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a tribute to sultan
Profile Born : Narail, Bangladesh - 10th August, 1923. Died : Narail, Bangladesh - 10th October, 1994. Education Studied at the Government Institute of Art, (presently, Government College of Arts and Crafts), Kolkata, 1941-44. Major Exhibitions Solo - Simla, India -1946, Lahore , Pakistan - 1948 Karachi, Pakistan -1949. Institute of International Education, New York, YMCA, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago International House, Michigan University and London - 1959, Bangladesh Shilpokala Academy Gallery - 1976 German Cultural Centre, Dhaka - 1987. Group exhibition of nine senior artist of Bangladesh in 1993. Participated in the exhibition at Victoria Embankment, Hamstead, London along with Picasso, Salvedore Dali, George Braque, Paul Klee & many other renowned artists. Awards Ekushe Padak (higest civilian national award in the field of culture) - 1982, Special Honour given by the government of Bangladesh as Resident Artist since 1984, Bangladesh Charu Shilpi Sangsad Honour - 1986, Independence Award - 1993. Achievements : Established Kurigram Fine Art Institute at Narail in 1969 and another Art Institute Charu S.M. Sultan Kabir Chowdhury It was staggering experience for many. The viewers were struck, above all, by the vision of the painter which overpowering vitality , their wellrounded buttocks and swelling breasts ready to come to grips with life, without fear or hesitation of any kind. In Sultan's vision they were heroes and he painted them as such poised for struggle and victory. In the famous paintings of Sultan like "Capturing the char" or `While Winnownig' we find unmistakable evidence of the above observations. We are struck by the tremndous rhythm and movement and the overtones of excitement and joy in Sultan's work. The larger -than -life figures in his huge canvases are almost always executed with meticulous attention to detail and a appealing combination of energy and delicacy, which once again remind us of the great Renaissance painters like Raphael, Loenardo da-Vinci and Michelangelo. When we look at Sultan's landscapes, the wide flowing paddy fields rolling one after another, bright glorious mornings and enchanting shadowy evenings, peasant huts and villages surrounded by rich green foliage or vast watery expanses, or when we look at his full-blooded sturdy farmers, large breasted vigorous women and healthy cows we at once realise that S.M Sultan is like no other artist of this subcontinent that had appeared before him or during his life time . Whether we shall have one like him after he is gone, time alone will tell. The Enigmatic Painter Shamsur Rahaman At the very outset permit me to say that I don't pretend to pass for an art critic. Neither I have the experience nor the acumen to judge the merits of a painting. But as a practising poet I am interested in other branches of fine arts. This interest has led me to rub my shoulders with some of the talented painters of my country and appreciate their achievements. My appreciation of their works, I confess, is that of an uninitiated person. However, I shall venture to say a few words about S. M. Sultan, perhaps the most enigmatic and significant painter of Bangladesh at the moment. It is always a dedicate and difficult job to place a living artist in true historical perspective. But at least it is possible to gauge, his significance and the extent to which he has been conditioned by his times. S.M. Sultan has become a legend in his life time.
Unconventional life style, his passion for birds, beasts, huts and the occult, appart from his remarkable works of art, have lent an aura to his biography,which still awaits a Vasari or a Boswell. ......................... The lush green, the chirping of birds and the beauty of the plants and corn fields male and female torso so rich and illuminating, have made his canvases to speak to us of a civilization that is deeply rooted in agriculture. His ploughmen, the titans, remind us of the Renaissance painters, huge and muscular figures. Sultan to my mind to some extent has also been influenced by Rivera, the Mexican Master. But despite this influence Sultan has become a painter like one of his collective titans sinewy bold and dreary. Here I like to mention that but for the war of liberation of Bangladesh, he would not have attained this height as a Master painter. I tend to agree with C.G. Jung when he says, `the special significance of a true work of art resides in fact that it has escaped from the limitation of the personal and has soared beyond the personal concerns of its creators'. Sultan also soars beyond his personal concerns, though his feet are well set on earth which he loves so much. Let me again borrow a few words from Jung to say that Sultan, Like any genuine artist transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that