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Two countries, one Gurudev
A few weeks ago, the Lalit Kala Akademi's basement gallery in Delhi was transformed. Barely had the formalities of the opening ceremony ended when eight handpicked artists from Bangladesh donned paint-stained overalls, head scarves and flip flops and began to tear off the polythene sheets covering the blank canvases on which they were to create their personal homage to Rabindranath Tagore.
The exhibition of their work is part of an Indo-Bangladesh collaboration to mark the 150th anniversary of the poet, painter, musician and philosopher. As coats of primer were applied, the team settled into a comfortable rhythm, adjusting their easels to catch the light, sipping cups of tea, and calling out to each other like friends - Abdul bhai, Iqbal, Eunus bhai.
Over the week, various portraits capturing different aspects of Tagore and his place in the history of Bengal began to emerge. Many of the artists have painted Tagore before. "This is the 68th portrait of Rabindranath that I'm doing now, " claimed Abdul Mannan whose first work was commissioned for the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, in 1993. "As the set painter for Bangladesh Television, the official telecast media, I was called upon to make 54 portraits of Rabindranath, showing his likeness from his early childhood to the end, for the prestigious series on Rabindra Sangeet featuring Bangladesh's nightingale Sanjida Khatun Begum. " In order to keep mindless repetition at bay, Mannan reads as many of Tagore's writings as he can - the Rabindra Rachanabali as well as off-beat sources such as the Calcutta Municipal Gazette.
Other artists, like Nasreen Begum and Ahmed Shamsuddoha, have found inspiration in Tagore's love of nature. Doha's work began with a playful depiction of a winter sky in Bengal. This was followed by a sprawl of unkempt greenery as a bottom spread, and suddenly, with an almost mystic sensuality, the shadowy form of the poet emerged gauze-like from a corner of the canvas. Doha then drew his own portrait, as a dwarf-like bespectacled figure gazing up at the shadow image. "The idea struck me to paint Rabindranath as if he were not there, " he explains. "For me he is a harihar atma (evergreen soul) and this piece reminds me of his lyric megher upor megh jomechhey (cloud upon cloud in the heavens). "
At the other end, Nasreen Begum hums snippets of the lyric Jhara paataa goh, tomaderi dauley (fallen leaves, I am one of your kind) while painting a riot of fallen leaves. "My work is based on Tagore's poem on fallen leaves, " she says. "I like to conceive of it as a form that crystalises life through its various stages. Tagore taking centre space is a change in my art, for I like to portray the feminine form in this way. "
Elsewhere, in the works of Mohd Iqbal and Mohd Eunus, a Japanese idiom surfaces. "My inspiration, " says Eunus, who has painted a riverine landscape, "came from Tagore's composition about the dusky maiden whom he compares to a blossom unfolding. She emerges from behind gathering clouds and my concentration is focused on her eyes. The face comes to life through the eyes as it serves as the mirror of her soul. "
Heavily textured surfaces are the hallmark of the art of Gholam Farouk Bebul and Hamiduzzaman Khan. In Bebul's work, which was influenced by Tagore's literary piece, Diner Sheshe (At the end of the day), Gurudev's bearded face peers through tones of grey-blue-aqua and hints of orange, whereas Hamiduzzaman's canvases are like chiseled creations, with the backdrop 'etched' in minute brush strokes and the Tagorean form a flowing study of seamless lines wafting across the textured surface.
Sheikh Afzal Hossain's painting has the earthy colours of Bangladesh's soil. "My colour palette is a direct result of the tones of Bangladesh's swollen rivers, its soil, and its landscape, " he says. "Thus my earthy tonal choice is the praan of the portrait. So when I started the portrait I did not first begin with the features. I created the background in these shades, and then the form appeared. "
The organisers plan to take the exhibits countrywide and print a portfolio edition of the works.
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