COLLECTION: Samdani Art Foundation Collection Golpo Re-Hang
by Ruxmini Choudhury, Assistant Curator, Samdani Art Foundation
The Samdani Art Foundation’s collection contains over 2,000 modern and contemporary works by South Asian artists. Based at the Samdani family residence, Golpo, in Gulshan, Dhaka, the collection is open to visit by appointment, and regularly lent to institutions and festivals around the globe as part of SAF’s commitment to increasing international engagement with the work of Bangladeshi and South Asian artists.
Recently re-hung, Golpo’s exhibitions have a new focus on works from Bangladesh’s East Pakistan and modern period, including some important recent acquisitions by Bangladeshi artists Novera Ahmed, Murtaza Bashir and Mohammad Kibria. After partition in 1947, Pakistan’s cultural hub became Lahore in West Pakistan, and attracted artists from East Pakistan who became influential on the scene, attracting the attention of West Pakistani collectors who found their work more interesting that of the West Pakistani artists. When Bangladesh became an independent nation in 1971, artists were unable to return their works to Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan), and had to leave their work behind in Pakistan (previously West Pakistan). When acquired for SAF’s collection, each of these works were returned from Pakistan to Bangladesh for the first time since independence. Although works from this period are a rare find, SAF is steadily assembling a collection of such works, patching together a period of Bangladesh’s art history that was lost after independence.
Considered to be three of Bangladesh’s most important modern artists from the country’s East Pakistan period, and well known in both East and West Pakistan from the 1950s, these artists were pioneers of their time and have influenced the work of many of the region’s artists.
Novera Ahmed (1939-2015)
The first Bangladeshi female sculptor, Novera Ahmed is considered to be a pioneer of modern Bangladeshi sculpture, not just because of the work she made, but also because she was active during a time when Bengali women did not have the freedom to express themselves in the way she did. Ahmed was active in Dhaka (then East Pakistan) and Lahore (then West Pakistan) during the pre-independence period and had her first solo show in Dhaka in 1960, and in Lahore in 1961.
Ahmed’s works were collected by several Pakistani collectors, including poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 – 1984) who later entrusted his collection to his daughter Salima Hashmi. When Ahmed’s The Standing Figure (1960) was acquired from Hashmi, it returned to Bangladesh for the first time in 56 years to join SAF’s collection.
Murtaza Bashir (born: 1932)
Known as Murtaja Baseer before independence, Bashir was active as an artist in pre-independence Bangladesh but also well known in Lahore’s cultural scene in West Pakistan, from where his work was collected by various Pakistani collectors. After independence in 1971, like many other Bangladeshi artists, he had to leave his works in Pakistan, when he also changed the spelling of his name to the more Bangladeshi pronunciation, Murtaza Bashi. The Wall - series (1969), is part of a larger series which the artist himself sees as a major turning point of his artistic practice. In a conversation with Fayeka Zabeen Siddiqua for the Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star’s, Star Weekend, he explained:
“In March 1967, my career saw a new turn with my painting series ‘Wall’ … I have always been a realist artist and have always wanted to remain so, despite the temptation of following the current trends. The paintings of my series are abstract in every sense; the forms that I had used are non-figurative. The paintings look abstract, but actually they are not. In fact they are the segment of the walls in Old Dhaka, which inspired me to do the series. These paintings are a part of the reality that I depicted on canvas, using the realistic colours and textures that were the original features of the walls.”1
Mohammad Kibria (1929-2011)
Also seen as a pioneer of abstract art in Bangladesh, Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan and S M Sultan, Kibria moved away from the culturally rooted art practices popular amongst his peers in the 1950’s to create a universal identity through abstract art. His education in Japan playing a large part in the transition. Although his abstract is void of any form, the subjects are taken from the surfaces of nature and urban life.
Mohammad Kibria’s Untitled (1965), is an early example of his abstract work and very rare to find. This work was also collected by a Pakistani collector in pre-independence West Pakistan, but came to join SAF’s collection when it was sold by a Pakistan gallery in Karachi, finally returning the work to Bangladesh in 2016.
1. In Conversation with Murtaja Baseer, Fayeka Zabeen Siddiqua, Star Weekend - The Daily Star, September 30, 2016 - http://www.thedailystar.net/star-weekend/spotlight/conversation-murtaja-baseer-1291759