even have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive to the longer night. Sultan's challenge against the establishment Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal Bangladesh is the focal point in all the major works of Sultan. But in his portrayal the land and its people undergo a complete metamorphosis. His hum Peeth at Jessore town in 1973. Belongs to Bangladesh & World Anisuzzaman S.M. Sultan has been painting for a long time and his world of art has gone through several transformations. Yet he is best known for the portrayal of extraordinarily robust men and women set in the background of rural Bangladesh. They sppear as the opposite of what we see in reality. Undernourished people haunted by want and disease. As one stands before his canvasses for a little while, he realises that what Sultan brings out in these figures is essentially their inner vitality in which the artist has a great confidence. This confidence was regained by the experience of the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 when the common folk worked wonders and 1971 has provided Sultan with the theme of many of his works. Whether one is a refugee seeking shelter in the neighbouring country or a freedom fighter with his locally made weapons the artist does not see him without his vigour, his courage, his love of the land. ............... an figures larger than life exude the fresh vigour and vitality of the virgin soil, strength and beauty blended in a poetic harmony. These representations remind one of the form and spirit of Renaissance as much as the folk art traditions of Bangladesh. As a poet gropes for a proper diction for the whole of his life to give himself an imprint of distinct identity, Sultan spent some forty years in a kind of self exile in quest of the language that would translate his imagination into colours. Once the liberation over, Sultan emerged with a definite vision of what he was destined to accomplish. Emboldened by conviction of faith and philosopy, he created a world of images, stepped in his ideas, that offers an exclusive contrast with the petty and sordid experience around. .................. A peasant in the art world Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir The strength of Sultan is based on his own lived experience. His peasant origin and his bohemian life style have blended and shaped his consciousness. A look into his work convinces us that it is derived from considerable personal experience and often is provoked as a result of the intensity of that experience. He could move far from his peasant origin and on the other hand his bohemianism defies normal class divisions. This has produced a kind of tension in his work, therefore his area of experience is disturbing. His figures, generally, are monumental. Because of the monumentality there is no unity between them and the surroundings. As a result they look theatrical. This theatrical element ruptures the central point of his work. The background landscape dances to the notes of colour, but his dramatic figures representing the harsh and crude physicality of the peasant's labour do not blend with the delicate colour scheme. There is also a difference between his male and female figures. While his male figures are gaint and elemental, his female figures are rounded and lyrical. In a single work this produces a kind of discord, a certain distance. ................ What is Sultan? A concealed Piecasso? An obscure vincent Van Gogh? He is both perhaps more. He has certain affinity with Picasso because of his passion for dramatic figures. He is close to Van Gogh because of his gestures and energy of his brush stroke. He is more because of his intense empathy with the subject. The result is production of a personal vision : vision of mythical Bangladesh in which he has interwined his peasant surroundings. This saves him from producing a rustic idyll or a sentimental rural landscape. This way his peasants attain a mythical reality, a kind of power and the will of the primitives. They are waiting to capture power from the cultured classes. He needs this will of the primitive, the stimulous of class conseiousness to rupture the middle class respectability and to reverse the Anglo-Indian art tradition of visual softness and bloodless lyricality. He is different and distrurbing; a peasant in the art world and antibourgeois in expenrience and attitude. S. M. Sultan & his paintings Peter Sewitz Why this exhibition? Very simple : This painter deserves it. Of the feww outstanding painters of the subcontinent he is the most important one Voice of Asia. There is no place in the world where one can see his work. Works, yes- scattered all over the globe. But nothing assembled, collected preserved, and nowhere more than three or four pieces and even those are locked up in private homes. Sultan as interior