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     Volume 7 Issue 46 | November 21, 2008 |

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Bold and Buoyant

Fatema, acrylic on paper

Fayza Haq

Jamal Ahmed, looking debonair in his favourite ensemble of black and white attire, sitting at Gallery Chitrak, where his latest solo show is being held after a gap of ten years, speaks about his style and experience in the world of art.

Encouraged by his mother, who was into fine embroidery, and a father who gave him a studio to work in from the outset, he was encouraged by his teachers like Mohammed Kibria, Rafiqun Nabi, and Shahid Kabir. Going to Poland and Japan, on scholarships, he mastered the Japanese and Polish languages first, and forged ahead in gathering as much knowledge as he could about painting in those foreign countries. He is definitely on par with Nisar Hossian and Rokeya Sultana -- who were his contemporaries at the Department of Fine Arts, DU -- and every other popular Bangladeshi artist in their early fifties.

Today Jamal Ahmed is content to exhibit his masterful portraits in black and white , with significant touches of vibrant red and other earthy colours, to bewitch the onlooker about the "character" of his subjects, as he puts it. His portraits speak to one, as one examines them in Gallery Chitrak. Most of them, are taken from live sittings, working at one stretch, except ones like that of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, which he had to do from photographs. The ones of Shahid Kabir and Nisar Hossain are expressions of his affection and regard for these two artists. He uses crayons, pastels and touches of paints to lend contrast and heighten the effect. Learning from Goya, Rembrandt and also from Zainul Abedin's famous famine sketches of Bengal, 1942, Jamal Ahmed has presented these life-like, dramatic sketches, which are certainly very much beyond the limits of photography.

The portraits are moving, lyrical and poised, as if one were approaching them in real life -- and yet -- somehow, when sees them, one is taken back to the realm of the European masters -- who told stories of pain and pleasure in a superb and magnificent manner. There is nothing stylised or static about the portraits. They sing of the joy of human achievements, as one recalls the endeavours of the characters that Jamal Ahmed has delineated . Though the colours are minimal, the use of browns and black does not depress the viewer. The mood created by the lines and colours are a mysterious and magical combination of buoyancy and sobriety. The rhythm of the strokes and bold and nonpareil for someone his age. Other local contemporary master artists have dwelt on portraiture, but Jamal Ahmed's creations are surely more moving and breath taking.

Baul, pastel on paper.

Jamal Ahmed has painted semi nude figures of dusky, ordinary women, who lead humble lives, but who have the elegance and statuesque figures that would put a duchess in the dark. One admires the sensuous curves of the limbs, bosoms, hips and the rest of the details of the unique gift of God. What Boticelli and Rodin have presented centuries back, in paintings and sculpture, is here amalgamated with the more modern presentation of Renoir. The dark models move one as surely the odalisques of the paintings of French experts, who studied the beauty of the east and had presented them, combining the best of both words-- as did Gauguin, Degas and Delacroix. Jamal has drunk deep of the art of presenting the essence of the beauty of the human body in all its glory -- as did artists from the Renaissance onwards and even much before that -- in both the first and third worlds.

Jamal Ahmed's pulsating portraitures, with all the marvel of the details, including the cascades of hair, Cupid lips and gazelle eyes have all the charm of some "Birth of Venus", as seen in the twenty-first century. The swirls, sweeps, smudges, dots and dashes add poetry to Jamal Ahmed's portraiture. The folds of the drapery frame the timeless beauties, with their copper skins and exotic eyes. The elegance and charm of the paintings of the Mughal court, The Bengal School, or the much earlier creations of Ajanta and Elora have not surpassed Jamal Ahmed's creations of female forms. The artist has captured the sensuality and not just the sexuality.

Even when Jamal Ahmed presents simple street "fakirs" and pavement dwellers, with their rags, ribbons and trailing streaks of beards, one is compelled to study them and find them a gorgeous presentation of humanity. Finding beauty in the ordinary has always been the quest of the romantic mind. One is not driven away by the dirt and squalor of Dhaka streets and lanes but taken to them by the languorous lines and minimal strokes. Here again Jamal Ahmed has excelled presenting the "character" of the human study.

The artist has won local and foreign acclaim for his paintings of pigeons too, of which, there are some notable ones in the present exhibition too. Here he has not combined the female form with the fascinating pigeons with their marvel of their feathers and gem-like ruby red eyes. Nevertheless, The wonderful birds -- presented in the simplest of colours -- capture one's imagination and lend repose to the onlooker, as they have always done in the past. The curls, twirls, and slashes of lines and hues charm one as few other current-day paintings of birds by local artists have done.

Landscape painting, presented in the horizontal manner, presenting lashes and flings of the river, along with the minute details of the pebbles, dunes and sand on the seashore is yet again one of Jamal Ahmed's perfections. Boats, with or without sails, human beings, and even animals are included in vibrant blues and beige. This is touched up with dots and streaks of egret white and touches of jet-black to play on the details of overwhelming depictions of nature and man.

Jamal Ahmed has exhibited at Japan, Poland, UK, USA, India, Pakistan and innumerable times in Bangladesh. He has won coveted awards and acclaim both at home and overseas.

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