An Overwhelming Force

22 Mar

By Georgina Maddox


The 67-year-old Shahabuddin Ahmed is a legendary Bangladeshi artist and a former Platoon Commander for the 1971 Bangladeshi liberation war. Having settled in Paris for the last four decades, we have not been exposed to enough of his works. A definitive exhibition of his hidden treasures, that opened at the Rashtrapatu Bhawan on February 18, might change that. The solo, ironically named ‘Shanti’ features twelve large-scale paintings presented by Ganges Art Gallery. His canvases are a juggernaut of energy, where figures leap into motion and a tornado seems to sweep through the environ. The cracked attire of characters, may be a reflection of “the freedom fighter” or the athlete, but according to the artist it is the manifestation of the state of one’s suffering. His powerful brush-strokes enliven a canvas in a manner that renders them unforgettable. Here are some excerpts of a conversation with the artist:

Shahabuddin Ahmed

The artist with his work


* Tell us about residency at the Rashtrapati Bhawan happen?


I have been exhibiting with the Ganges Art Gallery in Kolkata for the last 22 years. In December 2015, I held a solo show with them which the President had inaugurated. After seeing my work, he was keen that this should be made a travelling exhibition and people all over India should be able to see these works. The artist residency at Rashtrapati Bhavan is on his invitation and I believe I am the first foreign artist to be so invited.


* What are your plans for your India trip?

I want to utilize my time here not only enjoying the Rashtrapati Bhavan museum which houses such cherished artefacts from all over the world but also visiting some historical places like the Raj Ghat, Gandhi Smriti, Teen Murti, Nehru Memorial, National Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art and Crafts Museum during this visit.


Freedom- II, Oil on canvas, 131 x 161 cm, 2015


* What is the inspiration behind Shanti? What materials do you enjoy working with?


Shanti is my way of showing that despite the unrest and chaos all around us, there is also hope and optimism in the world. I have participated in the 1971 war of Bangladeshi Liberation along with the founding father of Bangaldesh Mujirbur Rahman and this period of my life has guided my path, but contrary to what many believe, I don’t paint war and war is in no way my creed.  I enjoy working in oil on canvas.
I am inspired by the freedom fighters of our time like ‘Banglabandhu’ Mujibur Rahman and Gandhiji. I like to paint their portraits but as symbols of peace and harmony. What I want to depict is the human suffering that is common to all us, but if we are defiant, if we push our limits, we can achieve any goal.  I don’t choose death as a subject, because deep down, the nature of my interest is rather optimistic.

Veneration-IV, Oil on canvas, 148 x 201 cm, 2015


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