decorator of living rooms is sold under value. His work must be accessible for everyone since he is a figure of public life. I suggest a centrally located Museum of Contemporary Art in which a major part should be devoted to Sultan alone. ....................... Sultan's strength is the strength of the survivor. The human figures he is painting the images of people who are surviving (even if they are painted as dead or killed bodies). Bangladesh and Bangladeshis have nothing but that power of survival. Thus, in these paintings, a nation finds its symbols of identity. ............................. (Part of the preface written by Peter Sewitz (Ex Director, German Cultural Institute, Dhaka) for the Souvenir of the Sultan's exhibition held in 1987 at German Cultural Institute, Dhaka.) Sultan the recluse Sadeq Khan Sultan on the other hand represents a completely different world within the world of art in Bangladesh, so to say. He has hardly any influence on his contemporary painters, nor do the contemporary trends in paintings in Bangladesh have any influence on him. He grew up under a concurrent tradition maintained by the mofussil Zamindars of Bengal, more so by various princely states of India, of patronising on the one hand early colonial copies and imitations of Western style paintings and sculptures by their uncomprehending skilled proteges, and encouraging on the other hand indigenous artistries for ceremoonial occasions and plebeian indulgence. Sultan is essentially a self-educated painter. In early life he had dabbled in various other art-forms of courtly interest like classical Indian Dance and Drama. He also became somewhat of a devotee of the quasi-mystic religions of ecstasy (Ananda-Dharma) prevalent in the folk-culture of the district in Bangladesh that he hails from. ................... He manges very large canvases with a story-telling ease without much of a story to tell except angelic visitations and sublime transformations in a cohesive life-scene turnedd static. His style is consistent, with some times overt and sometimes covert playfulness in brushwork moving in patches, ripples or circles delineated at times for contour of texture effects. The symbolism in his works do not bear any correlation with traditional or classical forms of grammar. But they do give an impression of reflective observation without reflective content. If impulsive self-expression of the visionery mind of a recluse can claim any capacity to communicate an aesthetic experience, Sultan certainly may claim it. Whether he will remain sufficiently meaningful to the common viewer of the art connoisseur in Bangladesh is for time to test and decree. The romantic background of S. M. Sultan's paintings Santosh Gupta Among the contemporary artists the name of artist S. M. Sultan is not often heard for not knowing of his creative faculty but because of his not becoming academic in pursuing artistic presentations. He was never a believe of common pattern of life style and still he is not. From his childhood Sultan was accustomed with dark demonic power of nature and its contribution to beauty. The natural beauty of his native village unfurled before his eyes the innermost sight and sound of struggling people, their surroundings and their primitive beliefs. He knows from his early life the toiling people and the country with its poverty striken landscape. He knows man's fleeting world and transcendent world of God and this makes him, rather I say, inspires him to create a third world of his own, His romantic attitude to art and man was born out of this creative expression of an emotion which is far exceeding a mere will to art. .............. In a long rob Sultan looks like a Darbesh and his expression and behaviour seems like a Baul with long curling hair spreader over the shoulder. A fragile figure with a dreamy look in his eyes he looks beyond his time to the future happy world where people will be master of their own fate. His artistic creation -his paintings carry this message and this makes him a saint artist. The English poet cowper said; "Man made cities and God made the village". this can be said about artist Sultan by changing the saying a little that while others are made of cities, he is made of villages. The romantic background of his paintings lies in his life-style and which in turn makes his paintings so forceful, so faithful to nature. There he remains unbeaten among his contemporary artist and raises his head above them to look beyond. Paintings of Sultan : primeval but mellifluous Mohtram If you carefully look as I have at the studies of nudes-sketch for the Battle of Aughiari of Leonardo da Vinci in the Royal Collection, Windsor Casttle, the study of a rearing horse and then the Bathing Soldier for cascina cartoon of Michelangelo in the British Museum, and finally men fighting, the Raphael drawing in Ashmolean and then