His poster on national equality irrespective of religion is popular to this day
One of the rallying cries Bengalis wanted to propagate during the Liberation War was for secularism. The artistes of the time also wanted to echo the calls. Painter Debdas Chakraborty was among the frontrunners in this drive.
His poster on national equality irrespective of religion is popular to this day. The poster declares that all the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Muslims constitute the Bengali nationalism. Shadows of a church, a pagoda, a mosque and a mandir (temple) – prayers houses for the four major religions in Bangladesh – are seen with an orange background in the poster.
Even though the four biggest religious groups are apparently the chief concerns of the poster, it undoubtedly covers all forms of faith, heralding a struggle to achieve a Bangladesh built on humanity. The poster was a great inspiration for the freedom fighters.
Chakraborty had designed many other posters and illustrations highlighting the spirit of Liberation War making a significant contribution for our independence.
I have not got proper opportunity to meet the veteran painter in his lifetime. But once I saw him when he was in the stage and he was bedridden for a long time. During the visit, I was accompanied by Debdas's great admirer late sculptor Syed Abdullah Khalid. I heard about his personality, characters and many remarkable stories from Syed Abdullah Khalid and eminent architect cum-art critic Shamsul Wares. They were very close. I got the chance to see his paintings when he was alive. He was a towering figure in any social gathering and he was closely associated with civil servants, senior diplomats, intellectuals, poets and people from different segments of the society. He was secular, liberal, outspoken and kind person by nature. This avant-garde painter had been associated with modern art movement in Bangladesh from its very early days.
A versatile individual in arts, Debdas was not immersed in painting only, but printmaking and drawing were also among his favourite mediums of expression. Following a long and chequered life, he gradually transformed himself into an abstract expressionist painter. His works were form and colour-oriented and nature was a recurring leitmotif. He was a figurative and symbolic painter. He always enjoyed creating new forms and shapes that represented unfamiliar and unconventional facets.
Nature and people were the favourite topics of the artist. Debdas portrayed nature and its mysterious phases through his personal notion, experience and thought process. It can be easily said that his paintings have been recorded with his inner feelings and intense observation of his living place, life and reminiscence.
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Debdas used sweeping strokes and sometimes very polished strokes when he used to symbolically portray boats, birds, clouds, fish and the six seasons. His strokes and forms are simultaneously natural and capable of creating a language which is alien to us. His colour is both bright and mellow and appears rich and smooth. His soul was always on the lookout for space where the green, azure, red, crimson, off-white and yellow were filled with great joy and ecstasy. He loved russet hues and cobalt blue. Remarkable forms and various suggestive objects create a unique language in his paintings. Many of his paintings are composition and form based- with varied sizes-rectangular, vertical, horizontal, half-curved and full curved. Space division in his compositions is dramatic; with big spaces kept flat while smaller areas have several tiny patterns. It is obvious that the artist has spent a considerable time to create the illusion of space.
Born on December 25, 1933, Debdas received higher training in printmaking from Warsaw, Poland under the Polish Government Scholarship Programme. Several prestigious awards were conferred on him for his contribution in cultural arena, including the Ekushey Padak in 1990.
The writer is an art critic and cultural curator
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