Country’s first art school building faces extinction
The Maheshwarpasha Art School was established in 1904 by artist Shashibhushan Pal, the first of its kind for the East Bengal region.
Shashibhushan established the school on the east side of the present Jashore Road, inside his own home. In 1918, it managed to secure recognition and funding from the government 14 years later.
A little over a hundred years from then, the school's premise is now about to be auctioned off to construct a similar building in its place. This comes despite disapproval from conscious citizens, who would rather see the original building turned into a historical landmark.
According to educationists, researchers, and historical books on Khulna, in 1929, the school was shifted to the west side of Jashore Road. It used to confer the four year "Diploma in Fine Art" certificate.
After the Partition, the Maheshwarpasha School of Art was renamed Shashibhushan Art College.
In 1983, it emerged as Khulna Art College and was shifted to Gallamari area. In 2009, it became known as the Institute of Fine Arts under Khulna University.
Meanwhile, local well-wishers built the Shashibhushan Shishu Vidya Niketan at the original location about four decades ago. In 1980, a primary school was established there, while the grounds saw a secondary school in 1991. With these two, the complex now has three institutions.
Over the years, famed artists and eminent citizens from here and abroad visited the school. This includes Maharaja Vijaychand Mahtab of Burdwan, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, poet Jasimuddin, SM Sultan and more.
In a statement written on march 14, 1975, preserved at the school, Zainul Abedin mentions, ''This is the second art school in joint Bengal after Calcutta Art School, but it's the first for East Bengal."
On the same day, poet Jasimuddin and artists Quamrul Hasan and Nilima Ibrahim wrote, "This is the oldest art and craft school in Bangladesh. It is necessary to preserve this school to conserve its heritage."
Talks of taking down the century-old building began in 2016. But this was no more than a murmur till January last year, when Khulna City Corporation wrote a letter to the Department of Archaeology (DoA) to know whether the school was listed by the department.
In response, Afroza Khan Mita, Khulna regional director of the department, said in a written statement that the building is a British-era structure. While it is not a preserved antiquity, the school is associated with the continuity of cultural development and passion of the local people.
"Conservation and management can be delegated to local government councils or district administrations. The Department of Archeology will provide technical advice on its renovation if the city corporation, school authorities or the district administration take the initiative to preserve it," she added.
Later on August 29, 2021, while identifying risky buildings at a KCC meeting, the then KCC executive engineer Liaquat Ali Khan raised the issue of including the 100-year-old building in the list of vulnerable buildings, sources told this newspaper. It was recommended that the authorities concerned take steps to demolish the building.
KCC then sent a letter to the then head teacher of the school Nahid Sultana, notifying her of the decision.
On November 14, 2021, at a school meeting held in the presence of State Minister for Labor Welfare Begum Mannujan Sufian, it was decided that the old building on the school ground will be demolished, while plans were put forward of constructing a similar one in its place.
Amirul Islam, acting head teacher of the school, told The Daily Star that the meeting was held after receiving the letter from KCC asking them to remove the building. "On December 21, we issued a tender notice in newspapers to sell off the building. January 4 was the last date for submission of tenders for the building; a total of six tenders have been received."
Shankar Kumar Mallick, associate professor and researcher of the city's Government Brajalal College (BL College), told The daily Star that rather than demolishing the old building, it should be preserved.
He suggested that this can be done by turning it into an art gallery.
Contacted, ex-KCC executive engineer Liaquat Ali Khan said he's retired now and does not want to speak about the issue. Ejaj Morshed Chowdhury, incumbent chief engineer of KCC, said did not want to talk about the issue either. Curiously, this was also echoed by school body president Mahfuza Sahabuddin.
Meanwhile, Khulna regional director of DoA Afroza Khan Mita told The Daily Star, "By preserving it as a monument of special personality, it can be developed as a potential tourist destination in accordance with the Tourism Act, 2010."
She said she will look into the issue.