Bonijul Haque, Shahabuddin, Alok Roy, KMA Qayyum Momenul Reza, Asem Ansari, Maruf Ahmed, Ibrahim, Farida Zaman, Naima Haque and Nasim Ahmed. As students, 12 of them did an exhibition in 1973, under the Painters Group banner, in Bangladesh Charu O Karukola Mohabiddaloy which created great excitement in the artists’ circle. Their professors were not of favourable view about such experimentation with ‘modern’ techniques beyond academic work by the students. But one of the members of this group, artist Chandra Shekhar, holds the opinion that their effort brought modernism to Bangladesh’s art and opened up new avenues for the future generation.
Hashi Chakraborty had come to study MFA in the Fine Arts Department of Chattogram University in 1972 after completing his BFA in Dhaka Art College. After completing his MFA, he joined Chattogram Fine Arts College, first as a part-timer and then as a full-time teacher. Later, he became the principal and when Fine Arts College became Government Art College, he joined as a professor. He retired from Government Art College in 2007. However, his service was not detached from Fine Arts College; he was transferred to Chattogram Teachers’ Training College in 1988 and continued to work there until he was transferred back to Government Art College.
Hashi Chakraborty had come to Chattogram as a helpless young man. His life post-war was lonely and rootless. The loss of all paternal support and property in Barishal, his father’s demise in ’73, and many catastrophes and social degradation causing the entire family to migrate after the war, transformed him into a lone man in a city with no permanent address. He got married in 1976.
I was studying Bangla literature. According to the rules for Honours degree at the time, two subsidiary subjects had to be studied alongside the main Honours subject. Fine Arts was one of my two subjects. Later on, for almost 18 years, I taught Bangla in pre-degree classes and aesthetics, as a compulsory subject, in BFA degree classes at the Chattogram Art College. Almost all of the little knowledge I had of the Fine Arts, I had received from Hashi Chakraborty. I had seen the process of how a painter’s imagination takes form as lines and colours on a canvas, to create a painting. Conversations and marathon chats with many erudite artists and friends at home, drawing whatever we wanted on the sketchbook on the floor whenever we felt like it – their company, anger, reproach, praise – all of this together slowly unfolded in front of me a mysterious world of the Fine Arts, with colours, lines, language and terminology. I had to undergo theoretical education on the Fine Arts when Hashi Chakraborty wanted to put some of his artistic thoughts into writing. I had to undertake the job of writing: transforming his thoughts into words was difficult since I was not a painter, the thoughts were not fully mine, and it was also not dictated to me. Prior to this, I had only turned his spoken words into writing for catalogues of his solo exhibitions. Apart from constant conversations with artists, I had started to read about the art history of many national and international art critics, and also articles and books about arts, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. This piece today is also written in light of these deliberations.
Four to five paintings done by Hashi Chakraborty in 1975 (all of them were works from his Master’s, as far as I can remember) were displayed at the First Young Artists’ Art Exhibition 1975 organised by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. In that exhibition, the painting titled ‘Composition with Eye’ won the best prize in the Fine Arts category. These paintings at the exhibition were the first ones by him that I had seen. There was ‘Composition with Eye’ and possibly three paintings from the ‘Image of Love’ series. Even though the many objects and forms in the oil paintings on hardboard seemed to have no direct relationship, their composition was so brilliant that one would not be able to keep his/her eyes off them. The painting ‘Composition with Eye’ gives an indication of Hashi Chakraborty’s overall artworks. The entire background consisted of a deer, a large-sized human eye, three fish bodies placed in order, with fish bones next to them, a burning candle, an owl – all of these together made up the composition. Even though symbolism was one of the main features of his paintings, I realised eventually that these symbols were more to provide a visual experience than any psychological or theoretical meaning.
I had been a witness to Hashi Chakraborty’s painting career since 1976. Oil paint was his main medium. I have never seen him comfortable with any medium other than oil paint apart from in 1982 when he tested out enamel paint for an abstract series. I noticed his focus being more on the use of colours rather than the presentation of the subject matter in his paintings. His self-regulated discipline when mixing colours, and his uniqueness in using colours, had set him apart from other artists of the time. His tendency to use different symbols as the subject matter in his paintings during the early stages gradually transformed into simple portrayal of nature. I feel as though, throughout his journey of art, his paintings have undergone a continuous change. His colours and the method through which he uses them, his subjects and how he presents them, all have gone through a subtle change from one painting to the next.
