Into The Unknown
“There is something I forgot to say.”
These were the last words of Qayyum Chowdhury. Nobody would ever know what the celebrated artist wanted to say. He collapsed right after, taking with him his unspoken words to the great beyond.
The 82-year-old painter spoke as the special guest before a 25,000 strong crowd of music connoisseurs at the Bengal Classical Music Festival at the capital's Army Stadium last night.
In his speech, Qayyum talked about the chronology of art practices in Bangladesh. "It was the musicians -- the likes of Jasimuddin and Abdul Alim -- whose music inspired me to portray the opulence of my country on canvas," he said.
Delivering his speech, Qayyum got back to his seat. He again walked to the podium to say something. But he collapsed around 8:30pm.
Unconscious, he was whisked off to the nearby Combined Military Hospital by an ambulance.
CMH Commandant Brig Gen Mohammad Nasir Uddin told the media that the noted painter suffered a massive cardiac arrest and breathed his last around 9:00pm.
Prof Emeritus Anisuzzaman got on the stage at the music festival and announced that Qayyum had passed away.
"I never imagined that I have to convey the message of his demise in such a way," said Anisuzzaman, who has been a friend of Qayyum for over six decades.
Qayyum left behind his wife, only son, and a host of friends, numerous admirers and well-wishers to mourn his death.
Born in Feni in 1932, Qayyum graduated in 1954 from the Government Institute of Arts, now Faculty of Fine Arts at Dhaka University. In 1960, he married Tahera Khanum, also an artist.
His father Abdul Quddus Chowdhury was an inspector of cooperatives, a job that saw frequent transfers. It gave Qayyum the opportunity to know a lot about the rural Bengal and that had a great influence on the themes of his artwork.
Mentored by maestro Zainul Abedin, who established the first art school in Dhaka, Qayyum pursued his passion during the most exciting stages of the art movement in the 50s.
Many of his early works are characterised as neat compositions thematically based on rural life but treated with a contemporary flavour using geometric shapes and lines.
His depiction of the traditional mahajan (money lender), oil on canvas done in 1956, is remarkable in its details and treatment.
“Boat in the moonlight” (1956) has the familiar balance and sharpness as well as the realistic imagery made dreamlike through watercolour that dominated his early works.
A lithograph called “village woman”, a favourite subject for the artist, shows the beginning of Qayyum's knack for creating perfectly balanced collages, often a trademark of his book covers for which he is well known.
In the 70s, Qayyum's works were influenced by political movements in which he had been involved.
His “'7th March, 1971'” captures the spirit of the Liberation War in a glorious design of festive colours -- blue, red, yellow and green.
In “Protest”, a work done after the Liberation War, countless oars are seen held by pronounced figures and the colours were muted enhancing the sombre expressions of the faces.
Qayyum's artistic sensitivity towards the turbulence around him recurs in “Bangladesh 71” (oil on canvas, 1972), representing the genocide of 1971, the anguish, terror and the destruction.
He became a teacher at Dhaka Art College in 1957. He left the job in 1960 to join the newly established Design Centre to work under Quamrul Hasan. Within a year, he decided to leave this job and joined the then Pakistan Observer as chief artist.
At the same time, he also worked for the Observer group's other publications namely Chitrali, a cine magazine, and Purbadesh, a news magazine.
President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia expressed deep shock at the renowned painter's death.
Around 10:30pm, his body was taken to the Square Hospitals, and will be kept at the hospital mortuary.
Qayyum's body will be taken to the Institute of Fine Arts around 10:00am today and then to Central Shaheed Minar where it will be kept from 11:00am to 1:00pm to allow people of all walks of life to last tribute to the great artist, Cultural Minister Asaduzzaman Noor told reporters at the hospital.
His namaz-e-janaza will be held at the Dhaka University Central Mosque after Zohr prayers. The artist will be buried at Azimpur graveyard, added the minister.
Qayyum won innumerable awards including, the Imperial Court Prize, Tehran Biennale, Gold medal for book design from the National Book Centre of Dhaka, the Shilpakala Academy Award, the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for Book Illustration, the Ekushey Padak, the 6th Bangabandhu Award and the Sultan Padak.
The artist was awarded Swadhinata Padak this year.