stand before the paintings of S.M. Sultan, you will recognise the affinity between the twentieth century painter and those giants of European renaissance. You will find in common the same indelible stemp of understanding and feeling and power in their portrayal of human and animal forms, for Sultan is of the same breed and mettle. He is one of them. .............. The central theme of the paintings of Sultan is man in his relationship with soil and water. At the same time, it must be said that his landscapes are as powerful and moving as the other subject. If you take out the figures from some of his pictures, even then they would stand as masterpieces of landscape painting that can well be compared with any of that genre, except perhaps, the Chinese. It is intriguing that the painter who loves to catch the awesome majesty of primeval forces can go so soft and mellifluous in the same breath, in the same composition. I think that is where Sultan is incomparable. There he stands alone. His compositions are massive and the figures therein appear to have been hewn out of granite, something like the grating bur perfect notes of the great Ustad Yayyaz Khan, and then the fore and back- ground done like Cellini spread over huge canvases like the 'dhrupad alap' notes stretched over time. The master paints with a sweep that is breathtaking like the sweep you have in the Frescos of Sistine Chapel and in a few pictures of Peter Paul Rubens. They are surges of spontaneous and powerful, tempest of colours. As for textures and tonal values of the master the critic on painting in "Pakistan Observer" remarked: "Unlike some artists, who are prone to dismiss technical knowledge as superfluous, Sultan is a diligent student deeply interested in modern as well as classical art movements". That was said over two decades ago and now it has reached a stage of perfection that can be expressed in one word, which is sublime.Sultan is a story-telling, figurative painter and yet you are enthralled, for once you see that he graphs something of eternal value in his subjects and has an unique way of saying them. The enchanting touch of Sultan transforms the story-telling, figurative paintings "into something rich and strange", and you are dull indeed if you do not find "the glory and the presence of a dream" in his pictures. It is because of his immense inherent power and consummate craftsmanship that his pictures were exhibited about thirty years ago along with those of Picasso, Matisse and Dali. You can name a very few Asian painter who may force his way in that august and select assembly. A young artist from East Bengal S. Amjad Ali .................. It is not to be thought that the above is like the premise of a logical syllogism form which only one conclusion will follow. In fact a person placed in such circumstances could paint in a variety of ways. It is quite likely that he should have started to paint spurious imitations of old Mughal paintings which had high market-value as curios during the war. But Sultan had that in him which was seeking expression; mechanical "picture making" was not enough for him. Every artist paints both to please himself and his clients; now though the latter consideration was very urgent for Sultan, it does not mean that he did not choose the style which was most congenial to his temperament. Like every young artist he has thrown about for the nearest ready-made style that can express his personality. It is only after the dissatisfaction grows on him that these styles do not convey exactly what he means to say, that he forges a new path for himself. Sultan is slowly emerging onto this stage. ............... It only remains to point out that Sultan is not a mere `landscape painter. He has made excellent study of the human figure and I have seen both drypoint sketches and large crayon studies by him which show a very high degree of merit. However what came as a pleasant surprise was that he has recently done tow large panels showing crowds of refugees and poverty-stricken multitudes The delineation of the human forms is admirable and the composition is marvellous. The severe sehcctiveness of the lines of human figures, the largeness and boldness of the composition, and above all the human interest and tragic note in these panels are welcome signs of growth and maturity. I think Sultan has won his spurs in the field of technical skill and what he needs now is compact with great ideas and some rich experiences of life and art, to produce masterpieces of painting. His present visit to America under the International Education Exchange programme is a step in the right direction and likely to prove very fruitful. [Courtesy: Pakistan Quarterly, January 1952] S. M. Sultan : Voice Of The Orient Sharif Ashrafuzzaman What are the paintings about? The central theme of Sultan's paintings is always the rustics in their relationship with water and soil. The corn fields, marshes, the ever flowing rivers, the peasants in the fields with their carts and ploughs, harvesting rice, husking, the village women in their domesticity, Fishermen in the swamps, peasant huts, villages with green foliage and all other common sights of the rural life formed the subject matter of his paintings. The village life attracted him most because in his boyhood he was in the midst of villagers where he had a first hand observation on the struggling farmers and other rural folk.Why his farmers are giantly? asks everybody at the first sight of his paintings. The farmers of our country are poverty-stricken; the weak and fragile. How could they be healthy like the aborigines? But, here lies the philosophy of Sultan's paintings. His works express the history of anthropology and his optimism that the present order must be changed. One day he confided to me, it is true that the farmers of our country are fragile, weak and poverty stricken. But, what is the cause behind it? Why are they poor? Once they were virile like the men in the primitive days. But, century after century, we were ruled by different foreign countries who took the profit of their labours. Not only the foreigners, but the local Yeomen and Zamindar also maltreated them. They compelled them to be in slavery. So, they have been losing their health since the time unknown. But, they have a kind of potentiality which is equivalent to spiritual power. The potentiality, inherent vigor has been visualized in this manner. Their hard muscles dark colour, their strong and stout-figures are the signs of potentiality. So, one thing is clear about his paintings that what he paints in the reality unknown. One might as well ask, is he an escapist? Does Sultan want to escape the reality? The answer is no, Sultan is an optimist. He is in search of a `utopia'. He believe that one day his farmers would win over their accursed fate. This optimism is the philosophy of his paintings. An artist must be optimistic. Without optimism successful art is impossible. If there is no 'Absinth' before an artist, he may lose his way. Sultan has his specific aim. His own 'Doha' of painting is that there is no `aesthetic pleasure' 'aesthetic-sense' in portraying weakness. Again `aesthetic delight' may not be the end of art; there must be philosophy and these two things combined together add to lasting values, of paintings. Sultan Haunting for our Roots Prof. Munshi Md. Hafizur Rahman Sultan is the hymn to know ourselves Sultan is the name to give lifeblood to lines, Sultan is the name to create the aesthetic world Vibrating, sonorous and soothing, Sultan is the name to have beauty dawned with speedy strokes of brush. Blood stained land of Surja Sen, Titumir and Sheikh Mujib. Sighing for lacks of martyrs vibrate, The name of our goldendream is Sultan. The aspired heaven of Bangla blushes in Sultan. Sultan is our raphael, Vinci and Michael Angelo We grasp our Dravidian wealth in the silver light of the illustrious star of our soil, Sultan our pride. ................... Are they of separate roots? Some are engaged to hide our stalwart history of liberation war, Are they of different origin! Sultan turns 'Baul Shilpi', Bohemian for his great love For the people, the soil and the roots. Sultan goes deep down into his world, He comes up with 'Amrita' And distributes amongst us, We seek for our roots. We get the trace of it in Sultan. We get the identity of our forefathers in him, Sultan makes us immortal. Sultan A Rhyme Kazi Matiur Rahman A roaming painter, a roaming ambassador, A solemn symbol of peace and beauty, Nothing but the creation and recreation, He thinks as his moral and sacred duty. .......................... Conquering the art world in his teens As the representative of his country, His role well played there, Nothing worthy nothing precious left contrary. .......................... A living Tagore, a moving Jesus Can be seen even today, Being taunted being crucified every moment, Moving and talking in happy and rag. .......................... To somebody a snake charmer to somebody a priest, Sometimes zoologist, sometimes philosopher Sometimes artist sometimes balorina, What he actually is none could discover. .......................... Careless for life and fearless for death He has conquered self reliance, Without making jest for wealth And uncompromising his theca by any allinace. .......................... This poor verse can never project In this artless day of discorder When the entire society is moving Without a sense of beauty and aesthetic rudder. Let him laugh and let him cry Let him paint and let him die But don't wound his wounded soul Suffered for suffering humanity once will take good-bye. (source: kingbadantir canvus ae s.m. sultan, by sharif ashrafuzzaman).
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