Abdus Shakoor Shah 2002
Abdus Shakoor has carved a distinctive place in the arena of contemporary art in Bangladesh. His singularity lies in his apparent quest for self-identity -the identity of his own culture and heritage. And it is the stamp of this effort that distinguishes him from the rest of the artists. It also embraces a reflection of the times and the environment he belongs to. One may stress on the universality of art as a language that construes from Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’- the part of the psyche that retains and transmits the common psychological inheritance of mankind. And that is why art, from its very beginning is diverse and dynamic, still vital throughout the ages with that common element ever present. The artist, apprised of limitations, moves slowly but evenly towards a definitive aim; and that is to give expression to his central ideas. Shakoor’s devotion and determination steers him away from stagnancy and hesitation. He experiments in different media and style, technique and materials. Although a painter at heart, Shakoor’s wide experience in tapestry, batik and silk screen, mosaic and sand cast murals, helps to make changes and break monotony of work. His spontaneous freehand drawings where men, women, birds and animals take shape in fanciful forms, pulsate with the inner urge to seek new creative forms and stylistic designs.
Shakoor thinks deep- almost meditates to abstract a new image. He is a soul-searching artist. It may, on the large part, be attributed to his lineage. His demeanor, his work carries the unmistakable stamp of an esoteric appeal handed down by his ancestors the legendary Shahs- Sufi saints, whose mystical devotion reached great heights.
After completing a degree in Painting, Shakoor joined the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka. In course of formal study he took special interest in techniques and methods of print-making, sculpture, ceramics and graphic design. He also studied painting at the Department of Fine Arts, Chittagong University in 1974 where Rashid Chowdhury, the founder of the Department, freely encouraged experimental works. A man of great versatility, Rashid used to inspire the students to imbibe in their own heritage, to use folk elements, to take a deeper look into our myths and legends and captivate the spirit in their work, in modern style. During this period, Shakoor’s works were academic in nature but he did experiment with semi-abstract forms.
In 1976 Shakoor was awarded a scholarship to study art at the M. S. University of Baroda, India where he got a postgraduate Diploma in Mural design. Education in India ushered a new phase in the artist’s life. There he got the opportunity to study under the guidance of Professor K. G. Subramnium – India’s famous art-aesthetician. It also gave him a chance to see the works of important contemporary artists of the region. His training in Baroda gave him further scope to realize and enhance his knowledge concerning modern aspects of Indian vis-a-vis contemporary art. Subrmanium also instilled in him the ideas of free-thinking and deep involvement, enriched him with technical knowledge and taught him how to manifest those ideas into image. Subramanium was an important leader of the ‘Revivalist Group’ the aim of which was to revive and use indigenous elements in contemporary art. Shakoor was impressed by the ideals of the group. Added to these, the spirit of self-actualization manifest in the freedom struggle of the 1971 gave the artist an impetus that left an indelible stamp on his work.
As with others, Shakoor’s artistic life is sieved through different phases starting with early academic work, onwards to representational work around 1976 on the Liberation War using stylized figures and semi-abstract forms. This was followed by his “M-series” symbolizing problems of the third world countries. Malaria, like many other diseases takes hundreds of lives in this part of the world. The artist feels the agony but remains a solitary onlooker. The victims (workers) are represented by mask-like faces, flat and blurred, done mostly in black and white and emphasis is given on the eyes (as in the works of Jamini Roy, figures in Pata painting and Gujrati miniatures). This continued throughout the eighties, during which time he also did some tapestries and murals with similar stylized forms.
In the nineties Shakoor began to do some experimental work with subjects taken from our folk literature, especially from folk ballads of Mymensingh – the famous “Mahua” and “Malua” love stories being central to his theme. He began depicting stories with elements and motifs from folk art. While delving on these themes Shakoor was enchanted not only by the fascinating content of the ballads but the underlying richness- its lively color-schemes, multitude of decorative motifs and the unique representation of human and animal figures. Having begun, Shakor continued to depict the stories, almost incessantly. The urge was strong and overwhelming and made way to a destination which justified thirty long years of assiduous journey. As Rabindranath Tagore said : Art is a solitary pedestrian who walks alone among the multitude, continually assimilating various experiences, unclassifiable and uncataloged.”
Shakoor has identified himself inextricably with the cultural heritage of the soil. His central philosophy is that he is a Bengali by birth; has grown up and developed in an environment shaped by the wind and the water of Bengal. He observes the folk artist in a magnificently colloquial manner. It is simple and direct without being delicate and subtle. Shakoor’s work justifies the fact that the “freedom to experiment is possible only for the artist who shares something of the social consciousness of the tradition on which he is painting.”
Shakoor’s paintings are not mere illustrations of the Mymensingh ballads. He uses their script or calligraphy stylistically, which sometimes includes the figures of birds and animals. What Shakoor aimed at was to make a synthesis of these elements. His current works have been done mostly in watercolor on paper- the palette being restricted. Emphasis has been given on primary hues i.e. red, yellow and blue. Green is scarcely used. It is said that green is the symbol of life. Is it then that the works lack in life and the artist is callous about the complexities of real life? Also, as the forms and figures are delineated in flat tone and there is no use of modeling or tonal variation, do the works lack rhythm- that vital feature which gives life to all works of art?
I think Shakoor’s use of bright and sensuous colors in the main figures and forms in contrast to the cool hues of the script or calligraphy has given the works new lease of life, that vital elan which is inevitable for any work of art, especially painting. Although his forms are flat and linear they do not negate the plasticity of the human or animal figures; on the contrary, they enhance the aesthetic and esoteric significance of the paintings.
The works of Jamini Roy, Quamrul Hassan, Gujrati Jain miniatures and Pata paintings of Bangladesh inspired Shakoor’s current style. Compartmentalization, the use of flat and bright colors, emphasis on primary hues, of dots and blots, representation of one or two stylized figures in the color fields and their placement within repetitive borders as in Gazir Pata or Manasha Pata are the results of an explicit impact of our folk art. Besides peacocks and parrots, Shakoor also uses animal figures such as elephants, bulls, dogs, cats, tigers, serpents and reptiles- all as pleasant and decorative motifs.
The works of Jamini Roy and Quamrul Hassan, of Rashid Chowdhury and Qayum Chowdhury have inspired him most. If Quamrul Hassan has juxtaposed folk art in modern style, Shakoor has used it in a succinct post-modern backdrop.
Abdul Matin Sarker
Department of Art History
Institute of Fine Arts
University of Dhaka
Venue: Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts
Date: 09/03/2002 – 29/03/2002