A lifelong companion to Gallery Cosmos

"Talent is neither limited by age nor measured according to age-related criteria. In terms of discovering one's intrinsic qualities, expressing versatility, and creating high-quality works, age is only a number in my opinion." Professor Rokeya Sultana.

The art scene in Bangladesh has been blessed with the presence of many pioneering artists and art maestros over the years. The jovial contribution of these artists, regardless of their age, gender, race or class - has earned Bangladesh a respectful position among the global art community. Behind this glory, some significant personalities have worked relentlessly by dedicating themselves to the different mediums of art and bringing respectful achievement respectively - and one of these pioneering and illustrious figures in Bangladesh's modern art scene is artist Rokeya Sultana.

The first female artist in the country who won major accolades in the prestigious Asian Art Biennale, the National Art Exhibition and many other prestigious art competitions; the first female student of Dhaka University Faculty of Fine Art to pursue and complete her Masters from Vishwa Bharati University in Shantiniketan, India; the first teacher who joined the Dhaka University Faculty of Fine Art at the Printmaking department with both BFA and MFA specialisations in Printmaking, and the first in many other artistic endeavours representing the country - Professor Rokeya Sultana is a widely revered artist and art educationist in the country, whose artworks have not only gained popularity and brought prestige to the nation, but also inspired several generations of artists to pursue their artistic career.

"My guru, eminent art maestro Mohammad Kibria, used to say that one cannot be an artist without willpower - and this reflects my life. If one aspires to be successful, the person must go through hardships; and with the utmost dedication, I have fought my battles to establish myself as an artist and art educator," Professor Rokeya Sultana said in a candid conversation with DC.

As the proud daughter of a freedom fighter, Rokeya was deeply influenced in her early years by the brutal war that resulted in the establishment of the nation-state of Bangladesh in 1971. Her painting was influenced by a strong sense of cultural identification. She talks about the power of intuition and creativity, which can be feminine qualities that lead to universal truths, as well as difficulties related to women.

Revered as a professor at the University of Dhaka's Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Printmaking - she was previously the department chair and an active artist at home and beyond, winning many National and International awards and artistic accolades. Born in Chittagong in 1958, Rokeya received her MFA in printmaking from Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, in 1983 - after graduating from the Bangladesh College of Arts and Crafts in 1980. An internationally renowned printmaking artist and painter, Rokeya Sultana has won numerous awards both domestically and internationally. She has been recognized and awarded for her work at the Asian Biennale, the National Art Exhibition, and the Bharat Bhaban Biennale in India, a residence fellowship at L'Atelier Lacouriere et Frelaut, Paris and a prestigious Fullbright grant from the United States, which supported her nine-month artist's residency at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a well-known personality in the art worlds of Sydney, Santiniketan, and Dhaka and has studios in both cities. Sultana has shown her work in a number of nations, including Poland, Germany, Morocco, Oman (Bait Al Zubair Museum), France, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Taiwan, Nepal, Korea, Denmark, Pakistan, India, USA-Denver, Wyoming, NY (Art Student League), and Japan.

Notable among the artist's awards are the Purchase Award, Somerstown Gallery, 4th Biennial, NY, USA (1992), Grand Prize in the 3rd Bharat Bhavan Print Biennale (1995), Bengal Foundation Award in the 14th National Art Exhibition (1999), Honourable Mention in the 9th Asian Art Biennale (1999), Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Award in the National Art Exhibition (2002). In 2003, Sultana availed of a French government scholarship at L'Atelier Le Couriere et Frelaut in Paris, and she became an Artist in Residence at Open Print Studio, Toronto, Canada, in 2017.

Creations of the maestro:

Rokeya Sultana's artwork reflects life's transience, loss, and displacement. Her two figural series, Madonna and Relations, as well as her print series Fata Morgana, are among her most recognized works. The natural environment and terrain of Bangladesh are interpreted abstractly in a number of her other pieces, including those in the Earth Water Air series. Each series has drawings, prints, and paintings that depict different facets of the artist's life. Sultana's work is remarkable for its use of a rich spectrum of blues, including brilliant aquamarine, cool turquoise, sombre indigo-reds, flaming crimson, sensual vermilion, and imperial purples. She addresses a wide range of subjects in her distinctive figural, abstract, and semi-abstract styles.

"My practice has largely focused on my internal life and exploration of the feminine; fluid emotional states and sensual abstract topographies. The Madonna works are a strong feminist statement of determined womanhood. Here is the everyday woman, moving about in the world, jostled and always in peril, but always a beacon, a presence and a protest in her own right," according to Rokeya Sultana.

The artist continues: "Madonna is me; Madonna is my daughter; Madonna is my mother; Madonna is love; Madonna is desire; Madonna is movement; Madonna is a fight... Madonna is vulnerable because she is a peacemaker but ready to fight. She is a symbol of me and all women, she changes throughout time, but she is forever performing the same role. What she did not get in her life, because of the limitations of being a woman, she wants to give to her child, holding her hand."

"In this way, she is a protest against society. She is always draped in a magenta sari, because I want to show that she is feminine and rooted in tradition. Her rebellion is deeper. The magenta is a symbol of transforming the negative through the feminine psyche. Magenta is on the verge of aggressive red, but is softer, playful, and positive. My Madonna is every girl and every woman," Rokeya Sultana narrates her journey with Madonna.

An ardent friend of Gallery Cosmos:

Since the beginning of the Cosmos Gallery and Cosmos Atelier-71, maestro Rokeya Sultana has been a beloved and passionate companion, often working together on various projects for the gallery. A few of those magnificent and significant artistic partnerships include her 2023 exclusive intaglio process, soft ground and stencil workshop titled "Impression of Rokeya's," which she conducted with 10 young and well-known Bangladeshi artists from home and abroad, and the 2017 Printmaking (Etching) workshop titled "Nature Quest," which featured 12 emerging artists and co-conducted with artist Uttam Kumar Bashak, Professor of Visva-Bharati University of India.

"As art spaces are not available everywhere, there isn't much work on viscosity or printmaking in general in Bangladesh, though the scenario is changing recently. When I obtained my master's degree from Santiniketan, I desperately looked for an etching press because these works needed a proper studio setting. These studios are absolutely essential for artists, but there aren't many of them in our nation; Gallery Cosmos is one of a kind in that regard."

"A country goes strong if it is rich in arts and literature, history says so. We need to improve our art industry. At the end of the day, a person seeks refuge in art, culture and literature, considering these as breathing spaces. In this regard, the initiatives of Gallery Cosmos and Cosmos Atelier 71 are continuously inspiring artists, which needs to be appreciated," Rokeya Sultana told DC.

Among her many other artistic collaborations with Gallery Cosmos, such as several of its group exhibitions - the artist conducted a unique, interactive segment earlier this year titled "Art Therapy through Printmaking" at Dhaka Flow's "Inspire Her Wellness" festival, celebrating the power of creative expression in healing through art on the occasion of International Women's Day 2024. At present, the artist has been continuing her never-ending artistic quest at the Gallery Cosmos and Cosmos Atelier-71 studio, practicing mediums such as Intaglio and Etching.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts