Bangladesh has been the blessed motherland of many iconic and legendary artists who not only dedicated their countless years and compassionate efforts to craft their artworks, but also enlightened generation after generation by passing the torch and educating future art academicians. This past Sunday, Bangladesh lost one of those majestic souls forever. The harsh reality of death snatched away someone truly special in the Bangladeshi art sphere, who has been widely revered as one of the avant-garde second-generation contemporary artists in the country. On October 9, legendary Bangladeshi artist Samarjit Roy Chowdhury breathed his last and bid his adieu to the world, at the age of 85.
The Ekushey Padak-winning painter was born in 1937 in Cumilla, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), and graduated securing First Class First position in Graphic Design from the Government Art Institute (presently Faculty of Fine Art, Dhaka University) in 1960. His innate fascination with drawing propelled him towards the vibrant and versatile world of the arts, despite his family's initial disapproval. He recalled drawing inspiration from other artists' artwork as well as his mother's embroidery patterns, and the art maestro later received direct tutelage from other legendary avant-garde art maestros of the nation including Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan, Anwarul Huq, Mohammed Kibria and Safiuddin Ahmed.
Chowdhury's streamlined visual language has always instils in the mind of viewers a sense of familiarity, ease, and harmony. His paintings have portrayed moving lines, and his artworks have always transcended a comprehensive understanding of rural Bengali life and folk art; they feature straightforward harmonic patterns, pastoral motifs, tranquil settings, and childhood nostalgia. His artistic vision as a painter has been greatly influenced by his early memories of the simple pleasures, harmonic patterns, and cadence of rural life. A poetic vision of geometrically angular pictures of kites, birds, and starlings has always been incorporated into Chowdhury's simplified, abstract vocabulary, mingled with themes from clay dolls, lokhhi shora, pata-chitra, and other traditional crafts.
His journey as an art educator and academician began when he joined the Dhaka University Faculty of Fine Art in 1960, where he served for a great period consisting of 43 years before retiring as a Professor in 2003. He later returned to Dhaka University in 2014, as a supernumerary professor. After his initial retirement from DU FFA in 2003, Chowdhury joined the Shanto-Mariam University of Creative Technology where he served as the dean for the Department of Fine and Performing Arts up until 2010.
Samarjit Roy Chowdhury participated in more than 200 group exhibitions at home and abroad, including six solo exhibitions. He held his first solo exhibition at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in 1983, featuring 60 of his artworks including 30 oil paintings, 16 gouaches, 5 pastels, 3 etchings and 6 drawings. In September 2014, his sixth solo exhibition titled "Scenario" or "Montage" featured 71 paintings including works in acrylics, watercolours, etchings, drawings, woodcuts, and pastels.
"I always keep in mind that my artwork should amuse the viewers and give them visual pleasure. No matter which medium I work with - if my painting transcends the pleasant experience that I want to deliver through my brushstrokes, that satisfies me as an artist," Chowdhury said in one of his earlier interviews. The statement surely provides an idea of how much he adored his viewers.
As an accomplished learner and young artist, Chowdhury received the first prize in the Pakistan Textile Design Competition in 1960. The Government of Bangladesh honoured him with the prestigious Ekushey Padak in 2014. For his meaningful contribution to the art scene in Bangladesh, he received many other prizes including Shilpakala Padak and Sultan Padak, to name a few. He was an active jury of many national and international competitions, and an active committee member of the Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh. His artworks have been collected and showcased in the National Art Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Bangladesh National Museum, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka, State Guest House in Dhaka, Bangla Academy, and many private collections at home and abroad.
In loving memories:
At separate ceremonies held on Monday, October 10 at the Central Shaheed Minar and the fine arts department of Dhaka University, people from all walks of life paid their final respects to the eminent artist Samarjit Roy Chowdhury.
Pouring his tribute to the legendary art maestro, State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid said, "Samarjit Roy Chowdhury dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of experimental and creative art. His passing leaves the county's fine arts community with an irreparable void."
Professor Dr Akhtaruzzaman, Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University said, "He was a gifted artist, well-known for making a significant contribution to elevating the country's fine arts education to a new level. Numerous great artists in the nation are indebted to this innovative artist, and his distinctive contribution to the country's art sphere will live on."
DU FFA Dean Nisar Hossain said, "Professor Samarjit Roy not only shared his knowledge through his profession as an academician - he enlightened us and this faculty even after his retirement. He was an influential maestro for a reason, and we have lost an irreplaceable guardian angel."
Surjit Roy Chowdhury, son of the legendary artist, said, "He was not only a teacher but also a father. My father was my friend. My father was the solution to my every problem. My father even prayed for me for the last time with his last breaths."
Artist Samarjit Roy Chowdhury has been a lifelong companion of Gallery Cosmos, and he joined as the guest of honour on many occasions of the gallery. He also participated in Cosmos Art camps for the years 2018 and 2021; Cosmos Atelier71 Printmaking Portfolio -2014, exclusive exhibitions including 'Brave Heart', 'Colors Of Bangla', 'Art Against Fake News' and many more.
Reminiscing his contributions, Gallery Cosmos Executive Artistic Manager and artist Sourav Chowdhury said, "He was among the greatest artists of our time, and a lifelong friend of Gallery Cosmos. Many eminent artists are directly taught and nurtured by him; many national and international galleries and organizations have collected his works of art. He was truly an artistic genius, and we must take action to protect his works of art."
Samarjit Roy Chowdhury has been acclaimed, respected and loved by the art community from home and beyond, for his lifelong intense dedication to art. From crafting vibrant portrayals of traditional and modern geometric, abstract forms on the regular canvas by utilising the masterful application of light and shades, to designing the current blue-red logo of Dhaka University which is one of the most familiar and iconic artworks in Bangladesh, the virtuoso known as Samarjit Roy Chowdhury was a forever artist.
(Information courtesy: Gallery Cosmos and ARTcon).
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