Hashi Chakraborty’s first art exhibition was at Chattogram Club in 1965. Four years later, his second solo exhibition was at Saju Art Gallery, Gulshan. In these four years, his art style had become known to the audience. In 1977, he won the Best Artist prize among all categories at the Young Artists’ Art Exhibition organised by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Even though he had not entirely stopped using symbolism when presenting his subject, colours had gradually become the main focus of his paintings and he became fixated on portraying nature. He mentioned the use of colours as the main ingredient for all of his paintings. He wanted to create a unique style of painting, with a bold combination of colours, lines, and composition, which would carry his identity. Drawing is an integral part of an artist’s every moment and every day. His drawings were made with bare ink lines which were straight, clear, one-directional, ordinary yet extraordinary, allegorical, and hence poetic.
His third exhibition was in 1982, at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Even though he had to leave behind his childhood’s enchanting memory of riverine Barishal, he found inspiration in the greenery, sea, and hills of Chattogram. Gradually, the simplicity of nature became dominant in his subject matter alongside the use of symbols. “The diversity and beauty of nature attract me, and so whenever I think about a painting that is what comes up.” This was the main theme of his third exhibition.
His fourth solo exhibition was in 1989, at the German Cultural Centre and his fifth exhibition was in 1993, at Jojon Contemporary Art Gallery. According to art critics, Hashi Chakraborty’s art style had reached maturity by then. In creating light and shadow on the canvas, his main weapon was colour, instead of the subject matter. Famous oil-painter and professor of fine arts Mohammed Kibria’s observation on his student Hashi Chakraborty’s works in his fourth solo exhibition is very pertinent in this regard: “His skill in the art of colour-mixing in canvas is worth seeing. Of all the colours, the use of black is prominent which has made his paintings powerful and complete. Besides, his use of blue and yellow has made his paintings suggestive and successful.” Referring to the variation in colour usage by Hashi Chakraborty in his fifth solo art exhibition, Kibria commented: “Though Hashi especially works on basic forms, he is again keeping white space in his works which is different from his earlier works. The use of colour is quite bold. His creative thoughts are very clear. His experiences are noticeable in his paintings.”
The last two solo exhibitions of Hashi Chakraborty were in Sweden, in 1994 and 1995. He had painted these works while on a personal trip to Europe. In his own words, “I have tried to draw the speed of colour and line. In a different way, it’s the speed of life.”
After 1991-1992, his paintings began to portray the many burdens of social life, and the frustration, instability, and complexity of his personal life and surroundings, in realistic, semi-realistic and abstract forms.
Hashi Chakraborty’s interest in organisational work had also shaped his life. While studying at Dhaka Art College his organisational spirit found root in the establishment of Painters Group. Later, that enthusiasm flourished in the form of Chattogram Art College, Five Fingers (a children’s organisation established in 1998), and Hashi’s Studio (established for children and teenagers after his retirement). For the last five years, we, Hashi Chakraborty’s family, have been organising a children’s art competition named Srishti Shukher Ullashe in Chattogram to keep the spirit of the artist alive among children.
Alongside paintings, he had done wall art, cover, poster, etc., based on the theme of the Liberation War. He had also written on art and education. He authored a book titled Rekha o Lekhae Hashi Chakraborty (Hashi Chakraborty in line and words).
Personally, Hashi Chakraborty was an affable person. Having been uprooted from his birthplace, all his life he wished to spread his roots in the hearts of his friends. This extremely sensitive and unquiet person became lonesome in his final years of life. Even though he was downright family-oriented, his heart was that of a monk. He is an artisan of creating colours on a palette, a poet of colours in a painting, and a calm, tranquil nature lover.
(Hashi Chakraborty was born on 25 January, 1948 and died on 28 July, 2014.)
Chhaya De is a retired Professor of Bangla. She is the wife of artist Hashi Chakraborty.
PHOTO COURTESY: Hashi Chakraborty’s family members.