Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Practicing fine arts in an institutional manner was first established during the Renaissance period. This interval affected a lot of western communities; but did not touch the Indian sub continent. During the second half of the 19 century, Calcutta Government Art School was established as one of the first art schools of the sub continent to structuralise fine arts in a curriculum. In 1933, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin was enrolled in this school. After 15 years, in 1948 Abedin wanted to bring this practice to our country which resulted in the Government Institute of Arts and Crafts—the first art school of the regime. After more than 80 years, we now know this institution as the Faculty of Fine Arts—our very own Charukala.
Though the institution now acts as a department of Dhaka University, Charukala, from the very beginning, established its own unique identity. One of the biggest reasons behind this uniqueness was the institution's forefathers. Along with Zainul Abedin, eminent artists such as Anwarul Huq, Quamrul Hasan, Khawaja Shafique Ahmed, Safiuddin Ahmed and Habibur Rahman all laid their hands to build this avant garde foundation. Since many years have passed, it is quite interesting to think that all of this started with a few rooms in the Dhaka National Medical College Hospital building located in Johnson Road.
The academy started out very small with just six teachers along with Zainul Abedin—working as the principal. The activities started with just three departments; which included fine arts, commercial arts and graphic arts. These three departments are now known as drawing and painting, graphic design and printmaking.
Within a few years, it became quite clear that what only started as a training centre had assumed a far greater role. The place quickly became a meeting spot for all budding artists and somewhat became a forum from which a new art movement could be launched. “The best part about this place was that both students and teachers were up to date on what was happening in the art scene around the world,” says Nitish Basu, a former student. At that time many teachers from the institution went abroad for training and came back with different ideas. “Sure we experimented with different forms but we also focused on our traditions.” This perfect balance of the very best elements of local and foreign art is what makes our artists eccentric. The curriculum at first was mainly based on oriental art, while folk forms found their way in through the works of many artists including Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hasan and others.
Charukala though holds its legacy as the centre of arts; it also holds a very unique history of Bangladeshi architecture. In 1956, the academy finally moved to its own building in Shahbagh and it was designed by the legendary architect Mazharul Islam. Interestingly enough, designing the institution was Islam's first endeavour as an architect. The area which was given to the institute was surrounded by trees. It was Mazharul Islam who decided to work around them rather than cutting them off. His design, even back in those days, was climate responsive. “The vast, never-ending verandahs, shading the inner walls and windows of the classrooms and studios, echo the outhouse designs of the countryside,” says Afroza Parvin, former head of Charukola, Khulna University. The bricks and the terracotta screens of this building were also designed by Mazharul Islam. “Coincidence or not, the design of the structure looks very similar to a guitar.” The whole building shouts creativity, much like the people who created and designed this institution. The building also hosts one of the first galleries of Bangladesh, known as Zainul Gallery.
Around 1963 the institution was turned into a government degree college and was renamed East Pakistan College of Arts and Crafts. It was in 1978 when the institution was again renamed after the liberation war as the Bangladesh College of Arts and Crafts; and it started offering MFA courses. In 1983 the academy merged with Dhaka University and became a department.
Sixty-eight years have passed since the foundation of this academy; still the Faculty of Fine Arts is considered a young soul. It is still the 'cool kid' on the campus. There are many reasons why Charukala will never get old. One of them is because the institution itself is a piece of art. And since art is timeless, Charukala will forever be timeless.