in Mymensingh (East Bengal) Zainul Abedin migrated to Calcutta
with the singular purpose of joining the School of Art and had to
wage a long struggle to get into it. He passed out in 1938, but
had become a teacher of Art in the School while still a student.
It was during this period (1933-1938) that he drew memorable landscapes
of Dumka, Bihar and Mymensingh. Right from this period one can discern
the artist’s insistence on deeply sympathetic and dignified portrayal
of fellow human beings and animals—something that brings to mind
the works of Premchand, the great Urdu-Hindi litterateur.
From 1944, when he exhibited his work on
the famine, he came to be known in the wider art circles, but
somehow had a neglected status in comparison to his more famous
contemporaries like Abanindranath, Jamini Roy and Nandlal Bose.
In 1946 he married Jahanara Begum, from Dacca, where he migrated
with her after the tragic events of the Partition of India in 1947.
He was instantly recognised as a major artistic presence of East
Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and was entrusted, in 1948, with the responsibility
of establishing the Government Institute of Arts in Dacca, the first
art school of the province, and was made the First Principal-designate
of the Institute. He closely supervised the growth of that Institute
at all stages of its existence.
respected for his work in Pakistan he was critical of the political
and cultural marginalisation of East Pakistan by the dominant forces
of West Pakistan, and stood for the resurgence of a Bengali identity.
He organized the 'Nabanna' Exhibition in 1970, a year before the
terrible manslaughter that preceded the formation of Bangladesh.
In this exhibition he displayed a 65 foot long scroll narrating
the face of poverty, deprivation and opulence of rural Bengal. During
the phase of non cooperation movement against the Pakistan regime,
the Nabanna exhibition became a symbol of artists' protest, their
demand for freedom and their belief in the social purpose of cultural
Abedin continued working throughout his life on the themes of his
concern. His portrayals of the poor peasantry
of Bengal and the tribal people of the region are suffused with
a kind of warmth and love that is rare to find in an artistic milieu
which is defined more by clever statements and fake conservationism
than any real concern. A 30 ft long scroll, done in black ink over
wax outlines, depicts the impact of the cyclones of 1970. Another
work depicts the plight of Palestinian refugees, a cause that was
very dear to his heart. He designed the pages of the Constitution
a year before his death due to cancer, he founded the Folk Art Museum
at Sonargaon, near Dhaka and Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala, a gallery
of his own works in Mymensingh. He is buried in the campus of Dhaka
University, along with another great contemporary, the Rebel poet,
Kazi Nazrul Islam.
by the artist