Bangladeshi art a source of pride in new exhibition at UC

WHEN it comes to the visual arts, the nation of Bangladesh punches above its weight.

A work by contemporary artist Mohammad Iqbal

A painting  by contemporary artist Mohammad Iqbal

Since 1971, when the country’s War of Liberation saw the former East Pakistan liberated from Pakistan. Not only was that war about political independence, the country’s struggle to achieve cultural and linguistic freedom in a Bengali (“Bangla”) speaking nation has been reflected not only in literature, (revered Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s words form the lyrics for the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh), but in art.

From the 1940s on, Bangladeshi artists have shown a keen interest in European art techniques, including cubism and abstract expressionism. An art college was formed as early as 1948 and then in 1974, while the three-year-old republic was still suffering growing pains, an arts academy was formed. Now home to the National Theatre and National Art Gallery, it has no fewer than 64 branches around the countryside, proof that to Bangladeshis art practice is a serious matter.

Dhaka hosted the first Asian Art Biennale in 1981, and though Bangladesh’s art market is smaller than India’s, it joined its gigantic neighbour in creating a sub-continental presence at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Now a group of Bangladeshi artists are coming to Canberra with the exhibition, “Songs of the Land,” running at the Ann Harding Conference Centre, University of Canberra, this week, on April 1 and 2.

The brainchild of the Bangladesh High Commission, the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts in Dhaka and other organisations like the Bangladesh-Australia Association, the exhibition will feature over 40 paintings from ten Bangladeshi artists:

  • Qayyum Chowdhury,
  • Tahera Khanam,
  • Rafiqun Nabi,
  • Monirul Islam,
  • Abdus Shakoor Shah,
  • Farida Zaman,
  • Ranjit Das,
  • Rokeya Sultana,
  • Kanak Chanpa Chakma, and
  • Mohammad Iqbal.

The exhibition of ten Bangladeshi artists brings together the works of selected painters and printmakers spanning nearly three to four generations with Qayyum Chowdhury representing the 1950s and Mohammad Iqbal a newer generation of more figurative artists.

Perhaps surprising to Canberrans, the chief genre on display will be abstract modernism, a form of art much favoured in Bangladesh from the 1960s on, as it has allowed artists to express their deeper feelings about subjects like torture, poverty and violence. “Geometric configuration was dominant, colour became a means of exploration of hidden meanings,” one critic has written. As well, folk art forms of been blended into a more European’s style of painting.

Also included in the exhibition are works by cartoonists, covering hot contemporary issues in the country

There will be a “Meet and Greet” event at 5.00 – 6.00 pm, Tuesday, April 1, to be chaired by the President of the Artists’ Society of Canberra, Dr Alan J Jones, with the idea of establishing a network between Australian and Bangladeshi artists.

“Songs of the Land: an exhibition of the works of artists from Bangladesh,” Ann Harding conference Centre, University of Canberra, April 1 and 2, 11 am to 8 pm.

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